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I am told that the original plot of The Firefly has seen on Broadway
back in 1912 had absolutely nothing to do with the Peninsular Campaign
of the Napoleonic Wars. Hard to believe because the plot here seems so
The core of the plot is duty to one's country. Though Allan Jones and Jeanette MacDonald are on opposite sides and love each other, at some point each betrays the other at some point in the movie to gain a tactical advantage for France or Spain.
The Rudolf Friml-Otto Harbach-Oscar Hammerstein II, is mostly retained for the movie. One new song, based on a Friml instrumental composition called Chanson, is given a lyric by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest and arranged by MGM's house composer Herbert Stothart. Their combined efforts yielded The Donkey Serenade and provided Allan Jones a signature song for the rest of his career.
Jeanette was taking a rest from her usual singing partner, Nelson Eddy, and her teaming with Jones was felicitous. They are a pair of winning songbirds. Maybe had Jones stayed with MGM, he and MacDonald might have made some more films together. Maybe he might have played some of the parts that Nelson Eddy did opposite her. But he probably was right in thinking he'd always be number 2 at MGM, so he moved to Universal.
Beautiful singing and a decent plot in this one. Go see it.
is exceptional in this OK Napoleonic War film. Anyone who ever thought MacDoanld was just a bland operatic singer needs to see this film. She plays a spy posing as a camp follower. MacDonald has a sexy dance number that is just a knockout. She is as sultry and sexy as any star of her era. MacDonald was a great singer who was also a great actress and comic. She is superb. Starring here with Allan Jones and Warren William, the film is a tad long, but still eminently watchable. Jones and MacDonald introduced the big hit "Donkey Serenade" in this film. Good support from Billy Gilbert, Henry Daniell, Douglas Dumbrille, and George Zucco. Not as snappy as some of her films with Nelson Eddy, but this is Jones' best film aside from the 1936 Show Boat with Irene Dunne. Give this one a watch and marvel at Jeanette MacDonald!
Wonderful mix of music, romance and comedy but I concede a trifle too long, the length however acceptable with these two. Jeanette MacDonald could do everything; sing beautifully, act as well and surprisingly (I just watched this one after many years) a gifted dancer. MacDonald and Jones are quite compatible and I can see where, had fate taken a hand, it could have been these two and not Nelson Eddy, not to downgrade Nelson's resonant baritone in any way. Allan Jones was a better actor, and was one of the finest tenors in movie history. There was one brief comic bit I found hilarious -- it was so short it may have been overlooked by many. Don Diego (Allan Jones) is singing the famous Donkey Serenade to MacDonald as she rides along in a coach. He sings the line "But try as she may, in her voice there's a flaw", to this jibe at her voice, Jeanette's displeasure shows in a grimace! The expert supporting cast is up to MGM'S standards; Warren William, Billy Gilbert, George Zucco, Douglas Dumbrille, Henry Daniell and even a one-line appearance by Ralph Byrd (a.k.a. Dick Tracy in the 1940's). I highly recommend this film, especially to fans of light operetta. The music is delightful and Jeanette and Allan give it their all. Jones' last appearance was a 1980 role on the Love Boat TV program. Upon retirement from the screen (big screen and little) he became a dentist, quite a surprise. I wonder if he sang for his patients? If he did I'm sure his waiting list was the envy of his fellow dentists.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Instead of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, the "Singing
Sweethearts" it's Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones. They are paired
excellently; MacDonald and Jones are incredible easy on the ears, and
have a wonderful chemistry that adds charm and delight to this movie.
The songs are entertaining, especially "Donkey Serenade," which later
became Jones's signature song. The acting in this movie was also
excellent. The plot was captivating, being set in Spain/France during
the Napoleonic wars. The movie kept me entertained throughout. It's too
bad that Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones didn't do any other movies
together. Their chemistry is amazing in this movie, very preferable to
Jeanette MacDonald's pairing with Nelson Eddy, (I think) whose singing
voice and acting I never really cared for.
Overall, this is an excellent musical and entertaining movie. 10 out of 10.
The reviews here that say the movie is too long (or "too long for a
1930s musical") must be written by people from fleet street. The movie
is as long as it needs to be for a nicely complex storyline, nicely
told with lots and lots of beautiful music to entertain, and Jeanette
even gets a lot of dancing and wonderful non-dance choreography through
crowds of men that she tantalizes with her charm.
The love scenes between MacDonald and Jones are funny, sweet, captivating, and the necessary betrayals are handled well and understandably from both sides.
I loved every minute of this film and would not have wanted it shortened. All the songs are hummable and lively/romantic. MacDonald's intelligence and sense of humor underlie everything she does, as when she says to Jones after his beautifully sung love song, "Well, perhaps I shouldn't tell you this, but you know that part where you sing, 'My heart's your throne dear, my heart's your throne dear, There you shall rule alone...' with the music building just before the high note?"
