Saturday, November 30, 2013

“That’s the worst orchestra and the worst conductor I’ve ever sung with.”

That is Marie de Flor, not happy. The character Marie is a Canadian soprano in the 1936 black and white musical-film “Rose Marie” showing in Bigfork December 12th. Played by Jeanette MacDonald, the movie follows Marie’s adventures with handsome Sergeant Bruce, of the Mounties, played by baritone Nelson Eddy. The film includes great music, wonderful scenery, and an enjoyable story.  The movie is one of several based on the 1924 operetta-style Broadway musical “Rose-Marie.”  Its song “Indian Love Call” became the two stars’ professional signatures.  It was recorded by them, became hugely successful, and remains familiar to most music fans regardless of their age. Bigfork’s resident movie authority, Jack Nachbar, will show the movie as part of his Classic Movie Series along with a cartoon from the same period.  He will also provide informative commentary about the movie.  All this on December 12 at 6:30PM. Admission is free.

This movie is one of the many musical films released by Hollywood in the 1930s. Sound enabled movies to bring actual performances to movie patrons.  In 1930 alone, over 100 musical films were released. This particular movie was even done as a silent film in 1928 and in color in 1954.  All three were set in the wilderness (not necessarily shot in Canada), but this Macdonald and Eddy version sets the standard for high quality singing talent and longevity.

The plot involves the character Marie trying to save her younger fugitive brother from Sergeant Bruce. The younger brother is an early movie appearance of Jimmy Stewart.  Is there love between the singer and sergeant?  Will the brother be brought to justice? Will all end happily? Come to Bigfork and find out. Much of the Broadway play’s plot was changed, but portions of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s original Broadway musical score is used in the movie.

American singer and actress Jeanette Anna MacDonald (June 18, 1903 – January 14, 1965) is best remembered for her musical films of the 1930s.  She did eight movies with Nelson Eddy including “Naughty Marietta”, “Rose-Marie”, and “Maytime.” She also costarred with Maurice Chevalier in “Love Me Tonight” and “The Merry Widow.” In total, she starred in 29 feature films in the 30’s and 40’s which were nominated for Best Picture Oscars.  She also was a very busy recording artist winning three Gold Record Awards. Later in her career she appeared in opera, concerts, radio, and television.  She was an influential force in bringing opera into the mainstream, and she also was a role model for aspiring singers of an entire generation.  She shared a long-term relationship with Nelson and was engaged to him, but the powers of MGM did not agree with the pairing, and they eventually ended the engagement. See more at:

The costar of  “Rose Marie” is talented Nelson Ackerman Eddy (June 29, 1901 – March 6, 1967).  A classically trained American baritone, he was an actor and singer who appeared in 19 musical films during the 30’s and 40’s in addition to opera, concert stage, radio, television, and nightclubs. He might be considered an early version of superstar Frank Sinatra with an opera voice.  He had shrieking young girls as well as opera devotees as fans. During his amazing career he earned three stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame (film, recording, and radio), left footprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, had three Gold Record Awards, and sang at the third inauguration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941.  More at:

This movie also provides an early look at another future superstar in James Maitland Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997).  This was before his screen persona, for which he is most remembered, emerged.  The lanky, quiet spoken, and average American guy just trying to get by using a distinctive drawl played by Stewart in so many award-winning roles, is not in “Rose Marie.”  Instead Stewart, like many other new MGM stars, has a relatively small role.  In this movie, his character needs to be saved by his older sister. It might be interesting to see how much of the Oscar-winning Stewart aura comes through in “Rose Marie”.

Another singing talent in this movie is actor and tenor Allan Jones (October 14, 1907 – June 27, 1992).  Jones had a varied career in movies, but is probably best known as “…the romantic straight man to the Marx Brothers in their first two MGM productions: ‘A Night at the Opera’ and ‘A Day at the Races’.”  His singing in “Rose Marie” was so good Eddy objected to it.  In a biography of Louis B. Mayer,  “Merchant of Dreams,” written by Charles Higham, Mayer is claimed to say that Eddy considered Jones such a rival that Eddy asked for most of Jones's singing to be cut, “… including his rendition of the great Puccini aria E lucevan le stelle - and MGM agreed to Eddy's demand.”  Read more at:

The song "Indian Love Call" is also a “star” of this movie in its own right.  The song was first published as “The Call” and is from the 1924 musical. With Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart music and Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II lyrics, it is romantic and haunting.  Music like “Indian Love Call” helped make the show the longest running Broadway musical of the 20’s, spawned four films, and The New York Times described the song as being “…among those Rudolf Friml songs that became ‘household staples’ in their era”.  More at:

An interesting use of “Indian Love Call” came about when it was used in Yosemite Park as part of the “Firefall” down a 3000 foot cliff every night shortly after nightfall. The “Firefall” was created by burning hot embers dropped down from the top of Glacier Point.  It was impressive (above). “ Firefall” lasted from 1872 until 1968.   At some point “Indian Love Call” became part of the show that was put on by the owners of Glacier Point Hotel and was only stopped in 1968 by the National Park Service because too many visitors were attending, and it was not a natural event…spoil sports!

Here is what The New York Times reviewer Frank Nugent in 1936, had to say about the movie “Rose Marie.”  “As blithely melodious and rich in scenic beauty as any picture that has come from Hollywood, …(it) distinguished the operetta when first it played to Broadway in 1924. If the three script writers who were entrusted with its adaptation to the screen have dealt less respectfully with the original’s book, they may be pardoned on the ground that here the song—and its singers—are the thing…let Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sing an operetta’s love song, and we care not who may write its book. In splendid voice, whether singing solo or in duet, they prove to be fully…delightful.” More at:

There are lots of reasons to see this movie and seeing it on the big screen of The Edge Center in Bigfork will make them all more impressive. So come and join the fun on Thursday, December 12 at 6:30PM.  Don’t forget you also see a cartoon from the same period.  Admission is free.

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