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This 1940 biopic of the famed Gay '90s chanteuse was intended as a big dramatic role for Alice Faye, then at the top of her box-office run as the queen of the Twentieth Century Fox studio. And Faye, with her cornfed appeal and mellow singing voice, looks capable of delivering the goods, if only the movie had more real Russell and less romantic-biography formula. Lillian Russell was truly the Madonna of her day, a gigantic star who steered her own tough-minded path through husbands and lovers. This tale is considerably whittled down amid the period trappings and old-timey songs. Of course, the songs give Faye the chance to wrap her husky voice around some classics, including "After the Ball" and "My Evening Star." The big-time supporting cast includes Henry Fonda, as the somewhat miserable newspaper man who remains loyal to Lillian throughout her life; Edward Arnold, reprising his title role from Diamond Jim Brady; Don Ameche, as the frustrated composer who marries Lillian; and Warren William, as Jesse Lewisohn, another of Lillian's famous suitors. The famous vaudeville team, Weber and Fields, appear as themselves; they toured with the real Russell, and do one of their old routines (which looks like something out of an inscrutable comedy time capsule; funny once, puzzling now). It's all well-dressed and tuneful enough to keep going for over two hours, but the movie rarely breaks into living, breathing life.

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Special Features Lillian Russell Biography Restoration Comparison

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FX2240370 Lillian Russell DVD (1940/Alice Faye) $14.98