Archive for August 23rd, 2011

by Sam Juliano

America’s “singing sweethearts” Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were brought together by Louis B. Mayer in 1934 after each had climbed different ladders.  The baritone Eddy sang for the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company and appeared in concerts and on radio, (later landing small roles in three minor musicals) while the liting soprano MacDonald appeared on Broadway and in a memorable series of musical films for Paramount that included four by Ernst Lubitsh (The Love Parade, One Hour With You, Monte Carlo, The Merry Widow) and Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, a musical generally acknowledged as one of the finest ever made.  Indeed, as “Princess Jeanette” MacDonald beguiled audiences with her charming and timeless “Isn’t It Romantic,” with Maurice Chavalier, a Rogers & Hart standard that to this day is regarded as one of the greatest of all musical numbers.  MacDonald’s exceptional work in The Merry Widow was tempered by her well-publicized dislike for co-star Chavalier, whom she called “the fastest derriere chaser in Hollywood.”  Chavalier in turn derided his female co-star with charges of “prudishness” and “highhanded ways.”  In any event, Mayer was stoked to build on his budding star’s popularity and chose a melodic 1910 operetta by Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young.

Naughty Marietta was conceived after concerted arm-twisting by Mayer to enlist MacDonald’s services, and a shot-in-the-dark offer to the essentially untested Eddy, who brought no real acting experience to the table aside from some limited opera work.  But Eddy was blessed with dashing good looks, was blond, and posessed a classically-trained baritone voice.  The production was rife with uncertainty from the start as the budget was  limited, and the chosen director wasn’t someone of George Cukor or Lubitsch’s caliber but W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, known as “one-take Van Dyke” for his studio-friendly but artistically-alienating propensity to get a production in on time and within the confines of the budget.  As is often the case in film musicals, particularly historical ones, the narrative is nonsensical and the machinations contrived.  Yet, Naughty Marietta, set in Pre-Revolutionary America, offers up a serviceable story for the glorious music and singing that both heightens the film’s ample melodrama, and serves as an emotional underpinning for what is visually an exquisite costume drama. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1931 90m) DVD2

Beware of false prophets

p  Harry Cohn  d  Frank Capra  w  Jo Swerling  play  “Bless You Sister” by Robert Riskin, John Meehan  ph  Joseph Walker  ed  Maurice Wright

Barbara Stanwyck (Florence Fallon), David Manners (John Carson), Sam Hardy (Bob Hornsby), Beryl Mercer (Mrs Higgins), Russell Hopton (Bill Welford),

It would be easy for me to say that The Miracle Woman is Frank Capra’s first great film, but it’d be wrong.  The Strong Man, the best vehicle of Harry Langdon, was that.  Another factor to enter into the equation is that The Miracle Woman is so little spoken of, and Capra’s accepted breakthrough is generally conceived to be in 1933 with Lady for a Day and the only recently critically reclaimed The Bitter Tea of General Yen.  For decades it was out of circulation as a product of the pre-Code era, and a couple of uses of racial terminology (Manners referring to Stanwyck’s voice over the radio as coon shouting) make it persona non grata to the extent that it still awaits a DVD release in its native US. 

            Florence Fallon is a young girl in her early twenties who has devoted her life to her pastor father, and when, after twenty years of service, he is ousted by the hypocrites in his congregation in favour of a younger man, the heartbreak kills him and Florence finishes off his unfinished final sermon in the form of a swift broadside to the gathered wolves.  Bitter and with nowhere especially to go, she hooks up with conman Hornsby as an evangelist and makes a fortune suckering gullible types into giving money towards a tabernacle.  Everything goes cynically swimmingly until a blind man who lost his sight flying in World War I steps up on stage and she falls in love with him, to the chagrin of Hornsby, who tries to blackmail her into his own bed and away to fresh climes.  (more…)

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