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THE LOTTERY BRIDE (1930), directed by Paul Stein, stars Jeanette
MacDonald in her only film for United Artists, and the only movie ever
produced by Arthur Hammerstein. In it, she plays Jennie, a young singer
in the Yukon Case who must deny her true love, Chris (John Garrick)
when she later becomes a lottery bride for his older brother, Olaf
(Robert Chisholm). Also in the supporting cast are Carroll Nye as
MacDonald's brother, Nels; Joseph Macauley and Paul Hurst, along with
music by Rudolph Friml, J. Kerin Brennan, Carter Desmond, Howard Dietz
and Arthur Schwartz.
American Movie Classics premiered this rarely seen antique July 1, 1996, as part of its fourth annual film preservation. Sorry to say this is far from the best movie Jeanette MacDonald ever appeared. Dialogue is laughable and acting style, especially from its co-stars, comes right out of the silent film era. There's some overly dramatic arm waving to specify my point. Maybe in silent movie form this might have proved better, with Vitaphone orchestration or piano scoring to guide it along. MacDonald sings two songs, a solo, "Yubla," and a duet with John Garrick titled, "The Northern Light." Other songs, including those sung by others, "You're an Angel," "I'll Follow the Trail," are easily forgettable. Comedy "relief" supplied by Joe E. Brown (on loan from Warner Brothers) and ZaSu Pitts helps some, but not enough to save it as a whole. Theatrically released at 80 minutes, VHS copies from Blackhawk video is clocked at 75 minutes minus the original early Technicolor finish. The AMC presentation, however, was taken from a 1930s 65 minute reissue that eliminates Joe E. Brown and Harry Gribbon's number, "Strong Men," and other scenes involving Brown and Pitts towards its second half. This edited form is the one that has turned up a decade later on DVD. Fortunately when THE LOTTER BRIDE turned up on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 14, 2011), it not only presented the film at close to original length but the restoration of its missing Technicolor finish as well.
Regardless of good premise weakened by song interludes and inane dialog, I'm glad AMC and later TCM showed it anyway. A real curio for fans of early sound musicals or a chance to watch Jeanette MacDonald in her pre-MGM era. Otherwise, "let it lay."(**)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Light operetta starring Jeanette MacDonald as Jenny, who we first meet
at an Oslo night club called the "Viking Ship", where she is singing
her heart out and partying with handsome university student Chris (John
Garrick). New club partner, wise-cracking Hoke (played by Joe E. Brown)
has all kinds of new ideas for sparking up the club - like shutting off
the doors, heating up the customers, and selling them drinks to "cool
'em off", and holding a dance marathon with a cash prize. Jenny's
brother is in trouble after stealing money from a bank - so she agrees
to partner with him in the marathon to try to win the money. Too late -
the cops are after him and Jenny is arrested for helping him escape.
And meanwhile she's caught hugging a man who helps the brother - and
her lover Chris leaves town in a jealous huff, without even waiting for
an explanation! And now we get to the real meat of the story, a very
odd plot line to say the least. For some reason she decides to head to
a mining town in the icy north where she plans to become a "picture
bride". The lottery system used in this process features a man selling
chances to lonely-hearts to "win a bride" (sight unseen) at the hands
of a spin on a roulette style wheel. Okey dokey. The twist - Chris is
in town, decides he'll take a chance on the wheel, and ends up winning
- of all things, Jenny as a bride. But without even a glance at her
photo, he gives her away to his brother. She arrives in town, and a
love triangle follows.
This is a lightly entertaining film where characters occasionally burst into a pleasant, well-performed song here and there and a touch of humor is added with a side plot featuring comedy one-liners and budding romance (sort of) between Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts (who plays the "Viking Ship" owner). Interesting special effects come into play in later scenes involving a dirigible heading to the North Pole and a rescue on the ice. Jeanette MacDonald is very lovely in this film - it certainly is hard to understand why she wants to put herself into this sort of lottery for marriage, seems a bit implausible, but oh well, it makes for a cute plot. Max Davidson appears in a small part here as the "marriage broker" who recruits brides for this whole scheme. The DVD of this features a shorter version of the film with a couple of missing scenes - the black and white print looks reasonably nice (it does not have Technicolor for the final scene).
