Musical Monday: Sweethearts (1938)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Sweethearts” (1938)– Musical #292


W.S. Van Dyke

Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Reginald Gardiner, Florence Rice, Mischa Auer, Herman Bing, George Barbier, Fay Holden, Allyn Joslyn, Lucille Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Olin Howland, Douglas McPhail, Betty Jaynes, Irving Bacon (uncredited)

Husband and wife Broadway stars Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane (MacDonald and Eddy) have been happily married for six years and are in their sixth year of performing Victor Herbert’s operetta “Sweethearts.” They are exhausted due to constant singing obligations and decide to go to Hollywood. Their Broadway producer (Morgan) and his staff hatch a plan to drive the couple apart and keep them from going to Hollywood.

-This is MGM’s first full-length feature in three-strip Technicolor and the first color film for either Nelson Eddy or Jeanette MacDonald
-Filming began on June 17, 1938, in black-and-white. After two days, however, the production was interrupted, all the black-and-white footage was scrapped and filming began again in Technicolor, according to the American Film Institute (AFI)
-Pianist José Iturbi was to make his acting debut in Sweethearts (1938), but he didn’t end up in the completed film. Iturbi was not in any films until 1944, according to AFI
-The “Sweethearts” number uses the set from the “Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number from The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
-Fifth pairing of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
-Costumes by Adrian

-Gorgeous Technicolor
-Broadway lights montage at the beginning
-Jeannette MacDonald’s dachshund
-Jeannette MacDonald’s vibrant hair and costumes
-Shopping montage

Notable Songs:
-“Sweethearts” performed by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
-“Wooden Shoes” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Ray Bolger
-“On Parade” performed by Nelson Eddy
-“Pretty as a Picture” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

Nominated for:
-Douglas Shearer for Best Sound, Recording
-Herbert Stothart for Best Music, Scoring
-Honorary award for the color cinematography of the M-G-M production Sweethearts to Oliver T. Marsh and Allen M. Davey

My review:
“Sweethearts” is unlike any other Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musical. This musical feels fuller and elaborate. It features larger musicals numbers to simulate a Broadway show, rather than just operatic duets. The costumes are bright and elaborate, and Jeanette does a bit of dancing in some of the Broadway numbers.

Adrian costumes in beautiful Technicolor

On top of all of this, it is in beautiful Technicolor. The cinematographers and costume designer Adrian fully took advantage of this. Jeanette MacDonald’s red hair is fiery bright and Adrian’s costumes are in every color of the rainbow: from a baby pink tulle costume, a chiffon mustard yellow gown, and a sequined blue evening gown.

The cast is also filled with magnificent characters actors: Frank Morgan, Florence Rice,
Ray Bolger, Reginald Gardiner, Mischa Auer, Herman Bing, Fay Holden, Lucille Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, and Terry Kilburn. George Barbier plays Benjamin Silver, the head of the studio trying to sign Eddy and MacDonald’s characters. Judging by the logo of the fictional studio and how Barbier was dressed, I wonder if MGM had in mind that they were trying to make him look like their own Louis B. Mayer.

We also see young singers Betty Jaynes and Douglas McPhail who were married the same year “Sweethearts” was released. Jaynes and McPhail co-starred in “Babes in Arms” (1939) the next year with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. The two play understudies to Eddy and MacDonald, which is interesting because McPhail was signed to be “the next Nelson Eddy.”

Jeanette MacDonald, Frank Morgan and Nelson Eddy in “Sweethearts”

The only issue with having so many wonderful supporting actors is that some of them felt wasted with little screen time. For example, we only really see Ray Bolger dance at the beginning and then he is never seen again. Reginald Gardiner isn’t in the film very much either.

Along with being insanely beautiful and chockfull of stars, this is a funny musical. Hollywood and the entertainment industry makes fun of itself. In one scene in Benjamin Silver’s office late in the evening, studio workers rush in exclaiming about all the issues they have had during filming that day. “She fainted after the 24th take!” said Irving Bacon’s character. Later, while Reginald Gardiner is convincing Eddy and MacDonald to Hollywood, he talks about how they have all their evening to themselves and you only have to take one take and then you are done with the scene forever. This scene is humorous because you know it’s all so untrue.

While Rose Marie and Maytime are my top two favorite Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald films, “Sweethearts” probably falls at number three. It’s so beautiful to look at and also fun. Even if you don’t love opera music, I feel like this movie is more than just Eddy and MacDonald singing to each other. It’s beautiful and filled with gorgeous costumes and humor.

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