Less debut than sabotage. Two years after Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Ezio Pinza pulled off a smash late career twist starring in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s SOUTH PACIFIC (ten minutes into the show, he’s singing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’), he went Hollywood . . . in the worst way. This hopelessly inadequate King & Commoner story has Pinza (pushing 60 at the time) uncomfortably wooing songstress Lana Turner (pushing 30). Twelve years after their budding love affair yielded to Affairs of State, he tries again. Only now she’s a glamorous movie star; he’s waiting on a plebiscite that may restore the monarchy; and it all feels a little creepy. Toss in a handful of forgettable tunes (Lana with an excellent voice-double; Ezio softly crooning top notes); Barry Sullivan as frustrated fiancé; and heavily accented romantic patter played in deadly master shots thanks to co-scripter/megger Don Hartman (a Bob Hope/Bing Crosby specialist who never wrote again). With zero chemistry between the leads, M-G-M held off releasing until Pinza’s next (STRICTLY DISHONORABLE) came out and died. Pinza’s moment had passed.
LINK/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Two years on, in his third & final film, Hollywood figured out what to do with Pinza: have him play an opera singer!; he’s Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin in the glossy Sol Hurok bio-pic TONIGHT WE SING/’53. Fun, but dumb, it also flopped, and is now hard to find. (Worth it for the handsome production, classical music stars, and the only time Pinza sang his famous Boris Godonov in Russian.) Instead, hear him on some classic 78rpm recordings. Here he is in 1928 with Rosa Ponselle, the greatest Verdi dramatic-soprano of her era with the greatest Verdi lyric-bass of his, in La vergine degli angeli from LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. (This is the best current transfer on youtube.)