Monochromatic Monday: Bobby Breen

Charles Butterworth and Bobby Breen in Rainbow on the River (RKO)

These are articles wherein I’ll profile a black-and-white film or films worth looking out for.

I couldn’t rightly tell you now how it was I discovered the films of Bobby Breen. It may well have been through Movies Unlimited’s catalog back when they had brick-and-mortar locations. They wonderfully subdivided so it was likely there that I first noticed his name. It’s not a name many will know among the pantheon of stars from the 30s but he most certainly should be.

He was touted as the boy soprano and, of course, there’s no doubt his voice is incredible but what’s really intriguing is the films are truly built around him and showcasing his singing. Genre definitions were rigid back then but in a way that simplified things and allowed accessible, quality star-vehicles to be created with a higher rate of frequency. Producer Sol Lesser was always heading up these productions and seemed to place things just right to make the projects successful. Four films Bobby starred in were nominated for Academy Awards in scoring categories so they were fine productions.

I have seen three myself: Way Down South, Let’s Sing Again and Make a Wish and have enjoyed them all. While all are similar enough each has its own feel to it: one being an antebellum southern tale, another a touching reunion piece and the last a light summertime romance. Sadly, based on what little information I can gather it seemed Breen, like all too many a child star back then, wasn’t accepted in films as anything but a kid act. The trend is more broken now than it was but it’s unfortunate, it seems he stayed in music in one way or another for many years but never did clear that hurdle in the minds of some. I admit I don’t have as much information as I’d like about the whole of his career and welcome enlightenment.

The goal of this piece really is to possibly introduce him to those who may not know of his work. Below you will find links to three of his films on The Internet Archive, all of which are in the public domain. I wanted to see them before linking to them but I will be watching them this week. I hope you enjoy and are seek out his other work as well.

Hawaii Calls (1938)

Breaking the Ice (1938)

Escape to Paradise (1939)

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