The Girl of the Golden West (1938)
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The film deals with one of those double identity villain/good guys - Eddy plays the crook Ramirez, but as Gringo is giving gold to the Indians through the mission of Father Sienna, who knew him and comforted him as a child when his guardian died. When he robs a stagecoach, he meets the beautiful Mary. She owns the Poker Saloon (which sounds with the heavy western accents like Polka). He's wearing a bandanna that covers most of his face. She's en route to visit Father Sienna, whom she also knew as a child. Determined to meet her as a gentleman, Gringo steals a uniform and introduces himself as Lt. Dick Johnson. He sweeps her off her feet, but he has competition in the local Sheriff, Jack Rance, played by Walter Pidgeon. Pidgeon wants Ramirez caught and Johnson out of Mary's life.
There's lots of singing from a Romberg score here, as well as "Ave Maria" and "Liebestraum" and a big mariachi dance number. MacDonald is excellent as the uneducated, somewhat awkward Mary who can also be a real spitfire. MacDonald was a good actress as well as a beauty, and her middle voice sounds especially rich in the songs. Like many sopranos of that era, she sang her high notes in a way that is no longer taught today, but she produces some lovely soft tones in that range. Eddy was a magnificent singer but never was anywhere near MacDonald in acting. He's very likable, but his accent as Ramirez is an absolute scream. In fact, all of the accents, from Buddy Ebsen on up, are laid on with a spatula. H.B. Warner gives a beautiful performance as the gentle Father Sienna, and Leo J. Carrillo is on hand in his usual type of role. Pidgeon is an effective and handsome Jack Rance.
Entertaining, and fans of Nelson and Jeannette will love it.
That success led to his film contract, a new career as a film star and a semi-end to his exhaustive operatic career.
Yet, he may have done his most impressive singing during his leading stint with the Philadelphia Civic Opera. I was impressed to discover he sang under the distinguished batons of Stokowski, Reiner, Respighi and Toscannini. And reading his press reviews online pointed to his having critics and public alike in the palm of his hands.
By the time his film roles came around, his voice seemed to have taken on a slight strain and occasional throaty quality. But his first rate musicianship never let down.
He, along with Jeanette MacDonald, respected the legato line, shaping each vocal phrase with sensitivity and beauty.
Their solo and duo renditions in "The Girl of the Golden West" show their artistic integrity. Tenutos, ritards, and fermatas are all given their due, all the while integrating their vocalism with their character and dramatic situations.
As for Eddy, he went on to make some nineteen films, then did the impossible: sustained a triumphant fifteen year post-film career as a nightclub singer. The public apparently couldn't get enough of this fine baritone, who worked as a true star with nary a career lull until he literally dropped dead onstage.
In "The Girl of the Golden West" Eddy is seen to advantage, along with MacDonald, and what could be a dated piece turns into an tender romance.
Sigmund Romberg's original songs are fetching, particularly the love ballad, and Herbert Stodart's orchestrations are rich and luminous.
Every time I watch this movie I have the same reaction. Too idealistic for our tastes today; yet as a showcase for Eddy & MacDonald, with some fun thrown in, it is great.
Like Zane Grey westerns, the characters are rather stylized and two-dimensional. However, again like Zane Grey characters, they tend to demonstrate qualities that we wish were reality.
What a supporting cast.
Walter Pidgeon - very believable as the strong, fiercely passionate sheriff with his own strict code of ethics.
Buddy Ebsen, Leo Carrillo, Monty Woolley, H.B.Warner.
I have been surprised over the years how some men, that are rough and rather crude with each other, will display real protectiveness and gentleness in other areas. Therefore, the behaviour shown by the miners toward 'Girl', adopted as kind of a 'mascot' is credible and necessary for us to accept her sweetness.
Suspend your cynicism, enjoy the fine music and a glimpse into a simpler time!
Jeanette and Nelson had one thing built in their movies. All of them came from the stage and thus had built-in hit value already. Even with the original score, Girl of the Golden West, has an honorable pedigree as a David Belasco play and a Giacomo Puccini opera. It survives best as a Puccini opera because it's the music that you remember and not the Victorian dialog.
