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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SERENADE (1956)

A few years after Judy Garland was dropped by M-G-M, Jack Warner orchestrated her studio comeback in A STAR IS BORN/’54. A great, if troubled film, it effectively ended her mainstream Hollywood career. Two years later, Jack Warner was at it again, this time with Mario Lanza after M-G-M dropped him. Once again, Jack effectively ended a Hollywood career, here on a perfectly lousy film. Both stars had their weight problems, both grew erratic on set, but whereas Garland was professional to her core, Lanza was always the talented amateur tenor, with only four features under his belt before eating his way out of THE STUDENT PRINCE/’54. (Edmund Purdom took over the role and the soundtrack, lip-synching Lanza better than Lanza ever did.) Here, the beefiness is noticeable, but not really the problem. (Hey, every big-voiced tenor can’t look like Franco Corelli or Jonas Kaufman!)

Franco Corelli
Jonas Kaufmann

The Lanza voice, with its strenuous Life Begins At Forte swagger, still has the raw material, if a bit rawer on top even under the haze of echo-chamber acoustics. No, it’s the storyline, an insultingly, insipid affair (reduced from the James M. Cain novel) which makes Lanza choose between Joan Fontaine’s castrating rich blonde bitch and Sara Montiel’s nurturing wealthy brunette senorita, that kills this before it gets going. That, and Lanza’s woeful acting. (Anthony Mann takes directing credit, but you’d never know it.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Opera fans will get a kick seeing the great Lucia Albanese (dead last year at 105!) partnering for a minute or two as Desdemona to Lanza’s Otello. (Otello, Mario? Really? You’re supposed to be singing Verdi’s OTELLO @ The Met?) Unlike Lanza, whose voice ‘took’ to recording, Albanese’s discs tended to overemphasize a slight acid tang in the voice that let it cut thru the orchestra. Not here! For once, she sounds like the major singer she must have been live @ The Met. If only she had made all her recordings on the Warners’ soundstage!

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