Posts Tagged ‘H. B. Warner’

For the Singing Sweethearts Blogathon: The Girl of the Golden West

As a classic film fan, I know who Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were, but I have to admit that I had never seen any of their films.  I had seen snippets of them singing on tv before, probably in some documentary or tribute to MGM movie musicals, so when the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society invited me to participate in their blogathon honoring MacDonald and Eddy, I agreed to participate.   Please visit the blog’s site in order to read other posts about these two Singing Sweethearts!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald sang in 8 MGM musicals together, 1935-1942.  I wasn’t sure which ones were going to be available to view so I did a bit of research via our family’s Amazon Prime account and decided to rent and watch The Girl of the Golden West  as it was based upon the famous opera by Giacomo Puccini and I figured an opera type of  musical would showcase the couples’ singing voices nicely.   When I told my incredulous husband that some Italian opera writer had taken an American play(written by American David Belasco in 1905) and made an opera out of it, he wondered if this qualified as the first “spaghetti western”?!  My apologies to Mr. Eastwood.   

 

The plot of TGOTGW was a fun one with twists and turns.  The bad guys and the good guys weren’t cut and dried, they had nuanced characters and all of the cast did a very good job in their respective roles.  The movie opens with a group of Kentuckians, relaxing in their camp for the night in the new to them territory of California.  As the stars twinkle in the sky and the campfires burn, a ten year old girl sweetly sings along to her uncle’s guitar and all who hear her sing are enthralled.  One of the listeners, who is some yards away hiding in the brush, is a boy of 10, called Gringo by his adopted Mexican guardian, the bandit Ramirez.  Gringo memorizes the girl’s song and as an adult, hums and sings it a lot, despite growing up to become a bandit himself.  There are often posters about the area declaring the reward money for anyone who can capture Ramirez and turn him in.

The girl who sang so sweetly, Mary, grows up to inherit her Uncle Davey’s saloon, The Polka.  She also provides a holding station for area miners’ gold until it can be delivered via stagecoach to the assayer’s office in Monterey.    The miners all love Mary, as does Sheriff Jack Rance.  Several times he has showered Mary with gifts and the question of marriage and each time she has told him that she’s not sure yet if she’s ready to marry anyone.  There is also the town of Cloudy Mountain’s blacksmith, Alabama, who has an enormous crush on Mary, but is too shy to ask for her to marry him.  In Monterey is Father Sienna and his mission church.  He befriended Mary and her Uncle Davey when they first arrived in California and the old Father often invites Mary to come and sing Ave Maria for Sunday Mass.  Mary travels by stagecoach one Saturday morning so that she can sing for the church service when Ramirez and his gang rob the stage.  Ramirez takes one look at Mary and he’s in love with her.  He loves her sassiness and her looks.  We, the audience, know that Gringo-the blonde boy has grown up to be the bandit Ramirez, adopting his guardian’s last name.  To hide the  fact that he is not Hispanic, he wears his sombrero low on his head to hide his hair and wears a bandana pulled all the way up to his eyes.  He also speaks with an exaggerated accent.  As he accosts Mary, she has nothing but ire for Ramirez and hopes one day he will be caught and turned over to the law.   Mary makes it to Father Sienna’s church and sings Ave Maria so beautifully that the governor, who happens to be in town, insists that this young lady be invited to sing at his “Rancho” the next evening.  Ramirez happened to be at the church and heard Mary sing which makes him love her all the more.  He happens to hear about the governor’s invite to Mary and the plan to have one of the lieutenant’s on the governor’s staff escort Mary to the Rancho.  Ramirez manages to steal a Lt. Johnson’s uniform and escorts Mary, but not before a side trip in the moonlight near Monterey Bay where he sings to her and steals a kiss.  Mary isn’t happy about the stolen kiss, but Lt. Johnson is now in her heart too, and when she returns to Cloudy Mountain, Sheriff Jack can tell that she must have met another man while in Monterey.

Sheriff Jack Rance loves Mary but she’s not sure if she loves him as much

Mary singing a song with Alabama, the blacksmith

Silent movie actor who transitioned to sound films well, H.B. Warner as Father Sienna

Gringo alias Ramirez holding up Mary’s stagecoach

Gringo alias Ramirez alias Lt. Johnson singing to Mary by Monterey Bay

Eventually, Lt. Johnson/Ramirez makes it to Mary’s saloon, he meets Sheriff Jack who takes an immediate dislike to him, his true identity is revealed much to Mary’s shock and disappointment, and to thwart Sheriff Jack’s capture of Ramirez, a poker game is initiated, the best 2 out of 3 hands wins: either Ramirez will face the hangman’s noose or Mary will wed Sheriff Jack and he will let Ramirez ride away into exile.

