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The setting is a small town in 1870s Pennsylvania. Sally Waterson and her father have stopped in town with their traveling medicine show, but when their wagon catches fire, they find themselves stranded. They're taken in by Mrs. Cortlandt and her grandson, Peter, who is trying to set up a pipeline that will supply oil throughout the state. Sally and Peter soon fall in love and marry. Neither their marriage nor Peter's pipe dreams flow too smoothly. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
Mix of drama, adventure, music and romance misses.
Everything was in place for the creation of a classic movie musical - Irene Dunne was fresh from an Oscar nomination for CIMARRON in 1931 and a second one for THEODORA GOES WILD in 1936, as well as a successful musical debut in Universal's SHOW BOAT that same year. Kern and Hammerstein had written the classic SHOW BOAT score and were on board here to create the original screenplay and song score. The story line even resembled that of the Oscar Winning Best Picture, CIMARRON, wherein the call of work and duty tears the leading man away from the leading lady. There was the colorful and historical backdrop of the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859 and the fight with the railroad barons to build a pipeline for product delivery to avoid freeze out rail costs. Technically innovative director Rouben Mamoulian was on board as well. How could it miss?
Sadly, it does. I believe the problem lies in two areas. Trying to accomplish too much in one film caused a three way split - we are watching an action drama, a romance and a musical - all at the same time, but rather than a seamless blend, it is as if three different directors were handling three disparate reigns. The second area of failure was the decision to film in black and white, not Technicolor. The production screams out for color with the numerous panoramic shots of virgin countryside.
The results are a satisfying "good" film, but nothing resembling what its potential promised. The score itself - nine numbers - contains only two winners - CAN I FORGET YOU? and the masterpiece THE FOLKS ON THE HILL - the latter sung only once when it should have been reprised often to express the delusion of a marriage gone wrong, not to mention the wealth of potential musical underscoring of dramatic scenes based on its complex compositional structure.
I do have to mention two items on the plus side. Irene Dunne is as always superb in the lead and character actress Elizabeth Patterson is outstanding as Grandma - her best screen performance - surprising she didn't net a supporting actress Oscar nom for this.
So I'd recommend this for fans of Irene Dunne and the Kern/Hammerstein combo. Sadly, it looked a lot better on paper than on celluloid.
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