"I was wondering... but, no, perhaps I shouldn't tell you."
"Well, I was wondering ... if you were going to make it."
Or when Jones complains to her, "You're always saying goodbye," and she replies, "All right then, I won't say goodbye. I'll just ... go."
Her comic timing is lovely.
In fact, she has never been lovelier than in this movie, and the two of them together are just a lot of doggone fun and romance.
During the time just prior to the War and later, in full race, a
sentimental story between the Spanish spy "María" (Jeanette MacDonald),
takes place in charge of seducing French military for information and a
French spy (Allan Jones) that works for his country, difficult
relationship to maintain because of the war situation.
It is an entertaining film set in a tough match as was The Peninsular War (1807-1814). It was a military conflict Between the First French Empire and the allied powers of the Spanish Empire, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Kingdom of Portugal for Control of the Iberian Peninsula During The Napoleonic Wars. When the war started French and Spanish Armies occupied Portugal in 1807, and escalated in 1808 When France turned on Spain, ITS ally until then. The war on the peninsula until the Sixth Coalition Lasted Defeated Napoleon in 1814, and is Regarded as one of the first wars of national liberation, significant for the emergence of large-scale guerrilla warfare.
The film has a good staging, very well made for the years in which it was filmed scenarios. The performances of the cast are good while maintaining the nuances of adventure films of the forties. And of course seen from the historical point of view, the script contains some inaccuracies, but being made out of Spain, it is understandable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An operetta, with Alan Jones replacing the usual Nelson Eddy as
Jeanette's costar, unfortunately, their only film starring together.
Jones had a subsidiary role as the lead male in two partial operas with
Jeanette in the previous "Rose Marie". Lots of ornate traditional
European pageantry, beginning with a major festival, decreed by young
King Ferdinand. The reason for this celebration isn't clearly
specified. However, a good guess would be his recent coronation and/or
the recent conquest of Portugal by a combined Spanish-French force.
However, this happiness will be short-lived as Napoleon has plans to
keep substantial troops in Spain, and replace the Spanish government
with one of his own, headed by his brother Joseph.
The title is taken from Rudolf Friml's 1912 operetta. However, the rather mundane plot of the original was discarded for a much more complicated and historically interesting one. The screenplay concentrates on the period just before and after the French takeover of Spain in 1809, then skips about 5 years, until the British and Portuguese forces are finally making headway in joining the various Spanish partisan groups toward liberating Spain.
Most of Friml's original songs were retained. In addition, Friml was employed(now 25 years later) to compose additional songs: the most remembered being "The Donkey Serenade", sung by Jones, as he rides a horse alongside a stagecoach carrying Jeanette, trying to interest her in a romantic relationship. This scene is staged in the spectacular Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine: the main local for many a western, especially. A flute-playing boy, and guitar-playing stage driver aid Jones(Don Diego or Captain Andre))in his quest.
Yes, as a few reviewers have complained, the plot is rather complicated, both from the viewpoint of the historical setting, and the political and emotional relationships between the characters played by Jeanette and Jones, and between Jeanette and Major de Rouchemont, as well as the Marquis de Melito. Jeanette plays Nina Maria: a famous singer and dancer, as well as Spanish spy, sometimes sent to dazzle high ranking French officers, and hopefully obtain militarily important info. Jones is sent by the French to keep an eye on her, thus they are on opposite sides of the political struggle, yet increasingly drawn to each other emotionally. This doesn't seem to make sense. If the French know/suspect that she is a spy, why do they allow her access to high ranking military officers??
Jeanette looks and acts radiant throughout this production, often in various ornate costumes. As with most of her best-remembered films, it was shot in B&W, thus she appears to be a brunette. She often dances enticingly, along with her singing.. Jones makes an excellent singing companion for her, as well as occasionally soloing. Unfortunately, he wasn't very distinctive looking, nor tall, like Nelson Eddy: Jeanette's usual singing male costar. Thus, with a few exceptions, MGM relegated him to minor films. Just the year before, he had costarred in the popular film version of Kerns' "Showboat". However, he had disappointing film roles after the present one, thus moved to Universal in 1940, where he fared no better. Some people prefer him to Eddy, whom they complain was too wooden in his acting. I don't find Eddy inherently wooden: just playing his frequent stalwart characters as they should be, in the traditional acting style of these operettas.
