Thursday, September 6, 2012

Naughty Marietta (1935)

Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Jeanette MacDonald’s energy fills the theater with her vocals, dramatic acting, and even comedic chops when she stars in Naughty Marietta. Based on the Victor Herbert operetta of the same name, this film adaptation brings with it many songs made famous that helped make the original production a hit good enough for two revivals on Broadway. Musically heavy, like its operetta source, this feature film would make a strong canvas for the talented vocals its stars, MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Naughty Marietta is a musical of a French princess who disguises herself as one of her maids in order to sail for colonial New Orleans and attempt avoiding an arranged marriage, to discover unexpected love in the American frontier. The beautiful, talented, and independent thinking French Princess Marie (Jeanette MacDonald) dislikes the notion of her prearranged marriage to an elderly Spanish duke to the point of running away to colonial New Orleans disguised as one of her maids, Marietta. There she hopes to find her own independent happiness without the commitment of love, which was a false notion to her through her life. During a rescue from pirates Marie meets Captain Richard Warrington (Nelson Eddy), who is in every way like Marie, talented, good looking, and seeking no ties in love. Slowly the two become intrigued with each other, and when the truth of Marietta being actually the princess and taken back to France Marie and Richard cannot help but freely express their love for each other. The two run away into the frontier together in love, far from those that try to control their lives.

A mix between a typical love story picture and a mini opera, Naughty Marietta serves a twofold source of entertainment for certain audiences. For the romantics, you have the love story of a woman discovering a romance that she thought never existed, and for the musical lovers you have an operatic style of singing from two lovebirds discovering their passion through music. So for those that love sappy love stories and moments of breaking into song, this is the film you might enjoy.

The trustworthy director W.S. Van Dyke would be brought in after the first day of production, when the original director Robert Z. Leonard was relieved of his position. “One Take” Van Dyke was known for getting the job done, quickly and efficiently, most importantly cheap, producing quality features that generally made money for the studio, thus the reason he was quickly brought on board. With the directing poise of Van Dyke the film feels a bit larger than the surrounding of the picture actually were. Most of the picture takes place in smaller areas, the largest being perhaps the make-shift port that Marie lands on in New Orleans, but a good director makes things feel much larger than the sets allow them to be. Overall the production is simple, with some fine art direction, but it is mostly used to showcase the stars of MacDonald and Eddy.

Jeanette MacDonald by the point of Naughty Marietta’s release was already built up as a star in Hollywood. First made popular at Paramount with her powerful, operatic style voice, MacDonald had worked on films with the likes of Maurice Chevalier and Ernst Lubitsch in The Love Parade, later to work on features at United Artists and Fox. Now at MGM she would be pushed as a major musical star, and here for the first time would be romantically teamed with the Nelson Eddy, a performer with equally powerful vocal chords.

Nelson Eddy, a concert singer by trade, was discovered after marvelous performances brought him many offers from studios. Signed by MGM, Eddy would by chance get teamed with MacDonald in Naughty Marietta and even landed him with a hit recording of the famous song “Ah Sweet Mystery of Life,” giving Eddy his first gold record, one of three he would attain in his career. The pair of Eddy and MacDonald would become MGM musical romantic duo and perform in another seven films together in years to come.

The picture would feature a couple of supporting actors with their own special merit. Frank Morgan plays the energetic, positive governor of Louisiana. Much to his dismay, Morgan was forced to shave his very charished mustache for the role, a feature on his face for the better part of two decades. He would grow the facial hair back immediately after filming. Elsa Lanchester would play his wife. She was best known for her marriage to the very famous Academy Award winning British actor Charles Laughton. She was perhaps known equally for her role as the title character in The Bride of Frankenstein.

Naughty Marietta would be somewhat of a surprise hit for MGM, making an honorable mark in the box office. The art of the musical would aid in the feature becoming quite well thought on by critics, both of its time and in the history of cinema. The film would win an Academy Award for Best Sound, while also being nominated for best picture of the year. Beside the long time favorite tune of Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” the film would also get the honor in 2003 of being selected for the National Film Registry for being culturally significant in America cinema by the Library of Congress.

The adaptation of the operetta Naught Marietta leaves somewhat on an impact on the genre of American musicals in the 1930s, and even gives a slight look into how the colony of Louisiana was like before becoming part of the United States. The film is a serviceable musical for those that have an admiration of of the genre including that of a more operatic style with classic actors. Most of all it marked the beginning if a new, popular pair in motion pictures with MacDonald and Eddy.

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