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

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Starring:
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)

Plot:
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.

Trivia:
-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

Highlights:
-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

Awards:
Nominated for:
-Douglas Shearer for Best Sound, Recording
-Herbert Stothart for Best Music, Scoring
Won:
-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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Or maybe like The Prison of Zenda

Back in September, I wrote a blog post called Just like the prince and in the pauper about actors who have an uncanny resemblance. I realized I left out a few actors who look like they could be relatives.
This post, like the other, is named after another famous mix up of identities. In the “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1937), commoner Ronald Colman looks exactly like prince Ronald Colman and is asked to impersonate him for the prince’s safety. There was a 1954 remake with Stewart Granger as well, but I like Colman better.

Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond

Nelson Eddy and Gene Raymond: These two men have an uncanny resemblance and I can’t believe I forgot to add them in my last look-a-likes post. I only remembered when I was telling my grandmother about the post and she mentioned that she always thought they looked similar. The odd thing about these two men’s similar appearance is that they both had strong connections to actress and opera singer Jeanette MacDonald.
•Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald were married from 1937 until her death in 1965. They were paired in “Smilin’ Through” (1941) together.  They seemed to have a long and happy marriage, both gushing about the other in quotes.  Gene seemed to love Jeanette very much. In 1972, seven years after her death he said, “”We had 28 glorious years. Jeanette and I respected and loved each other, very deeply. We put one another before anyone or anything. I am blessed to have known her, loved her and been loved by her – absolutely, an incredible lady!”
Jeanette seemed equally enthralled with her husband. In 1943, Jeanette said, “I can’t believe how blessed I am! I’m married to the most wonderful man, Gene Raymond, whom I’m deeply in love with, and, my career is right where I want it to be. I can live like this forever!”  And again in 1947 she gushed, “Gene, is the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. He’s warm, sensitive, loving, funny and very handsome. Being Mrs. Gene Raymond, I admit I’m biased!”
•However, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald had a curious and rumored connection. I’ve heard that they hated each other and would eat garlic when they had to sing to each other. I’ve also heard that they had a secret love affair. I’m really on the fence about both, because I’ve seen a lot of conflicting information. Supposedly during the 1950s, Jeanette MacDonald was asked by her friend Samuel Griffin why she married Gene instead of Nelson and she said, “I must have had rock in my head.”  I still really don’t think they had an affair though, especially when in 1957, Nelson said, “I don’t know why people still want to believe that Jeanette MacDonald and I were a couple off the set. There’s no truth to that rumor, at all. She’s happily married to Gene Raymond and I’m happily married to Anne. I guess people want to believe that what they see on the screen is reality while in actuality, it’s just a movie!”
Regardless of romantic involvement with Jeanette MacDonald, both men looked startlingly similar.

Harve Presnell and Howard Keel

Harve Presnell and Howard Keel: Not only do these men look very similar, they also have the same deep and bellowing baritone singing voice. Howard Keel broke into the MGM musical extravaganza in the early 1950s with his rich, vibrating voice. He stared in big budget musicals like “Annie Get Your Gun” (1951) and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (1954).
Similarly, Harve Presnell has the same semi-operatic, rumbling voice and physique, but was about five or 10 years too late for the musical game. His first big musical was “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” in 1964, which was toward the end of the golden age of musicals and a major turn in films. He was in other musicals like “Paint Your Wagon” (1968) and acted until his death in 2009, but one can only wonder what his career could have been like in the 1950s. You can really see the resemblance if you compare Presnell in “Paint Your Wagon” and Keel in “Kiss Me Kate.”

Dick Powell and Kenny Baker

Dick Powell and Kenny Baker: Dick Powell was the ultimate crooner and Kenny Baker was a singer on Jack Benny’s radio show. Both singers look very similar, sing the same crooning style, but Baker was never the same star caliber as Powell.
Powell was every woman’s heartthrob as he cuddled Ruby Keeler and sang about June and the moon. He was clean cut, attractive, always grinning and the sweet young all-American guy who won the girl. His career rocketed in “42nd Street” and never looked back as he went on to do film noir movies like “Murder, My Sweet” and even direct films.
The first time I saw Baker in “Goldwyn Follies” (1938), I thought “This must be Sam Goldwyn’s answer to Dick Powell.” Baker looks like Powell’s twin brother, who is slightly less attractive. Baker started his film career two years later than Powell, but ended it earlier as well. His film appearances in low budget movies like “Goldwyn Follies” and “52nd Street” (1937) are forgettable. He was in the larger budget “The Harvey Girls” (1948) as Cyd Charisse’s love interest, but does not have a substantial role. One could wonder if his lack of fame is because of Powell’s and Baker’s similar mugs.

Andrea Leeds and Olivia deHavilland

Andrea Leeds and Olivia deHavilland: Olivia deHavilland was compared to Anne Shirley in the last look-a-like post, but one cannot over look the similarities of Leeds and deHavilland’s film demeanor and appearance. Both have delicate features, soft eyes and soothing voices. Leeds and deHavilland were both Warner players, so I often wonder if Leeds was groomed to be a deHavilland replacement. Her first substantial role was in “Stage Door” in 1937, which is when deHavilland was in the midst of court battles with Warner Brothers.
However, there probably wasn’t a motive, they just happen to look nearly the same with the same mild mannerisms. Interestingly enough, Leeds was strongly considered for the role of Melanie Hamilton in “Gone with the Wind,” the role deHavilland made famous and was nominated for.

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