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Saturday, January 12, 2013

NEW MOON (1940)

While the plush musical world of Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy operettas were once kept fitfully alive thru parody (think Mel Brooks; Carol Burnett & Co), they’ve now entirely sunk from view. Yet the films can still work, especially the earlier ones which deftly kidded-on-the-square with a self-aware parodistic tone that didn’t take things too seriously. But when MAYTIME wound up as the top-grossing film of 1937, something went off-balance. It’s actually a fascinating film, with a weirdly powerful perf from a very ill John Barrymore, but it brought in Robert Z. Leonard’s stately megging in place of W. S. (‘Woody’) Van Dyke’s famous dash to the finish approach. Even more crucially, Jeanette’s face had lost the last traces of baby-fat that Ernst Lubitsch made something of a worldwide fetish in his Pre-Code films with her (THE LOVE PARADE/’29 thru THE MERRY WIDOW/’34). Ernst got a lot of mileage contrasting that pinchable face with Jeanette’s buttery, fluttery vocals, all the while showing off her unexpectedly lanky limbs in brief, lacy undergarments. But the Production Code and director Leonard (along with M-G-M boss Louis B. Mayer) conjoined to make Jeanette the studio’s great lady. Soon, her comedy was of the Stoop-to-Conquer variety, and the bland entreaties of stolid Nelson Eddy added a matronly note of respectability. Oh well, the Sigmund Romberg score remains loaded with big, fat gorgeous tunes everyone should know, even if only to kid. ‘Stout-Hearted Men; Lover Come Back to Me; One Kiss; Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise;’ rangy stuff for pop tunes.

DOUBLE-BILL: In early Talkie days, the tide quickly turned against the rash of stiffly staged musical offerings and the studios were left with a pile of ‘Floperettas,’ including a 1930 NEW MOON that transferred this New Orleans set tale of French Rebels & Royalists to Tsarist Russia. It doesn’t seem to be currently available, but you can see a brief series of musical highlights using the link below. Two great American stars of the Metropolitan Opera, baritone Lawrence Tibbett & soprano Grace Moore put Eddy & MacDonald completely in the shade. Tibbett’s Hollywood career came up short, you had to shoot him carefully or his head looked two sizes too small. But Moore! What a natural. And what a vocal technique! Especially when you recall that it’s all done live, not lip-synched. (Also, check out the Romberg bio-pic, DEEP IN MY HEART/’54, much better than you’d imagine, or the fine recording of the compete NEW MOON score made a few years back in the ENCORES! Series. Lots of funny stuff that was cut from the pic. - You can find it on SPOTIFY.)

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