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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

THE FIREFLY (1937)

The old Rudolph Friml operetta had something or other to do with a stowaway who becomes an opera star. Heck, that’s the plotline in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA/’35!* So, this M-G-M film adaptation offers something completely different: Spain in the time of Napoleon. A beautiful singing spy. A mission jeopardized by romance. King Ferdinard taken prisoner. Then, five years of a brutal occupation before a chance at redemption. For her, for her lover, for the King, for Spain. THE END. (Reprise hit tunes.) No kidding, that’s the story, with cultivated songsters Allan Jones & Jeanette MacDonald (who also gets to show off her remarkable gams in some gypsy dancing). Taken on its own goofy terms, it’s rather fun, and solidly put together by Robert Z. Leonard. At least for the first two acts. Things grow downright weird in the third when the Frances Goodrich/Albert Hackett script turns serious with battle scenes & collateral damage. (When the French troops start gunning down cute Spanish kids you may wonder what film you’re watching.) Of course, Jeanette keeps singing away, right thru her prison bars. Friml’s unmemorable music also takes it on the chin. Lots of ringers to cover for him, from Falla to Rimsky-Korsakov. And that irresistibly catchy new number, the ‘Donkey Serenade,’ largely the creation of lyricists Bob Wright & Chet Forrest who rued the lost authorship residuals for the rest of their days.

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *If the plotline of Friml’s 1912 operetta sounds like the Marx Bros., the replacement plot isn’t so far removed from Blake Edwards’ troubled DARLING LILY/’70 with Julie Andrews as a London Musical Hall star who's a secret German spy and a dazzling one-shot opening number, ‘Whispering in the Dark’.

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