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Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE (1934)

After poaching Jeanette MacDonald from Paramount, M-G-M put her to work in their very own Paramount-style musical. And damned if they didn’t pull it off. MacDonald, not at all the grand lady of her later vehicles, but still the sexy singing minx Ernst Lubitsch enjoyed undressing in all her Paramount pics, spends much of this one living in Pre-Code sin . . . and lingerie. Lubitsch himself would make her next M-G-M film (THE MERRY WIDOW/’34, which fell just on the wrong side of the re-enforced Production Code), but this typically silly operettish plot about two composers-in-love who must part to find success individually, is imaginatively helmed by William K. Howard, a forgotten experimenter here bursting with visual flair. And the film is more than just a visual treat with Ramon Novarro at his most charming & elegant. What a pity for his career that he wasn’t this well cast in any of his early Talkies. The Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach score is lovely, though the first act plugging of ‘The Night was Made For Love’ is laid on awfully thick. Listen fast for Jeannette on the delicious ‘She Didn’t Say Yes.’ It only gets a single chorus, but note that here and elsewhere, MacDonald & Novarro do a lot of ‘live' singing along with some of their own piano playing. Among the lux supporting cast, there’s a rare chance to see & hear the great Rogers & Hart B’way star, Vivienne Segal, in her prime. Her looks didn’t ‘take’ to the camera, but, man!, that lady could sing! (Her reward back on the stage was having ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ written for her.) All this, plus a 3-strip ‘full-color-spectrum’ TechniColor half-reel finale. Note the sets & costumes designed to highlight RED, GREEN, and BLUE hues, finally captured on screen by the new process within a single moving shot . . . even skin tones that look like skin tones.

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