Now that we’re into the New Year (and the new Screen Team Of The Month blogathon for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy), we’ll start off with one of Jeanette’s solo outings, the 1930 film Monte Carlo, also starring Jack Buchanan!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Pantry Panic (1941)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 57 seconds)
Woody Woodpecker ignores the advice of the weather groundhog, and a cold snap hits, leaving him without any food. Then a hungry cat comes a-calling, but finds himself fighting with an equally hungry Woodpecker! Personally, I found this one to be a lot of fun! The way the winter storm comes in and takes away all the food Woody had stored up was fun (and VERY cartoonish), as were the attempts of both Woody and the cat to eat/cook each other. The character was now voiced by Danny Webb, but, in what may be my own inexperience with the character, I didn’t really notice, outside of Woody’s voice being different for one of his last lines (for whatever reason). Regardless, it was still fun (and funny)!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Countess Helene Mara (Jeanette MacDonald) is just about to get married to Duke Otto Von Liebenheim (Claud Allister), but when she finds that her wedding dress doesn’t fit, she uses that excuse to run away. Leaving via train with her maid, Bertha (Zasu Pitts), she decides to go to Monte Carlo, where she hopes to win a fortune by gambling. On her way to the casino, she is seen by Count Rudolph Falliere (Jack Buchanan), who tries to flirt with her, but is ignored. At first, she seems to be winning big at the roulette table, but then she loses everything she had gained. Rudolph is determined to meet the Countess, but he is unable to find an opportunity. Finally, he gets his chance when he runs into and befriends her hairdresser, Paul (John Roche), who helps him out. In his new disguise, Rudolph becomes the Countess’ new hairdresser (although she doesn’t like the name Rudolph and prefers to call him “Paul”). She grows to like him as her hairdresser, and she quickly fires her a few of her other servants when she learns that he can also do their jobs. However, her money quickly runs out, and she has no choice but to fire him, too. Right about that time, the Duke finally finds her, and she reconsiders her engagement to him (which the Duke is fine with, even when she tells him that she would only be marrying him for his money). Wanting to help her out of her predicament, Rudolph tells her that he has been extremely lucky playing roulette, and wants to use his luck to help her out. He takes her out to the casino that night, but they find the Duke there and leave. After they go out dancing and enjoy Monte Carlo together, the Countess returns to her room, and sends Rudolph to the casino to gamble. While she awaits his return (for him, not so much the money), he goes up to his room and grabs some of his own money to give to her as his “winnings.” When he comes back, they kiss, but she asks him to come back the next day. In the morning, Bertha advises her not to become involved with her hairdresser, and she starts to act more standoffish towards Rudolph again when he arrives (which stops him from revealing who he really is). After kissing her, he leaves. Will the two of them get back together, or will she resign herself to being stuck with the Duke, whom she does not love?
With the advent of sound, director Ernst Lubitsch made his first sound film, The Love Parade (1929) as a musical with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald (in her film debut). With that film’s success (both critically and commercially), Paramount Pictures and the director were ready for more. Due to his new fame in America, Maurice Chevalier was already busy with a few other film projects. Ernst Lubitsch still wanted Jeanette MacDonald for Monte Carlo, even though Paramount’s assistant production head David O. Selznick didn’t think she was a big enough star to carry the film (obviously, the director got his way on this one). With Maurice Chevalier unavailable, they instead cast British musical star Jack Buchanan as the male lead for the film. The Love Parade had differentiated itself from other early talkie musicals by integrating the story and the musical numbers to advance the plot, and the director wanted to continue that trend with Monte Carlo. The movie was successful, particularly for Jeanette MacDonald, as it provided her with what would become her signature tune: “Beyond The Blue Horizon.” It didn’t work out quite so well for Jack Buchanan, who didn’t make any more American films until he appeared in The Band Wagon (1953).
This was a movie that was new to me, which was part of the appeal of watching it for this month’s Screen Team blogathon. I admit, being a film from 1930, I was hesitant, since it seems like a number of the films I’ve seen from that era have struggled with the acting department (due to the then-new sound technology). I’m thrilled to say that the movie proved that idea wrong, and turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected! First off, the acting was superb here. The movie itself was quite funny, especially when making fun of Claud Allister’s Duke (or, for that matter, using the story of Monsieur Beaucaire as an opera to help explain what was going on, since the movie was partly based on that story). And, being a musical, mention must be made of the film’s music, which definitely worked for the characters and the plot. I certainly enjoyed Jeanette MacDonald’s song “Beyond The Blue Horizon,” and how the film made use of the train and its various parts to add to the song. I can easily understand how it became a big hit for her, and I know it’s been stuck in my head after seeing this movie for the first time! I would also say that I enjoyed the songs “Give Me A Moment, Please” and “Always In All Ways” quite a bit, too! The only song that felt dated and quite awkward was “Trimmin’ The Women,” and that does hurt the film just a little bit. So far, I’ve seen two of the four films Jeanette made with Maurice Chevalier, and all eight of her films with Nelson Eddy, so I can say that she doesn’t quite work as well onscreen with Jack Buchanan (although it sounds like she got along with him better off-screen than she did with Maurice Chevalier). That’s not to say that they were terrible together, as I thought they did pretty good. I’m just saying there was a reason she did more films with the other two. Overall, though, this was a very entertaining movie, and one that I am glad I was able to see! Even with its VERY MINOR issues (in my mind), I have no trouble whatsoever in recommending this one!
This movie is available on DVD from Criterion Collection as part of the four-film Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #3 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Jack Buchanan – The Band Wagon (1953)
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