Ramirez and Sheriff Jack-pure hatred for each other and both love Mary!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald truly had impressive singing voices.  Eddy’s voice was a rich, warm baritone and he could easily hit the high notes when he had to. MacDonald’s voice was a lovely soprano that doesn’t hit the high notes too sharply.  Eddy had done some operatic training in his late teens, early adult years, with various voice teachers while MacDonald began singing as a child with a group in Philadelphia and then on to the stage where her older sister was working in NYC.

If you are curious about the duo’s films, as I was, then seek out The Girl of the Golden West.  The film’s soundtrack includes many songs with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Gus Kahn: Seniorita, Mariache, Sun Up To Sun Down, Shadows On The Moon, Soldiers Of Fortune, The Wind In The Trees, The West Ain’t Wild Anymore, and Who Are We To Say.  Polly Wolly Doodle(composer unknown) and Camptown Races by Stephen Foster are background music in the saloon.  Jeanette sings Liebestraum(Dream of Love) by Franz Liszt and Ave Maria by Johann Sebastian Bach, and then The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is used near the film’s end.

MGM publicity still for the film

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film showcasing the talents of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.  Great supporting cast members include: Walter Pidgeon as Sheriff Jack, Buddy Ebsen as Alabama, H. B. Warner as Father Sienna, Leo Carillo as Mosquito, Brandon Tynan as The Professor, Noah Beery Sr. as Ramirez, Charley Grapewin as Uncle Davey, Jeanne Ellis as young Mary, Bill Cody Jr. as the child Gringo,  Billy Bevan as Nick, the bartender, and Monty Woolley as the governor.  The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and screenplay was written by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw, based upon David Belasco’s play.    

For the Swashathon: 1941’s The Corsican Brothers

I love a good, action movie.  Sword fights, so much the better!  Not the modern versions of sword fights that show all of the gore(I’m referring to you, 1995 film Rob Roy.) I know that in real life, a sword fight was a bloody battle, but I like the classic films that depict sword fights with the ultimate battle involving the baddie fighting the hero, with little blood flowing.  The baddie usually ends the fight by grasping his fatal wound, eyes shut, staggering backwards, then falling over, dead.

When I found out that my favorite blog dedicated to silent movies was going to host a “Swashathon” dedicated to swashbuckler movies, I jumped right in.  Be sure to visit Movies, Silently and read about all of the swashbuckler films being paid homage to this weekend.

swashathon-flynn

On November 28th, 1941, the film The Corsican Brothers premiered to rave reviews.  Distributed by United Artists, the film was based on French writer Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel.  Like many of Dumas’s works of fiction, The Corsican Brothers has a rollicking plot with lots of action.

The Corsican Brothers poster 1

Director Gregory Ratoff, working with the screenplay by George Bruce and Howard Estabrook, kept the story flowing fast;never a dull moment in this movie.   To play the main characters, identical twin brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. won the role.  The movie’s main baddie played by a blustery and glowering Akim Tamiroff.  The lovely Ruth Warrick is the love interest and damsel in distress.   The wonderful supporting cast: J. Carrol Naish, H.B. Warner, Henry Wilcoxon, Gloria Holden, Walter Kingsford, and Nana Bryant.

