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|Index||11 reviews in total|
With a string of glorious classics including The Merry Widow, Naughty
Marietta, Rose Marie, Maytime and San Francisco, Jeanette MacDonald had
rapidly grown from Paramount transfer to established musical Queen of
the MGM lot. Her operetta series with Nelson Eddy was challenging the
studio's intended blockbusters. Stars from Joan Crawford to Norma
Shearer were taking new acting lessons and going over their contracts.
Evidently MGM felt the need to show MacDonald her place, and railroaded
her into this unworthy affair which remains among the "Iron
Butterfly"'s weaker vehicles.
MacDonald herself endures the film with her usual dignity, and there are the usual songs and arias to atone for the silly story. Also there's a chance to see Lew Ayres out of his "Dr. Kildare" strait-jacket, and Jeanette has some charming scenes with The Wizard of Oz himself, Frank Morgan. Anyone who loves the Lion will find something to like; everyone else beware.
Strange musical stew with a puppyish Lew Ayres and a soft-focus Jeanette MacDonald making an unlikely romantic pair. The score is, shall we say, oddly eclectic, ranging from Victor Herbert (surprise!) to Ella Fitzgerald. Worth catching, though, for the final reel, which features possibly the screwiest musical number ever to appear in a "golden-age" MGM film (via Busby Berkeley). This one's beyond description -- not even Harlow singing or Crawford dancing comes close.
Jeanette MacDonald filmed Broadway Serenade while her usual screen
partner Nelson Eddy was busy doing Balalaika with Ilona Massey. She's
married to Lew Ayres, musician and would be composer. They're a duo
working in some real dives when we first meet them. Ayres has a short
fuse involving his wife and manages to get himself fired after punching
out a drunk. MacDonald dutifully follows her man.
After that it's the usual backstage story for both of them. She becomes a big Broadway star and he has dreams of presenting his concerto, a treatment of Tschaikovsky's famous None, But the Lonely Heart. And they run into the usual situations involving her beauty and his temper.
Jeanette sings beautifully and Ayres steps out from his Dr. Kildare image. At the time Broadway Serenade was being filmed, just as Jeanette was taking a break from Nelson, Ayres was on hiatus from the Dr. Kildare series which was at the height of its popularity.
Also in the cast is Frank Morgan as a Broadway producer, the same role he had in Sweethearts and Ian Hunter as the playboy backer of Morgan's shows who's got a yen for Jen. But the best supporting part in Broadway Serenade is Al Shean who is sidekick and confident to Lew Ayres. This may have been Al Shean's best screen role.
But what this film is probably best known for is the climax sequence involving Lew Ayres's concerto. Busby Berkeley did the number and it goes down as one of his worst.
Berkeley who did so well at Warner Brothers with Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler and later on at MGM with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, makes a ghastly debut at MGM. His None But the Lonely Heart dance number is like the number that Jack Buchanan did in The Bandwagon. Only that was supposed to be satiric, this one was for real.
If Ayres's concerto had been presented simply as just an instrumental piece it would have been sooooooo much better. It was one bad creative decision to give Busby Berkeley an assignment here.
Other than that, Jeanette's fans will go for this. She has some fine numbers to sing her in both the classical and popular vein.
From 1939, Broadway Serenade is an odd movie, containing all kinds of
music. Lew Ayres is a composer/pianist who apparently wrote or ripped
off None but the Lonely Heart, I couldn't decide; the Macdonald-less
Jeanette is his lovely singer wife. During his audition of a new song
for a big Broadway producer (Frank Morgan) and his investor (Ian
Hunter), it's Jeanette who gets the job and Hunter's heart. She has to
go on the road with the show; she comes back a star, and her husband,
hearing rumors of a romance with Hunter and not doing too well himself,
rejects her, though the rumors aren't true. He becomes drunk and
disorderly while her star ascends.
I guess the big, lirico-spinto/dramatic soprano arias were the popular ones, because in movies where she sang opera, Jeanette MacDonald was always doing something like Tosca or Madama Butterfly, which she does here - so totally out of her vocal type, which was way too light for that sort of music. Her repertoire was operetta and roles like those in the French repertoire: Delibes, Gounod, or Bellini and Donizetti. She had a nice middle voice and beautiful, lyrical pianissimos, but her very high notes had a whitish, straight sound - basically that's how female singers were taught back then. I always loved her acting. She and Ayres are both good although an unlikely couple, he being boyish and she being diva-ish.
Some bizarre musical numbers, such as the one at the end. A mixed bag. There are better musicals - an understatement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Conventional musical with some odd touches in the musical numbers.
Jeanette MacDonald is in good voice and her numbers are a bit more
varied than her usual sets with Nelson Eddy. As someone who has a
limited tolerance for both operetta and MacDonald/Eddy musicals I
enjoyed the substitution of Lew Ayers for Nelson. Unfortunately his
character makes little sense, he initially pushes his wife to grab the
chance she's given than when she starts to succeed acts like a churlish
jerk almost instantly and yet still she pines for him.