Arthur Hammerstein of the famous theatrical family and uncle of the
celebrated lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, II, was a Broadway producer of
considerable reputation. Probably deciding that the legitimate theater
was risky in Depression times, he opted to go to Hollywood and produce
his latest show as independent production released by United Artists.
Hammerstein managed to secure the services of Jeanette MacDonald from
Paramount and Joe E. Brown from Warner Brothers.
The three male leads John Garrick, Joseph Macaulay, and Robert Chisholm all came from the legitimate stage. Garrick would return to Great Britain where he had a considerable career in British cinema for the next decade. The other two had considerable credits on the Broadway stage.
The film is set in Norway with Jeanette working in an Oslo café and going out with Garrick. Italian dirigible explorer Macaulay has his eye on her as well. Jeanette's got herself an embezzling brother played by Carroll Nye whom she takes the fall for. But before that Garrick walks out in a huff thinking she's two timing him with Macaulay.
When released from jail, Jeanette becomes a Lottery Bride. She gets assigned a number and whomever draws her number among the miners in the area north of Trondheim gets that bride. Who should draw it, but Chisholm who's a miner up there and who's gone up to join him and forget a broken heart, but Garrick who is Chisholm's brother. Later on Macaulay joins bringing his polar expedition to town.
Unfortunately the three stage performers did not tone it down for the cinema and they overact outrageously. Macaulay as a villain of sorts is this side of Snidely Whiplash.
The climax of course is a rescue of the downed dirigible, reminding everyone of the ill-fated Umberto Nobile expedition of a couple of years before. On the plus side the special effects of the dirigible crash and rescue were pretty good though they're obviously miniatures to today's sophisticated eye. For the time they were first rate.
Rudolf Friml wrote the score with J. Keirn Brennan the lyrics and it's one of Friml's lesser efforts. Jeanette MacDonald as the movie name gets first billing, but most of the singing is done by the three guys from the stage. For comic relief Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts are here and quite frankly they're needed.
The Lottery Bride given its special effects was obviously something that Hammerstein was better off doing on the screen. The problem is that he couldn't shake his stage origins. After The Lottery Bride, Hammerstein went back to Broadway and what he knew best.
An operetta about an Italian dirigible heading for the North Pole in a
snowstorm has a lot going against it. Add to that - or rather subtract
from that - a score by Rudolf Friml that does not have even one even
slightly catchy number, and a script that gets worse and worse as it
goes along, leaving reason and logic somewhere behind on the Norwegian
tundra, and you have The Lottery Bride. Seldom has so much talent been
so totally wasted, I'm afraid.
Jeanette MacDonald is really in very good voice in this picture, in particular in her one duet with her leading man. She does some fine singing, but it's a shame it's of music that is so completely bland. The two male leads also sing well.
But this plot is strictly from hunger - and I normally have no problem with silly operetta plots. This one is not at all funny. It is tedious melodrama with a lot of excessive acting.
If you like Jeanette MacDonald, as I do, you may be tempted to dismiss this review and give it a try. You'll be sorry, but you'll survive.
I can only wonder why Oscar Hammerstein would have wanted to produce this. It truly has absolutely nothing going for it. I couldn't wait for it to end, and didn't think it ever would. Actually, it doesn't come to an end; it just stops. There is still the crew of that dirigible stranded on the ice near the North Pole, and we never find out how they will get rescued. But we don't want to sit through any more to find out.
The other reviewers have said it all. A stupid story, an insipid
Jeannette, whose later feistiness is nowhere to be seen, and a mediocre
Friml song score - I won't belabor the plot, all of which would not
exist if anyone actually talked to anyone else instead of walking
around assuming all the time.
The acting is melodramatic silent style with only Jeannette restrained. Garrick reminds one facially of Dirk Bogarde and the only acting he's called on to do is smile at the beginning and be angry for the rest.
