The Vagabond Lover

The Vagabond Lover is a 1929 American Pre-Code black-and-white, comedy-drama musical film about a small-town boy who finds fame and romance when he joins a dance band. The film was directed by Marshall Neilan, and is based on the novel of the same name, written by James Ashmore Creelman, who also wrote the screenplay. It was Rudy Vallee's first feature film, and also starred Sally Blane, Marie Dressler, and Charles Sellon.[3]

The Vagabond Lover
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Directed byMarshall Neilan
Produced byWilliam LeBaron
Written byJames Ashmore Creelman
StarringRudy Vallee
Sally Blane
Marie Dressler
Charles Sellon
Music byVictor Baravalle (music director)
Harry M. Woods (songwriter)
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byArthur Roberts
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • November 26, 1929 (1929-11-26) (Premiere-New York City)[1]
  • December 1, 1929 (1929-12-01) (US)[1]
Running time
65 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$756,000[2]

The film premièred in New York City on November 26, 1929, and was released wide on December 1. A DVD version was released on March 29, 2005. The Vagabond Lover is an early example of a vehicle created for a popular music star, in a style echoed by later films such as Jailhouse Rock with Elvis Presley and A Hard Day's Night with The Beatles.


Rudy Bronson is a senior in a small college in the Midwest. While in school, he completes a correspondence course in the saxophone, given by the nationally known Ted Grant. Bronson and his friends form a band, but have difficulty finding work. Believing that Grant will help them land professional jobs, the band heads to the Long Island, New York home of Grant. Once there, they pester Grant for an interview, to the point where Grant leaves his home, along with his manager, to stay in New York City, until Bronson gives up and goes home.

After Grant has left, his next door neighbor, Mrs. Whitehall, grows suspicious of the unknown young men hanging around his house. Thinking they might be burglars, she calls the police. Whitehall and her niece, Jean, go over to Grant's house to confront Bronson. Thinking quickly, one of Bronson's friends introduce him as Ted Grant, who Whitehall, despite being neighbors, has never met. The police are still suspicious, but when Bronson and his band plays for them, they believe he is Grant. In fact, Whitehall is so impressed, and slightly embarrassed over having called the police, that she hires Bronson's band to play at a charity concert.

As they are waiting for the day of the concert to arrive, Bronson and Jean become romantically involved, and the band becomes relatively successful. However, on the night before the charity event, Jean discovers that Bronson has been impersonating Grant, and while she doesn't go public with her discovery, she is understandably quite upset with Bronson's subterfuge. However, another socialite does report Bronson to the police, but before he can be arrested, Grant returns and claims credit for discovering Bronson and his band. The band becomes a great success, and Bronson is reconciled with Jean.



  • "I Love You, Believe Me, I Love You"
Music by Ruby Cowan and Phil Boutelje
Lyrics by Philip Bartholomae
Played by the Connecticut Yankees
Sung by Rudy Vallee
  • "I'm Just a Vagabond Lover"
Written by Rudy Vallee and Leon Zimmerman
Sung by Rudy Vallee during the credits
Also performed by the dance troupe at the benefit
Music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel
Lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman
Performed by the Connecticut Yankees
Written by Billy Mayerl and Gee Paul
Sung by a quartet of young orphans at the benefit
Music by Nat Ayer
Lyrics by Clifford Grey
Played by the Connecticut Yankees
Sung by Rudy Vallee
  • "Then I'll Be Reminded of You"
Music by Ken Smith
Lyrics by Edward Heyman
Performed by the Connecticut Yankees
Sung by Rudy Vallee
  • "A Little Kiss Each Morning (A Little Kiss Each Night)"
Written by Harry M. Woods
Performed by the Connecticut Yankees
Sung by Rudy Vallee
  • "Sweetheart, We Need Each Other"
Music by Harry Tierney
Performed by the dance troupe at the benefit


Tana Hobart from All Movie Guide described the film positively: "[The] Classic romantic tale [The Vagabond Lover] is fun with Marie Dressler outstanding in her role as the wealthy eccentric."

The film was a hit and made a profit of $335,000,[2] and was one of four top hits for RKO in 1929.[4]

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times, gave it an overall positive review, noting that film, "... relies on fun, tuneful songs and appealing music." He applauded Rudy Vallee's and Marie Dressler's performances, although he did have some negative points regarding the dialogue and was ambivalent regarding some of the acting.[3]

A review published in Motion Picture Magazine was less than positive. "Once and for all, this movie should refute the theory apparently held by picture producers that a celebrity in any line is good movie material," the reviewer summed up. The reviewer did, however, praise Marie Dressler's performance and wrote in conclusion, "If you like sentimental songs that rhyme 'Moonbeams' with 'June-dreams,' you'll love the ones in 'The Vagabond Lover.'"[5][6]

"It's true that the crooning lad of the radio has not quite mastered all of the celluloid technique, but you forget that when he sings," wrote Delight Evans in her review for Screenland. She concluded, "Marie Dressler romps away with a personal hit in hilarious comedy scenes. But it's Rudy's show, and when he sings you can let the rest of the world go by." The picture was given Screenland's Seal of Approval.[7]

"[Rudy Vallée] gives his admirers what they long for—a succession of songs to the accompaniment of a jazz band which makes their hearts melt and fills their beings with a glow of 'romance,'" Alexander Bakshy wrote for The Nation.[8]

Vallée himself was not a fan of the film. In a 1980 TV interview, he mused, "They're still fumigating the theaters where it was shown. Almost ruined me. In fact, I think it's only shown in penitentiaries and comfort stations."[9]

Author Scott Eyman agreed with Vallee. "Neilan's The Vagabond Lover features the adenoidal singing and ungodly dance-band music of Ruby Vallee, who displays the preoccupied concern of a man trying to pass a kidney stone; his acting ability was of the sort usually found only in sixth-grade plays. Vallee makes Crosby look like Cagney and plays the kind of music that Spike Jones mercilessly parodied. It's the film of a director at a total loss; actors stumble over their lines but plow gamely ahead, and Neilan keeps the footage in the film. It might not all be Neilan's fault; the original negative of the film was burned in a studio fire, and the film survives today as reconstructed with outtakes."[10]


Vallee was angry after viewing the film's trailer, which contained the slogan, "Men Hate Him—Women Love Him." However, it was too late into production to change.[11]


  • Rudy Vallee's band, The Connecticut Yankees, also made their film debut in The Vagabond Lover.[1]


  1. "The Vagabond Lover: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  2. Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931–1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p55
  3. "Rudy Vallee's First Talker". New York Times. November 27, 1929. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  4. Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. pp. 20, 23. ISBN 0-517-546566.
  5. The song the reviewer is referring to is "Then I'll Be Reminded of You," which contains the lyrics "I'll gather some June-dreams / I'll search for some moonbeams."
  6. "The Picture Parade". Motion Picture Magazine. Jamaica, NY: Brewster Publications. January 1930. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  7. Evans, Delight (January 1930). "Reviews of the Current Films". Screenland. New York City: Screenland Magazine, Inc. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  8. Bakshy, Alexander (December 25, 1921). "Films". The Nation. New York City: The Nation Company, L.P. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  9. "Molly Picon, George Raft, Rudy Vallee, George Jessel, 1980 TV Interview and Songs". YouTube. YouTube, LLC. May 19, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  10. Eyman, Scott. The Sound of Silence: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York: 1997.
  11. "Hate—Love Trailer". Variety. New York: Variety Publishing Company. December 18, 1929. Retrieved February 14, 2016.
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