We’re back again for another solo film featuring half of this month’s Screen Team, Jeanette MacDonald! For that, we’ve got her 1934 film The Cat And The Fiddle with Ramon Novarro!
Coming Up Shorts! with… The Loan Stranger (1942)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)
(Length: 6 minutes, 50 seconds)
When Woody’s car breaks down, he gets a loan from a loan shark (or wolf in this case). After thirty days, the wolf comes to collect, but Woody won’t give him the money! This one was back to being fun (after the previous one was a bit of a letdown), as Woody takes on the wolf (and, based on the introduction to the wolf, it’s hard not to cheer for Woody)! The gags are fun, and we also have Woody singing “Everybody Thinks I’m Crazy” again for more hilarity! Kent Rogers does pretty well here voicing both characters (a fact I wouldn’t have known had I not read the IMDb page!), and I know I look forward to seeing this one again and again!
And Now For The Main Feature…
In Brussels, penniless pianist and composer Victor Florescu (Ramon Novarro) makes a deal with a restaurant owner to play some music in exchange for a meal. When Victor eats more than he agreed to, the restaurant owner tries to charge him for it, but he runs out on the bill. He makes a successful escape when he hops into a passing cab, which is occupied by Shirley Sheridan (Jeanette MacDonald). Victor is instantly smitten with her, and, upon arriving at their destination (which, although it is two different apartment buildings, is essentially the same spot since they are next door to each other). Victor offers to pay the cab fare, but is unable to come up with the money. The taxi driver (Henry Armetta) decides to take Victor’s portfolio (which contains all his music) as payment (at least, until Victor can actually come up with the money for cab fare). In his apartment, Victor meets with his music teacher, Professor Bertier (Jean Hersholt), who has good news for him: he has an audition with an arts patron, Jules Daudet (Frank Morgan), who may ask him to write an operetta (that is, if Daudet likes Victor’s music). Without his portfolio, Victor tries to remember his music, but is interrupted when a neighbor tries to play their own music. Victor tries to complain through the window, only to discover that the neighbor playing the music is none other than Shirley! Victor climbs across, and helps her out with some music that she is writing, before remembering his appointment with Daudet that afternoon. He rushes off to find the taxi driver who has his music portfolio, and, upon finding him, stops traffic while they argue. A passerby named Charles (Charles Butterworth) loans Victor the money for the portfolio, and Victor rushes off to meet with Daudet. He is late for the audition, and starts an argument with Daudet before realizing who he is (which almost ends everything right there), but Victor’s declarations of his love for Shirley and how that love is more important than the audition cause Daudet to reconsider. Daudet is mildly interested in Victor’s music, but while he is playing, Shirley comes to the conservatory looking for Professor Bertier. She plays her music for him, and Daudet offers to publish her new song. However, she slaps him when he tries to get fresh with her, and leaves. Later, Shirley also comes to the realization that she loves Victor, but Daudet tells Victor that, if he is to write the operetta that’s been commissioned, he must do it in Paris. Much to Daudet’s surprise, Victor declines, preferring to stay with Shirley. Still, Daudet publishes Shirley’s song, which turns out to be a big hit, and both Shirley and Victor move to Paris. It doesn’t work out too well for Victor, though, as he struggles to write his operetta in the midst of Shirley’s success, and he plans to return to Brussels. When Shirley announces her plan to return with him, a jealous Daudet convinces Victor that Shirley would ruin her career if she went back. Reluctantly, Victor fakes not being in love with her anymore, and returns to Brussels alone. He finishes his operetta, and goes into rehearsal, with the former operetta star Odette Brieux (Vivienne Segal) in the female lead, and her wealthy husband backing the show (at least, until he catches Odette kissing a reluctant Victor and withdraws his backing). Now, Victor is without a leading lady and a leading man, and also facing trouble for writing a bad check. His friend Charles (who is playing the harp for the show) turns to Shirley for help, but she refuses. Will Victor be able to put on his operetta? Will he and Shirley ever get back together?
After filming Love Me Tonight (1932) for Paramount Studios, Jeanette MacDonald took a trip to Europe, and, while there, she signed with MGM. The Cat And The Fiddle, which was based on the hit 1931 Broadway musical of the same name, was her first film under that contract. She was paired up with tenor Ramon Novarro (whose career was already on the downturn at this time), and the film was given a decent-sized budget to work with, part of which went towards filming the finale in the new three-strip Technicolor process (previously used mainly for Walt Disney’s cartoons, since he held exclusive rights for a few years). The movie ended up not doing very well at the box office (resulting in MGM opting not to renew Novarro’s contract the next year), but it did provide a model for the type of movie that would work for Jeanette herself (especially when she was paired up with Nelson Eddy the following year for Naughty Marietta).
In preparation for this month’s Screen Team blogathon, I decided to go with The Cat And The Fiddle for Jeanette MacDonald because it was a new film for me. As has been the usual for the films I’ve seen so far with her in them, I liked it! I thought the story was fun, and I thought the two leads had some good chemistry (nowhere near as much as she had with either Nelson Eddy or Maurice Chevalier, but good enough to help carry the movie). I will admit, I didn’t really find the score by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach that memorable overall, but the tune “The Night Was Made For Love” stuck with me (helped, obviously, by Jeanette’s beautiful singing voice). The movie did have some good comedic moments, with one of the main standouts being early in the movie, when Novarro’s Victor is running out on his food bill and joins a passing parade, causing the marching band to speed up their beat (and go from walking to running as they played)! Seeing it switch from black-and-white to color for the last five minutes was also interesting (and, leading into it, you could tell that they were about to do something special). Admittedly, it could use a good restoration to improve how it looks, but that can only happen if they actually have the film elements to do so, and I currently have no idea whether they do or not. It may not be Jeanette at her absolute best, but it’s still an entertaining pre-Code that I think is worth recommending!
This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.
Film Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes
My Rating: 8/10
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