The restored TCM print I saw with all songs and two-strip Technicolor ending runs 77 minutes, 32 seconds, so the original timing is off by 2.5 minutes.
Drinking Song; Yubla; My Northern Light; My Northern Light - reprise; Round and Round; Brother Love ;High and Low ;Song of Napoli ;Strong Men; You're An Angel; You're An Angel - reprise; High and Low - reprise; I'll Follow The Trail
Jeannette has only two songs, Yubla (a solo) and My Northern Light (in duet with Garrick) and these appear in the first 12 minutes of the film. After that she sings not a note.
A big surprise is a very young and very handsome Carroll Nye (who turns in a ridiculously melodramatic performance as the thieving brother) - unrecognizable from his nervous nelly, bewhiskered Frank Kennedy, Scarlett's second husband in GWTW nine years later.
The Techncolor insert serves for a "vision of madness" superimposed on the sky - a church procession with a close up of MacDonald superimposed over it. Other than that it's just a wasteland of ice with the arrival of a rescue ship - all browns, reds and greens. It only lasts 3 minutes and 37 seconds - one wonders why they bothered at all.
All in all, it's dull, insipid and silly - rather a waste of time. For fans of MacDonald and Friml only.
Sundered lovers meet again amid tragic irony at a mining camp in
I wanted to see this film because of the uncredited camera-work of Karl Freund, of whom I am a big fan. Although it is far too difficult to tell which work was his and which was not, and the overall film was rather blah. There is some impressive use of matte shots, but that does not thrill me.
I felt like there was too much singing and too much reliance on one character who was clearly supposed to be funny but was not. The overall story was okay, and maybe with a bit of updating it would be alright, but I just never felt like it was worth caring about anyone.
Lottery Bride, The (1930)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Based on the Rudolf Friml musical, this film was for years only available in a cut down 67-minute version but in 2011 the complete 80-minute version with the original Technicolor ending was shown on TCM. The film has Jeanette MacDonald playing Jenny, a woman who offers herself up as a lottery bride, which causes her to lose her true love (John Garrick) when the man's brother (Robert Chisholm) wins her. THE LOTTERY BRIDE is a pretty forgettable movie in terms of story but there's no denying that it has a very strong cast and the final reel being in color is also a major plus. This was the only film produced by Arthur Hammerstein and the musical numbers are certainly less than memorable. I'd say the story too is less than memorable as the screenplay follows just about every twist and turn you'd expect from it and this is especially true as the love story starts to play out. The ending has the "true love" going off in a dirigible, which of course crashes in the arctic and this here leads to a wild recovery. I must say that I was shocked to see how good the crash footage was. It's quite quick and to the point but the wreck is very effective. The final reel in 2-strip Technicolor also works well and especially since they added some special effects (look at the skyline) to show off the color. I must admit that I found the three lead performances to be good. Yes, they're quite over-the-top and you could say they'd been better on a stage but I thought they were still fun to watch. The supporting cast includes comic support from Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts and both of them are fine as well. Again, THE LOTTERY BRIDE isn't going to be for everyone but I think it has a certain campy charm to it. Not a masterpiece and not even a good movie but one that is worth watching for the good parts.
Apparently there are two versions of this movie--the original 1930
print and the re-issue print from 1937. The 1937 re-issue is 10 minutes
shorter and lacks the color sequences originally included with the
movie and apparently this version has been shown on Turner Classic
Movies. However, the DVD (which is what I saw) is of the re-issue. I am
not sure it would have mattered either way, as the absence of color
isn't what bothered me about the film but the music, plot and overall
style--all of which are badly dated.
Back in the 1930s, Hollywood made quite a few operettas. These films must have been popular as they made plenty, however they are rarely shown today--mostly because they are incredibly old fashioned. What was entertaining back in the day is clearly NOT entertaining today in these films. The biggest problem is the singing--and that's bad since these are musicals! The singing is in a grand, warbling style--and you just have to hear it to believe how ear-piercingly awful it is! Oddly, the worst of this singing was Jeanette MacDonald's, as it nearly made my head explode a few times, and of all the cast, she was to become the biggest musical star in the following years.
