There are a couple of problems, actually -- the script, by James Ashmore Creelman, who ended up committing suicide but not specifically because of this movie, is the kind of play that high school drama clubs would do in the 1930s or '40s. And the direction by Marshall "Mickey" Neilan is flaccid, if not downright placid. There are dead spaces between lines of dialogue long enough for a nap. The movie runs about 65 minutes, but if you took out all the pauses it would last about half an hour.
But here, in his first major movie role, we get all of the pompousness and none of the polish. As the movie begins, Rudy and his band are a bunch of small timers. Practice is underway, but things don't really start to sparkle until the charismatic Rudy enters:
"If only that guy could play like he can sing," one of the band members says. Meh. Looking like a 12-year-old in a double-breasted suit, Vallee conveys anger, passion and humor with the same wan smile.
The story is based somewhat on Vallee's own experience -- born Hubert Prior Vallee, our hero appropriated the first name of his musical idol, saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft. In the movie, Vallee's musical idol is saxophonist Ted Grant, a Paul Whiteman-esque figure played badly (and baldly) by Malcolm Waite.
Vallee and his band -- which seems to consist of 12 saxophones and a banjo -- go to Grant's Long Island mansion to serenade him with hopes of getting a job. But Grant is an egotistical jerk, and throws Vallee out. Then Grant and his manager leave for the city. Vallee and his group don't know that, and they enter the mansion to audition.
Once inside, Vallee and his band cut loose. He seems a little less stiff -- here
And here's the entire number, "Nobody's Sweetheart":
Meanwhile, the next-door neighbors -- Mrs. Whitehall (Dressler) and her niece Jean (Blane) -- think the band is breaking and entering. They call the cops and rush right over:
Through complications that make me too tired to recount, Vallee is mistaken for Grant, and Mrs. Whitehall insists that the band plays at her big charity benefit.
So as you can see, "The Vagabond Lover" is a lot like that episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Marcia promises her classmates that she can get Davy Jones to play at her prom, even though in real life he'd probably be happy for the gig.
Blane, the younger sister of Loretta Young, is the romantic interest, and Dressler does her patented fuss and bother, doing doubletakes aplenty. And it all can't be over quickly enough for me.
Here is the full cast and credits.