So the story is wanting but at least the cast is full of good actors, Frank Morgan, Ian Hunter, Rita Johnson, Virginia Grey, Esther Dale etc., all adding nice touches to the film making it much more pleasant than it would be.
Shot for some unknown reason in inconsistent sepia tones which both add and distract from the flow of the film where this goes off the rails a bit is in a couple of musical numbers. The Madame Butterfly riff is interesting on an enormous stage that no theatre could possibly hold but with some beautiful almost surreal images. However the finale is like some crazy fever dream with a majority of the participants in creepy immobile masks. Not a major musical or even a major picture in any of the stars filmographies this is still an decent musical from the king of studios in the dream factory.
Through no fault of the players, this must be one of the worst major
studio films of a great year for cinema--1939. Jeanette is charming as
always, although I'd like to see her try Butterfly on stage without
amplification. I'm afraid the orchestra would win that round! That
said, she warbles beautifully and is great fun to watch.
Lew Ayres plays a nearly saintly husband (albeit with a temper) and the supporting cast is just fine. The problems: a hackneyed script, and an incredibly tasteless and vulgar Busby Berkeley number to end the affair. Of course we expect BB's numbers to be over the top, we just don't expect them to be so poorly designed. Without this final extravaganza, I'd have given this a 5 at least, but after seeing that debacle, I'm giving it a 3.
Although Jeanette MacDonald struggles valiantly, the script is poor,
overlong and cliché. Ayres' character is thoroughly unlikeable,
boorish, insanely jealous, violent - the audience has difficulty caring
about him and likewise the motivations and caring of MacDonald, who
plays his wife.
Able support is given by Al Shean as the kindly old musician who takes an interest in Ayres' serious music composition, and Rita Johnson, who gets all the best lines as a catty chorus girl who has her eye on the producer (Frank Morgan) and won't let anyone get in her way. Also fine is Franklin Pangborn who is wonderful in his three scenes as a frustrated arranger.
The score is lackluster. Jeannette has a medley at the beginning (Yip I Addy I Ay, Just A Song at Twilight and a few unrecognizable tunes), Lonely Heart - based on Tchaikovsky's song, Flying High, Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly, another montage of snippets of songs, Musetta's Waltz, Les Filles de Cadiz, Italian Street Song, One Look At You. It's a combo of song and opera snippets and new songs that are dreary.
The stupid finale with grotesque masks and bizarre sets and lighting makes no sense in terms of a staging of a rhapsody, less in the fact that the music is stolen from Tchaikovsky - one of Busby Berkeleky's very worst conceptions.
Flatly directed by Robert Z. Leonard and overlong at 114 minutes, this is a forgettable mishmash, far below the standard the studio had previously set for Jeannette, at the time its biggest star. See it only for her.
MGM probably wanted to give their singing sweetheart a break from doing
every film with her usual co-star, baritone NELSON EDDY. So, they put
her in this mess of a musical just to keep her busy. Her most ardent
fans probably won't complain because she does get to sing rather
nicely, but the story is--well, a mess with the usual contrived ending
that lacks conviction, or any sense of reality.
JEANETTE MacDONALD is a lovely singer with an aspiring song writer for a husband (LEW AYRES, taking a break from his Dr. Kildare chores). The two of them are facing a marriage on the skids because she's getting more popular while his star is fading--until he can write his great concerto for the finale.
It's all old hat with even the presence of FRANK MORGAN and IAN HUNTER not enough to ensure anything approaching solid entertainment.
The Busby Berkeley staged concerto is totally inappropriate and ends the film on a low note.
Summing up: At your own risk.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No color movie. Boo and hiss. Jeanette lovely voice. No Nelson Eddy.
1939 movies included Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind. Here is Frank Morgan from WOZ also in this movie. Color could have been used here, like WOZ and GWTW. I guess MGM put the money into color for those movies, but not this little gem. (MGM distributed the GWTW Selznick vehicle).
Jeanette becomes a star in this movie. I love those old performer gets famous films. This movie is reminding me of Red Shoes and A Star is Born. Man gets less attention than the leading lady.
Nice to see Mary Gordon from The Little Minister.
I liked Jeanette's costumes. I liked her performance hairstyles.
I did not like the lederhosen male stereotypes. War was afoot in Europe. Hitler bombed Poland in 1939. This was way too creepy. The scene may have been Switzerland, but German themes were all too obvious.
Did anyone realize that the Busby Berkeley number at the end was a tie in for the Lew Ayres character telling Jeanette MacDonald to take off her mask in the scene where she was crying? I believe that to be a direct tie in to the musical finale with all the masks. Although it was not the best of Jeanette MacDonald films It does show a side of her that is in direct juxtiposition for the films with Nelson Eddy. How many Canadian Mounty movies can she do. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were a tour de force that even had fans expecting or anticipating that the two were married. This movie is a relief for Jeanette MacDonald not to be type cast. I for one really enjoyed the final acte.
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