Musical Monday: Serenade (1956)

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:
“Serenade” –Musical #510


Warner Brothers

Anthony Mann

Mario Lanza, Joan Fontaine, Sara Montiel, Vincent Price, Joseph Callelia, Vince Edwards, Ed Platt

Vineyard worker Damon (Lanza) has dreams of becoming an opera star. When socialite Kendall Hale (Fontaine) gets lost and spots him in vineyard, makes Damon her project to make him famous. But like other countless athletes and artists, Kendall builds them up to toss them aside, causing destruction to each one. Damon is no exception. After a break down, Damon goes to Mexico where he tries to rebuild his life.


Mario Lanza dressed in costume "Othello."

Mario Lanza dressed in costume “Othello.”

-Adapted from a James M. Cain novel.
-Metropolitan Opera Singer Licia Albanese is featured in the “Othello” scene.
-Mario Lanza’s first film in three years.
-A brief part of “Othello” is performed in the film. While Lanza is only in costume for 14 minutes, the makeup took four hours, according to a March 24, 1956, “Miami News” article.
-In the film, Juana (Montiel) becomes Damon’s wife. In the Cain book, she is a prostitute and the two open a brothel together. Also in the book, Damon struggles with bisexuality.

Notable Songs:
-“Dio Ti Giocondi” performed by Mario Lanza and Licia Albanese
-“Serenade” performed by Mario Lanza
-“Ave Maria” performed by Mario Lanza

The only really exciting part of the film.

The only really exciting part of the film.

My Review:
Simply put, “Serenade” is dull.
It’s a slow moving, predictable plot. The plot is predictable and not new: the mature society lady who molds an artist just to move on to the next project. The most interesting characters were played by the secondary roles. Vincent Price was the most interesting character as he helps Lanza with his career. It’s also interesting to see character actor Joseph Calleia as an elderly music lover.
The most sympathetic character was Juana, played by Sara Montiel. She was lovely and also brought two rather exciting scenes to an otherwise boring movie.
While Mario Lanza has a beautiful voice and I enjoy opera, his songs are also boring. It is disappointing that the “Othello” scene is so brief.
“Serenade” is overly dramatic and overly long. Even Anthony Mann’s direction and beautiful music could not save this film.


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Musical Monday: “Music for Madame” (1937)

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:
“Music for Madame” (1948) – Musical #504

music for madame

RKO Radio Pictures

John G. Blystone

Joan Fontaine, Nino Martini, Lee Patrick, Alan Mowbray, Alan Hale, Grant Mitchell, Billy Gilbert, Jack Carson

Nino Maretti, an aspiring opera singer (Martini) is conned into thinking he is singing for important composer at a Hollywood party. In reality, Nino is singing at a Hollywood party to distract the guests as the two con artists steal priceless pearls. Jean Clemens (Fontaine) is at the same party, trying to get a symphony she wrote noticed. When Nino realizes he was used, he goes into hiding and doesn’t sing so he won’t be recognized—all the while falling in love with Jean.

Nino Martini, Joan Fontaine, and Lee Patrick (left to right) work as Hollywood film extras in "Music for Madame."

Nino Martini, Joan Fontaine, and Lee Patrick (left to right) work as Hollywood film extras in “Music for Madame.”

-“Music for Madame” is Fontaine’s fifth credited role on screen. The movie following “Music” is her only other musical, “Damsel in Distress” (1937) with Fred Astaire.
-Mowbray’s character was spoofing famous conductor Leopold Stokowski.
-According to IMDB, the film lost $375,000 at the box office.
-Martini was an Italian opera singer who sang with the New York City Metropolitan Opera. He made four films from 1935 to 1948. “Music for Madame” was his second to last film.
-Actor Jack Carson has a small role as an assistant director.
-Actor Ward Bond has an uncredited role in the film.

Notable Songs:
-Vesti la giubba from the opera “Pagliacci” (1892)
-“King of the Road” is sung by a truck driver who picks up Fontaine and Martini and accompanied by several car horns played by the two passengers.
-“I Want the World to Know” is the love theme of the film, written by Fontaine’s character and sung several times by Martini.

-Alan Hale. Hale is an excellent character actor in all of his films, but he is the only actor who stands out with humor and charisma in this film. The other actors are all pale in comparison to him.
-The scene with the truck drive singing “King of the Road” is an interesting one. He says he doesn’t have a radio so he makes music himself with all of these horns inside his vehicle. It’s not a musical masterpiece but of all the musicals I have seen, I’ve never seen a number like that.
-Martini’s acting is not the best, but he does have a beautiful singing voice.
-Fontaine looks incredibly young with a page boy bob and a bow in her hair. It’s an interesting way to see her when you are used to the sophisticated roles she played starting in the 1940s.

Jean (Fontaine) is detained by police after the pearls go missing.

Jean (Fontaine) is detained by police after the pearls go missing.

My Review:
I feel like “Music for Madame” is one of those movies that Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine looks back at and shudders. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s also one I wouldn’t highly recommend. “Music for Madame” is a simple, entertaining plot but a lot of the acting is lacking. Nino Martini has a beautiful voice, but that can’t carry the film on it’s own. Fontaine is still exercising her acting chops. The most interesting character in my opinion is Alan Hale as a bumbling, music loving detective.

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Elephants and overbearing housekeepers

Have you ever seen a movie that is so similar to another one, yet you know it isn’t a remake?

I’m not saying something like Disturbia (2007) and Rear Window (1954) which are so similar it might as well be a remake and there was a court case over the fact that the screenwriter of Distrubia copied Rear Window.

Two movies I feel are very similar are Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940)and Elephant Walk (1954).

Both have very similar plots. The odd thing is that both of these films were movies adapted from books. Elephant Walk was written by Robert Standish in 1948 and Rebecca was written by Daphne Du Maurier ten years prior in 1938.

Let’s briefly over view the plots before we proceed with the comparison.

Rebecca (1940): A young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets a rich widower (Laurence Oliver) and has a whirlwind romance. They fall in love and marry after not knowing each other for very long. Shortly after moving into her new home, the young bride finds that she is not in control of her own household. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) the house keeper underminds everything the 2nd Mrs. DeWinter tries to do and constantly reminds her that she is not as good as the deceased wife, Rebecca.

Elephant Walk (1954): Rich plantation owner John Wiley (Peter Finch) from Ceylon comes to England specifically to find a bride who ends up being Ruth Wiley (Elizabeth Taylor). She marries him after only knowing him a brief time and finds plantation life in Africa difficult. Not only is life in Africa strenuous, but also the fact that the head man servant, Appuhamy (Abraham Sofaer), won’t let Ruth run her home. It makes things difficult because everyone idolizes John’s father, the late Mr. Wiley, and talks about him as if he is still alive.

If you don’t see the similarities through the plot summaries, then this will help:

1.) Both movies have a creepy housekeeper that won’t let the heroine run her home. It doesn’t make things any better when their husbands are cold and don’t stand up for them at all.

In both films, the servants worship someone who is dead and continue to act as if they are alive. In Rebecca it is Mrs. Danvers constantly reminiscing about old times with Rebecca of when she would get ready for parties and brush her hair as Rebecca told her about her evening. In Elephant Walk it’s Appuhamy still serving his late master and acting as if he is alive and giving orders.

Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca

Appuhamy played by Abraham Sofaer in Elephant Walk

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