Returning to the political-military aspects of the film, we have the replacement of Spanish king Ferdinand with Napoleon's brother Joseph, after the French successfully defeat the Spanish armies. In the later portions of the film, the Duke of Wellington is the guiding light of the allies armies(British, Portuguese, and Spanish forces). After an initially success the year before, he was forced to retreat southward in the face of overwhelming French forces in the north. However, over the winter, the military situation drastically changed. While Napoleon's Grand Army was gradually decimated in the disastrous Russian campaign, the allies forces swelled with new recruits. Thus, Wellington now feels he has the manpower and cannon power to defeat the shrunken French armies in Spain. He has a plan to deceive the French army in the battlefield. Jeanette's Nina has a complicated role in this deception, and she again encounters Don Diego(Jones) in this operation. The allies defeat the French in the pivotal historical Battle of Vitoria, and the French soon are forced to leave Spain for good. With hostilities ended, and Nina's death sentence commuted, Nina and Don Diego feel they can finally resume their former romantic relationship, to end the film. But first, she must find Diego among the wounded in a makeshift hospital. The finale has them riding off into the sunset in a little horse-drawn wagon, singing their hearts out to reprises of "The Donkey Serenade", followed by "Giannina Mia", which were 2 of the previous 3 love songs sung by Diego to Nina.
France and England are at war. Napoleon has placed troops in Spain "to
protect the Spanish" in case England invades.
There is a beautiful cantina singer (and dancer!) named Nina Maria (Jeanette MacDonald) whom men fight over. She works as a spy for Spain. When Napoleon invites Ferdinand--who appears guileless--to France for a meeting, Nina Maria must leave for France immediately to determine if Napoleon's intentions are honorable.
She is pursued there by Don Diego (Allan Jones), a man smitten by the senorita. Along the way, he tries to charm her by singing "The Donkey Serenade"--one of the most memorable moments in the film.
When they arrive in Bayonne, France, things get complicated. The senorita discovers someone is on to her. The love story becomes more political as Nina Maria must make alliances based on trust. Will she let her heart guide her actions? What is Napoleon's true objective?
The two leads are excellent. Much of the surrounding cast portray military characters and they are very strong.
The lavish sets and a large number of extras give the film a feeling of richness, as when Joseph Napoleon and his military escort ride into Madrid.
Part romance, part political intrigue, "The Firefly" entertains while Jeanette MacDonald shines.
Allan Jones has a wonderful voice, but a rather bland personality. He
is no match for Jeannette MacDonald, who here gives her best dramatic
performance on screen with not much to play against. Warren William is
the villain and he has more presence than Jones.
Jones and MacDonald play spies, he for France and she for Spain, during Napoleon's attempt to kidnap the King of Spain and add that country to his fiefdom. There is much intrigue and a few songs along the way, the best known being The Donkey Serenade and Gianina Mia.
The problem lies in the length of the scenes and musical numbers. This film could easily have had half an hour snipped out of it, bringing it closer to conventional playing times of the period. At 2 hours, 10 minutes, it is just too long. And it is heavy-handedly directed and written.
The original operetta from 1912 had a few good tunes. Friml was third in line of talent, behind Romberg and Herbert, as America's trio of operetta composers. The score is just not good enough to mount a major film around.
MacDonald is always worth seeing, as she either matches or outshines her best material. This one, like Broadway Serenade a few years later, was not one of her best films and is recommended for her fans and those of Jones only.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the most problematic and, in the end, unsuccessful 1930s
musicals I have ever seen.
It had everything going for it. The was very clearly a big-budget movie. MacDonald is really in very good form here, as is Jones. And there is wonderful chemistry between them. If this had been a better movie, it could, perhaps, have led to a whole string of good musicals with the two of them.
But things get in the way of this being a success.
The movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes long, which is WAY to long for a 1930s musical, especially one with so little music. It starts out in a routine fashion, but there is FAR too much plot, and FAR too complicated - the politics in Spain at the beginning of the 19th century, which would have meant nothing to most 1930s Americans. That takes forever to work out, and who would care?* And then, in the end, where the story has become very dramatic and very complicated, suddenly we cut to Jones and MacDonald singing the two hit songs in a carriage, as if nothing else mattered. And it shouldn't have.
The fact that Jones turns out to be a French counterspy makes everything much too serious.
In short, the new plot that MGM came up with for this musical was its undoing.
Given the few musical numbers here, a 90 minute fluff plot would have been fine. 130 minutes of serious drama overwhelms the music, makes us forget the good chemistry between MacDonald and Jones, and basically ruins what could have been an enjoyable romantic comedy with music.
* Rewatching it on TCM, I thought about the historical circumstances of the movie, to see if all this historical plot could have been meant to have any contemporary relevance. Briefly, the movie deals with Napoleon's scheming to put a puppet, his brother, on the throne of Spain, so that he can annex it, and then the English efforts to work with the Spanish people, a sort of resistance movement, to drive the French invaders out. The Spanish Civil War had started in 1936, the year before this movie was released, but it's hard to see much parallel there. Austria had yet to be annexed, though its president had been assassinated in 1934. In the end, I can't see how all this plot could have been intended to be seen as commentary on 1930s European politics. Besides, using the French to represent the Nazis or the Italian Fascists would have been a bizarre thing to do, as by 1937 they were one of the major anti-Fascist forces in Europe.
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