The movie opens on the island of Corsica and we quickly meet two noble families, the good Franchi family and the evil Colonna family.  It is known in the village that Countess Franchi(Gloria Holden) is about to give birth to her first child, and that all of Count Franchi’s(Henry Wilcoxon) relatives have come to his home to await the birth.  Across town, Baron Colonna(Akim Tamiroff) and his minions are eating a meal and when the Baron learns that all of the Franchis are in one spot, he decides to attack them and murder them all! There is a blood feud between the two families, and it’s explained that in 1841 Corsica, when this story takes place, all Corsicans follow the idea of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Countess Franchi bravely labors away in her gorgeous bedroom with the attentive care of Dr. Paoli(H. B. Warner) and a nun/nurse.  Shortly after her twin sons are born, it is known to all that the Countess is dying.  The Count hurries in to see his wife and his sons; he is overjoyed that God has blessed him with two sons!  Dr. Paoli quietly tells him that the twins are conjoined.  The Count is crushed by this news, and he begs the doctor to surgically separate the boys.  Before a surgery can happen, Dr. Paoli manages to sneak the twins out of the mansion, with the help of Franchi family servant Lorenzo(J. Carrol Naish).   Sadly, all of the rest of the Franchis are killed by Baron Colonna and his henchmen.  There’s a touching moment as the nun is helping with the babies escape and she begs her mistress to leave too, but the Countess bravely smiles and tells  the nun to not worry for her, as she’ll face her death with bravery and grace.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Dr. Paoli, back at his home with the babies and Lorenzo, shares his fear that Colonna won’t believe that the babies died in the inferno that engulfed the Franchi home and that he must somehow hide these boys until they are of age.  The surgery has been done and the babies are now separated twins.  With Lorenzo’s suggestion, they contact the Franchi’s good friends, Monsieur and Madame Dupre,(Walter Kingsford and Nana Bryant) who are childless.  After the babies are baptized and christened Mario and Lucien, the Dupre’s take baby Mario back with them to Paris.  Lorenzo agrees to raise Lucien, in the hills of Corsica, near the village of the Franchis.

20 years fly by.  Mario is a cultured and educated young man.  He meets Corsican Countess Isabelle Gravini and it’s love at first sight for him.  At the Paris Opera House, where they meet, he protects her from the attentions of a clod, who later assaults Mario.  When Mario suffers a wound in his shoulder, Lucien awakes with a pain in his shoulder!  Despite being separated, Lucien feels the pains, pangs and passions his twin brother experiences.(Cue the Twilight Zone music!  By the way, I have identical twin daughters, and they have never experienced this “spiritual twin” syndrome, as Dr. Paoli calls it.)  Here’s a clip, courtesy of TCM, of this “spiritual twin” syndrome, and the meeting of Countess Isabelle and Mario.

When Mario and Lucien turn 21, Dr. Paoli asks for the Dupres to allow Mario to travel to Corsica as it’s time for the boys to meet and learn the truth of their ancestry.  The Dupres comply and Mario and Lucien meet for the first time.  Both brothers vow to avenge their parents death at the hands of Baron Colonna.  Here’s the clip of that scene, also courtesy of TCM.  The rest of the movie deals with the brothers exacting their revenge, with a love “square” getting put into the plot.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

I say love “square” instead of triangle because this plot device involves 4 people.  Countess Isabelle loves Mario,Mario loves Countess Isabelle,  Lucien loves Countess Isabelle(he has some fun getting her to kiss him as she thinks he’s Mario and he’s not about to correct her!), and evil Baron Colonna has seen Countess Isabelle, has asked her father for her hand, and when her father says, “No”, Colonna has him poisoned so that he can pursue the Countess unhindered!!

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle's skin crawl!

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle’s skin crawl!

There is a somewhat sad plot point added to the end of the film, but it also ties the story line up neatly, like a bow.  Fairbanks, Jr. is just fantastic as Mario/Lucien.  He’s athletic, gorgeous, and sincere in his acting the dual roles.  The special effects for this film were well done: scenes where Fairbanks, Jr. plays the twins talking to each other, or in scenes where both twins are with other actors at the same time. One scene where the twins get into a fight with one another, yes another actor/double was used but the fight was so carefully choreographed and shot from afar, that it’s hard to tell the double from Fairbanks, Jr.

Wilcoxon and Holden, the doomed Franchi parents,are noble and brave.  H.B. Warner as Dr. Paoli is tender-hearted and wise.  J. Carrol Naish is great as servant Lorenzo, who raises Lucien to be a defender of the people against the evil Colonna, and Kingsford and Bryant are also warm and wise, as the childless couple who raise Mario as their own. Ruth Warrick is so pretty, and has a natural chemistry with Fairbanks, Jr.  I’d like to think they had a lovely time making this film together.   Tamiroff has a blast playing Colonna and his sword fight scene showdown with Mario is a great scene. They fight in a large room, but with furniture to knock over and wounded bodies to dodge, plus a large mirror is used for good visual effect.  Spoiler in this clip.  If you don’t want to know what it is, then don’t watch this clip! Here it is, courtesy of Youtube.

TCM aired The Corsican Brothers this past July, the first time they had ever aired it.  Check their schedule, especially in 2016 as I am sure they’ll be airing this film again.  It’s available to purchase at Amazon in a dvd or to watch it through their prime instant video.  It’s also available at TCM’s Shop.

For an excellent tale complete with swashbuckling derring do, seek out The Corsican Brothers.