Musical Monday: The Chocolate Soldier (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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Chocolate Soldier – Musical #217

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Roy Del Ruth

Nelson Eddy, Risë Stevens, Nigel Bruce, Florence Bates, Dorothy Raye, Nydia Westman, Max Barwyn, Charles Judels, Jack ‘Tiny’ Lipson , Dorothy Morris (uncredited), Yvette Duguay (uncredited)

Maria (Stevens) and Karl Lang (Eddy) are married singing stars. Karl is convinced that Maria is a flirt and may be cheating on him. To see if she is being true to him, Karl dresses up like a Russian soldier to woo his wife.

• First film of Metropolitan Opera star, Risë Stevens.
• Based on Ferenc Molnár’s play “The Guardsman.” MGM produced a non-musical version in 1931 with Broadway stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. The music is from Oscar Strauss’s “The Chocolate Soldier.”
• “The Chocolate Soldier” was a 1908 operetta based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play “Arms and the Man.” Shaw was unhappy with the operetta, so instead of using the plot of “Arms and the Man,” the MGM film was titled “The Chocolate Soldier” using music from the operetta but with Ferenc Molnár’s plot of “The Guardsman,” or Testőr.
• Dorothy Raye is billed as Dorothy Gilmore

Rise Stevens and Nelson Eddy in The Chocolate Soldier, 1941

Notable Songs:
• “My Hero” performed by Nelson Eddy and Risë Stevens
• “Song of the Flea” performed by Nelson Eddy
• “Tiralala” performed by Risë Stevens
• “The Chocolate Soldier” performed by Nelson Eddy and Risë Stevens

Rise Stevens with Nelson Eddy dressed as a Russian officer in “The Chocolate Soldier.”

My review:
“The Chocolate Soldier” has a relatively simple plot: A husband thinks his wife is unfaithful, so he disguises himself as another man to see if his wife will be unfaithful.

But the development of this film is a bit more convoluted.

Going into “The Chocolate Soldier,” you may think you are watching Oscar Straus’s operetta, which was an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Arms and the Man.” Think again. The only thing used from the operetta is the title and some of the songs. The story is an adaptation of Testőr by Ferenc Molnár, or “The Guardsman.”

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released this story 10 years prior but with Broadway royalty and real-life husband and wife actors, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in the lead roles. Titled “The Guardsman” (1931), it was a non-musical film and was the first talking film Fontanne and Lunt were seen in, though they had little interest in films.

Updated with songs, this remake of “The Guardsman” (1931) is very similar to the original and just as fun.

When Nelson Eddy started in films, he was generally criticized for being wooden. I found him funny and entertaining in “The Chocolate Soldier.” His character of the Russian is so over-the-top that it’s hilarious, and I loved a scene where he looked at himself in the mirror and accessed an aging face.

Another really humorous scene is that Eddy, while dressed as a Russian, is supposed to be dancing with gypsies. With some quick camera work, we are supposed to believe Nelson Eddy is doing high jumps and turns, which is very funny.

The leading lady of Risë Stevens may not be a name you are familiar with, unless you have seen Going My Way. Stevens was a famous opera singer who was part of the New York Metropolitan Opera. “The Chocolate Soldier” was her first film, but you never would know. She acts naturally and appears comfortable on screen.

Stevens was signed to an MGM contract when Nelson Eddy’s frequent co-star Jeanette MacDonald was no longer interested in the musical partnership, according to the book Risë Stevens: A Life in Music by John Pennino.

And with their operatic voices, Stevens and Eddy sing beautifully together – particularly “My Hero.”

There were certainly opportunities for these two powerhouse voices to sing, but this film is truthfully more of a comedy with music added in.

However, while I enjoy this film, it is a little bittersweet. Eddy’s career with MGM was coming to a close and his last film with them would come a year later. Eddy’s film career ended by 1947. While Stevens’s was just beginning, her fame was on the New York stage. While she appeared in other Hollywood films, like Going My Way, her film career was less impressive than that of her opera career.

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