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Thursday, January 28, 2016

THE STUDENT PRINCE (1954)

Corny and old-fashioned even when new, Sigmund Romberg’s operetta (arrogant Ruritanian Crown Prince finds love & humanity in the hoi polloi of university life before royal duties call him back forever) enchanted audiences for decades until the form fell hopelessly out of favor just about the time this remake came out. And it still might have worked if this large-scale M-G-M production didn’t feel like its sets, costumes & dialogue were ordered out of a catalogue. The film retains a certain notoriety because wayward singing sensation Mario Lanza supposedly ate his way out of the lead. (At any weight, he’d be impossibly wrong for the role.) Instead, his pressurized tenor (everything sung like Puccini) is neatly lip-synched by tall, handsome, lean, hopelessly bland Edmund Purdom whose Mid-Atlantic tones clash mercilessly against Lanza’s Philadelphia vowels. (And in profile, Purdom looks enough like James Franco to make you think he’s lost his face along with his voice.) As the local tavern lass he falls for, it’s a relief to hear Ann Blyth taking over the vocal high-wire act from screechy Kathryn Grayson who’d just left the lot. If only she didn’t look and act like an articulated mannequin with the head of a different model #. Producer Joe Pasternak added three new songs (all stinkers) and loaded up on good supporting players (John Hoyt, Louis Calhern, Richard Anderson, John Williams, S. Z. Sakall, John Qualen, Edmund Gwenn - that’s two Edmunds in one film!), but flat early CinemaScope staging from journeyman megger Richard Thorpe keeps them all quite literally in line. In spite of many missteps, the plot still rates high on heart ‘tuggabilty’ quotient, and it’s hard to know if a better presentation would have made much difference.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Ernest Lubitsch got dream perfs out of Ramon Novarro & Norma Shearer in his sublime 1927 silent version, but the DVD editions don't do it justice. An older one plays with stodgy organ as backing; a newer one has a Carl Davis score that drops all Romberg. INSTEAD: try the unlikely pleasures, goofy fun & real sentiment of Stanley Donen’s Romberg bio-pic DEEP IN MY HEART/’54 released just months after PRINCE.

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