JC Joins John Mack's Pure Prarie League in Montana Moon (1930)
Metro carried forward into sound what formulas it could from silents. The Joan Crawford image was still carved from Our Dancing Daughters and follow-ups, and though just previous Paid would change all that, for now it stayed a flapper mold for Crawford pics done three or four per year. What time was there to vary from pattern? Montana Moon has Dancing Daughter energy slowed to crawl by talk and plentiful pause between that. It was leaden pace that cursed these for later generations, even as '30 patronage sat for mere joy of hearing idols speak, a concession that lasted only until chat for its own sake lost novelty and movies (including Crawford ones) had to upgrade for continued sellings' sake. It's been said that MontanaMoon was a first of "singing cowboy" mindset. That's true to extent of song and cowboys being wedded, but innovation ends there, as these tunes could have interchanged with any genre, nothing in Montana Moon to suggest future for western warblers.
Another constant to MGM merchandise of the time was placement of comics across board of whatever came off studio assembly. Virtually everything but the Garbos bore brunt of Cliff Edwards, Polly Moran, Ted Healy, and/or others off revolving door of lowbrow humor. Even comedians were front-loaded by other comedians, thus top-heavy Buster Keaton "vehicles" that were really as much showcase for others who'd clown. It tickled someone at Metro (who? Thalberg?) to impose incongruity of a Benny Rubin upon western milieu. Was this to assert that there was no setting too distant for Broadway patter's reach? I hope one day to see an early 30's MGM that doesn't feature Cliff Edwards and his scat-sung ukulele, but such time has not yet come (in fairness, however, I'd confess a certain affection for Cliff and his shtick).
Of those pushed aside, there is tragic Karl Dane, a meaningful silent name who'd led bills just a year before, now shorn of words and most presence thanks to Swedish accent thought incoherent. Could an industry more secure in its application of dialogue have salvaged Karl Dane? Certainly Metro would make but tepid effort. What use they would make of Dane smacks of charity, but that's a story better told HERE. As to lead man John Mack Brown, there was obvious positioning of him as a next big thing, but he'd not register beyond affable blandness. 1929-30 was a period for much trial/error, personalities tried, then culled. That Crawford held out was not guaranteed, her own future very much in the balance of initial talkies that were, as a group, fairly miserable. Was it her voice, or force of personality, that overcome them? Star careers at early talking MGM seem at times to be not about survival of the fittest, but of the luckiest, Crawford representing the latter, with Keaton, Ramon Novarro, William Haines, with John Gilbert, and not a few others, answering roll call of the luckless.