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:
Maytime (1937) – Musical #234
Robert Z. Leonard
John Barrymore, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Herman Bing, Tom Brown, Lynne Carver, Rafaela Ottiano, Charles Judels, Paul Porcasi, Sig Ruman, Walter Kingsford, Billy Gilbert (uncredited), Leonid Kinskey (uncredited),
Marcia Mornay (MacDonald) is a rising opera star, whose climb to fame was aided and nurtured by her voice teacher and manager Nicolai Nazaroff (Barrymore). Marcia accepts a marriage proposal from Nicolai as a thanks for all that he has done for her. After becoming engaged, Marcia meets singer Paul Allison (Eddy) and the two fall in love.
• Based on the 1917 operetta “Maytime” by Rida Johnson Young and Sigmund Romberg.
• Originally one of producer Irving Thalberg’s projects and was to be filmed in Technicolor. However, after Thalberg died in 1936, filming was halted. When filming was started again, it was filmed in black-and-white due to budget.
• When Irving Thalberg was associated with the project, Paul Lukas was to Nikolai Nazaroff. When filming resumed, Lukas was not available and John Barrymore took the role.
• Warner Bros. originally owned the screen rights to “Maytime,” but sold them to MGM in 1935. It was initially considered as a role for opera singer Grace Moore.
• The third screen teaming of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The singing duo was in a total of eight films together.
• Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy performed a version of “Maytime” on the Lux Radio Theater program on Sept. 4, 1944.
• The May Day sequences
• Anytime they sing “Will You Remember?”
• “Will You Remember (Sweetheart)?” performed by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
• “Les filles de Cadix” performed by Jeanette MacDonald
• “Vive l’Opera” performed by Nelson Eddy
• “Ham and Eggs” performed by Nelson Eddy
• Each of the opera sequences performed by Jeanette MacDonald during the montage.
I adore this film. It’s just overall stunning.
Not only is it my favorite Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy musical … it may just very well be one of my favorite movie musicals.
The film begins with and elderly lady Miss Morrison, played by Jeanette MacDonald, who gives some advice to a young woman who wants to become a singer. Then told in form of flashback, Miss Morrison tells her about her life as opera singer Marcia Mornay and her relationships with her voice teacher and manager Nicolai Nazaroff (John Barrymore) and Paul Allison (Nelson Eddy).
From start to finish, this movie is a mixture of joy and heartbreak. But through and through, it’s visually and audibly gorgeous. There are few movie duets that I find as thrilling as Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald singing “Will You Remember (Sweetheart)?” I could watch it over and over. In fact, I did while revisiting this film for this review. The sweetness of the lyrics and how their voices blend so perfectly … it’s breathtaking. Jeanette MacDonald also performs one of my favorite pieces of music, “Les filles de Cadix.”
All of the singing and opera numbers are expertly shot by director Robert Z Leonard. MacDonald said once that she liked working with him, because Leonard was also a singer, according to a 2006 Turner Classic Movies article.
“He was not only one of the ablest directors but one who, being a singer himself, was deft and sympathetic in his handling of the musical phases of the story,” MacDonald said. “He didn’t believe in the iron-handed technique. Mr. Leonard always kept us pliable and spontaneous.”
And while the singing is a major highlight of this film, the cinematography (Oliver T. Marsh), set design (Cedric Gibbons) and costuming (Adrian) are so lush and beautiful.
Gibbons’s designs, particularly during the two May Day festivals in the film, give the perfect, romantic feeling of spring. The couples swinging and dancing, the trees blooming with flowers and MacDonald and Eddy sitting along a river bank. Every detail is perfect.
Aside from their singing, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald are both so great in this. Who said Nelson Eddy is wooden? He’s energetic and sometimes funny in this film. Jeanette MacDonald has so many great little moments in this film — powdering her face in the reflection of the armor of a soldier is such a great touch to show that her character is both young, a bit fickle and self absorbed. She has magnificent facial expressions, like when she is trying to avoid a kiss from Eddy early on in their meeting.
John Barrymore also gives a great performance, which is relatively restrained for Barrymore. When I first saw this film as a teen, I saw Barrymore’s Nicolai as a villain of the film. But he’s really not (at least at the start). There are times I actually feel bad for Nicolai, like when you see his face when Marcia and Paul kiss on stage.
I just could ramble on incoherently about MAYTIME (1937), because I love it. It just makes my heart swell with joy (and also makes some tears well). I just love it.
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