Jenny (MacDonald) and Chris (John Garrick) are in love with each other but both are also complete morons. When there is a misunderstanding, she runs off to become a lottery bride and he runs off to NORTHERN Norway! And, it turns out that is exactly where she runs to as well! But, because they ARE idiots, they cannot allow themselves to express their true feelings and so the two mope around for most of the picture--as well as sing! In addition to this plot, there is some inexplicable comic relief*. Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts are there for that purpose but oddly the script givens them nothing funny to say or do. Instead, they just seem lost and out of place.
So, you've got awful singing, a plot that really makes no sense and comedy that isn't funny. The only mildly interesting aspect of the film involves a dirigible and it's flight to the frozen north--but that's certainly not enough for me to recommend the film. Overall, a dated and unappealing movie.
*It's odd, but the wonderful comedian Max Davidson is in the film in a bit part. Yet, they do NOT use him for comedy at all! A wasted opportunity as his appearances in Hal Roach films are priceless.
It takes sterner stuff than mine to sit through this disastrous relic
of a film that looks as if this was made during the silent film
era--the acting by Jeanette and the rest of the cast is a holdover from
The few songs are forgettable and clumsily inserted into the plot, amounting to nothing at all. None of the actors are well-known aside from Jeanette who plays a heroine who is finally reunited with her long lost lover in the Yukon. No use going into details.
The final scenes involving a dirigible disaster are clunky and poorly edited with the most artificial looking icebergs (and icicles) ever filmed amid a snowbound exterior. And for some strange reason, color is used for this sequence alone. It doesn't help.
Neither color nor some feeble humor from Joe E. Brown is able to do anything to raise the level of this grotesque failure.
Not worth a watch--or a listen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is a recurring gag with Joe e. Brown saying a bad joke and the
listener not getting it. "Let it lay", he says. Well, the hen did, and
when the egg opened, the reels of this film were inside.
Jeanette MacDonald is in love with John Garrick, but he misinterprets a moment between her and Joseph Macauley. Garrick disappears and Jeanette goes as far up north as she can to become a lottery bride. Guess who picks her number and gives it away. Yep, Garrick. But he is is still so distraught over her that he gives the photo (which he doesn't look at) to his brother, Robert Chisholm. When MacDonald arrives, Garrick keeps his past with her a secret and signs on to work on a dirigible (!) captained by, guess who, Macauley! The dirigible is schedule to pass over the Arctic Circle. Chisholm discovers MacDonald and Garrick were lovers by finding one of the film's publicity photos tucked under her pillow while she is sleeping. The dirigible crashes in an Arctic circle filled with Styrofoam mountains and twinkling Christmas tree lights to represent melting ice. (Hmmm, maybe the film was predicting global warming?) A search party, lead by Chisholm and MacDonald, are sent out to find them. All this happens in 67 to 80 minutes (depending on which version you watch-the Kino DVD is from a re-release print). Interspersed are the worst Rudolph Friml songs which would have had Rose Marie and the Vagabond King dumping the sheet music in the Canadian Rockies and onto the guillotine to avoid singing. Sadly, the print is so bad that the lyrics are difficult to understand in the chorus parts. (Hey, maybe that's a good thing?) A funny romantic duet between MacDonald and Chisholm is hysterically marred by Chisholm's appearance in a huge beard that destroys any romantic notions gullible members of the audience might have about them. How MacDonald, after her first hit with "The Love Parade" the year before, ended up in this, is totally unbelievable. She was in another far-fetched musical "Let's Go Native" the same year that saves itself by being quite camp; This is simply dull, dull, dull.
Sadly, the brilliant Joe E. Brown and Zasu Pitts are wasted; According to other reviews, their parts were dwindled down in the re-release cut. Maybe they saw the chance of rectifying their participation in this overcooked Thanksgiving turkey by paying off some film editor to cut them out as much as possible.
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