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 […]
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.
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.
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.
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.