Musical Monday: Smilin’ Through (1941)

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:
Smilin’ Through (1941) – Musical #321


Frank Borzage

Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Aherne, Gene Raymond, Ian Hunter, Frances Robinson, Patrick O’Moore, Jackie Horner (uncredited)

John Carteret (Aherne) has lived alone, sad and bitter after the murder of his bride Moonyean (MacDonald) at their wedding years before. The young niece of Moonyean, Kathleen (Horner), comes to live with John after her parents die. Kathleen grows up to favor Moonyean and falls in love with Kenneth Wayne (Raymond), the son of the man who killed Moonyean.

-Third film version of “Smilin’ Through.” Norma Talmadge, Wyndham Standing and Harrison Ford star in the 1922 version. Norma Shearer, Fredric March and Leslie Howard star in the 1932 version.
-The film is based on the 1919 play
-Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond were married in real life and this was their only film together.
-James Stewart and Robert Taylor were originally considered for the leading men, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Moonyean (MacDonald) visits John (Aherne)

-Filmed in gorgeous Technicolor

Notable Songs:
-“The Kerry Dance” performed by Jackie Horner and Jeanette MacDonald
-“Smilin’ Through” performed Jeanette MacDonald
-“There’s a Long, Long Trail” performed by Jeanette MacDonald


Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald in Smilin’ Through

My review:
By 1941, “Smilin’ Through” wasn’t a new story.

It was introduced on the stage in 1919, then on screen in 1922 and 1932. This version was the third and last time it was on the screen. And while I haven’t seen the 1922 version, I like the 1932 and 1941 versions equally as much.

This adaptation with Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Ahrene and Gene Raymond has a leg up on the rest of them: It’s in Technicolor.

“Smilin’ Through” is visually gorgeous and the story is equally lovely, though bittersweet. I can’t say enough about the visual beauty of this film. The color really shows off Jeanette MacDonald’s red hair and the colors are so lush, particularly the blues and greens.

Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond (married in real life) both play dual role. MacDonald plays Brian Aherne’s niece Kathleen and his deceased love, Moonyean (a name that was created for the 1919 play). Gene Raymond plays an enemy of Brian Aherne’s and the man’s son, who falls for Kathleen.

I really do love “Smilin’ Through.” It’s more of a romantic drama with songs added in (since Jeanette is in the film) than a full out musical, but it has nine songs total, which to me qualifies this as a musical. This adaptation is the only musical version of the film, but that is because of our leading star, Jeanette MacDonald.

MacDonald does a great job in the role, and she seems like a natural selection in a role Norma Shearer also played. The were two of Hollywood’s top stars and both shared similar dramatic delivery of lines. Gene Raymond is decent in his role, and it’s interesting to watch husband and wife Raymond and MacDonald together in their only film.

Brian Aherne and Ian Hunter, two underrated actors, are probably the highlights in the film to me. I love Hunter in everything. It is interesting to watch Aherne play most of the film as a bitter old man, but then in the flashback to his wedding, he is a lighthearted, happy and joking young man. It’s interesting to see him play those two personalities against each other.

While the message of the story is that love prevails and that bitterness and hate will keep you from who you love, it also is a sad story. I feel sad for Brian Aherne’s character, growing old and bitter and lonely, though his niece does bring him some comfort.

But while parts of the movie make me sad, I do love “Smilin’ Through.” It’s colorful, the lead actors are wonderful and a great mix of sweet and sad romance.

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