Watching it today you could describe it best as quaint. It might grate on modern tastes, but take it on it's own terms if you view it. Nelson has the best musical moment in this one with Who Are We To Say. In the supporting cast you will enjoy Walter Pidgeon,Buddy Ebsen, Noah Beery,Sr., and H.B. Warner.
"hits" in this musical, the songs are great and MacDonald gets to sing one of the best "Ave Marias" you'll ever hear. She also turns in one of her best comic performances as the "girl" who is rough hewn and runs a saloon in a gold mining town. A little long, but still one of the duo's best and most underrated films. Walter Pidgeon, Buddy Ebsen, Cliff Edwards, H.B. Warner, Priscilla Lawson, and Noah Beery are notable. The "Mariachi" number is nice as are a few of the songs. It amazes me that Jeanette MacDonald is so underrated as an actress. She not only has a fabulous voice, she could hold her own against any leading man and was also a charming comedienne, and she is splendid in this film.
The only thing that irked me about this movie is Sheriff Rance's habit of calling Jeanette "Girl". Maybe he loved her in his own way, but the constant use of the word "girl" instead of her name made me feel as if he wanted to own her rather than accept her as his equal. Strange then that he gave up so easily in the end- But glad that he did! I also loved Buddy Ebsen as Alabama the Blacksmith- what a sweet character!
Perfectly placed musical numbers, engrossingly rendered by the supreme vocalists of their time, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Each song melodic and memorable to this day, sixty four years later. Especially enjoyable was the voice and instrumental duet by 'Mary' and 'Alabama'...did Buddy Ebson actually play the pipe part, or was it dubbed? I have had a life-long curiosity about this aspect of the movie. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
"Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy are like tapioca," wrote Frank Nugent of the New York Times. "Either you like them or you don't."
With this film the public began dividing into two camps: those who loved the splendid entertainment Jeanette and Nelson promised in a good film and those who would be content to watch them read (or sing) the proverbial phone book.
Musically, this1938 movie abounds in some of the loveliest melodies Sigmund Romberg could write and musical director Herbert Stothart outdid himself in vibrant orchestrations. Unfortunately, M-G-M also dramatized uninteresting incidents only mentioned in the stage version and made maximum use of extremely obvious sound stage exteriors.
The Girl of the Golden West was the first weak MacDonald-Eddy vehicle and didn't bring much glory to anyone. While it was one of the top moneymakers of the year, the split between the general public and the "fans" was beginning. The uncritical enthusiasm of the second only served to reinforce the opinion of the former that all MacDonald-Eddy films were "silly." On top of the cool critical reception to The Firefly and Rosalie, their previous solo films, Girl represented a distinct minus for their careers.
OTHER VIEWS: The foremost criticism of Girl was its length combined with the weak plot. Variety thought it was twenty minutes too long, the New York Post said thirty minutes, and the New York World-Telegram acknowledged that there may have been longer films but "few others have seemed as long." The reviewer continued: "the story is neither distinctive nor sturdy and hasn't been helped much by the diffused direction."
Jeanette's singing also drew uniform raves, but her characterizations varied from "excellent" (New York Post) to "a little bit embarrassing" (New York World Telegram). All in all, this was one of the big disappointments of my picture-going youth. The impossible script seems to have defeated almost everyone: Director, leads, photographer, set designers, film editor. A major wasteland of talent, the script can only be described as a tediously trite collection of old-fashioned theatrics. Even the Romberg songs fail to perk up or alleviate the long winded, pedestrian proceedings.
It's just a matter of time before the young boy Gringo finds out who sang so lovely at the camp sight. It will take years later when the two are grown up and by that time, Gringo takes the name of Ramirez and is embittered because the man who took him in is slain by settlers who thought he was out to get them. Just like the man, Gringo becomes an outlaw and steals.
When Eddy is shot in the shoulder by Sheriff Walter Pidgeon, MacDonald acts like a silent screen damsel in distress. MacDonald is totally unfit for the role and Eddy again proves what a bad actor he was.
While it's true that the singing is beautiful, the plot line is thin. The ending is pure Hollywood and at least Eddy survives in this picture.