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Sunday, February 24, 2013

NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935)

Two great movie teams arrived in ‘35. (Three if you count Shirley Temple & Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.) Olivia de Havilland & Errol Flynn made CAPTAIN BLOOD @ Warners, a match that’s never gone out of fashion; and Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy paired on this one @ M-G-M where they were blissfully out of fashion (and wildly popular) right from the start. Maybe that was the secret to their silly charm in films that positively churned out cash until WWII stopped them in their tracks. For their debut, M-G-M plumped up a Victor Herbert operetta from 1911 . . . and made sure they winked at themselves after each number, making their audience co-conspirators. Jeanette plays a French aristo fleeing an arranged marriage, while Nelson is the mercenary soldier who saves her from pirates and society. Talk about covering your bases! And while the film comes with sizable production values, it doesn’t feel polished to death like their later pics. The two got lucky when stolid helmer Robert Z. Leonard tossed the megaphone off to rough-and-ready W. S. Van Dyke who establishes a lively pace for the first act and allows some pretty outrageous supporting work from Frank Morgan and that great vulgarian Elsa Lancaster when the romance heats up and things slow down. He even stirs up a modicum of dash from the generally lethargic Eddy. (Or is it Eddy’s slightly leaner face which lends him a handsome, slightly bemused look?) Jeanette takes care of herself, with a face that’s still poutingly pinchable, helped along by William Daniels’ camera and what looks like a new lens on a couple portrait shots. The old Herbert score has three or four tunes that won’t leave your head (try as you might!) and hovering above, the American Liebestod, AH, SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE, which gets teased & plugged before it's finally sung thru . . . and reprised. Ridiculous and irresistible, everyone should see a couple of these hearty song-fests. But stick with the earlier titles.

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