“Screen Team (Jeanette MacDonald And Nelson Eddy) Of The Month (January 2022)” Featuring Nelson Eddy in… The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

Last week, I put the focus on one of Jeanette MacDonald’s solo outings. This week, I’m switching to one from the other half of this month’s Screen Team, Nelson Eddy! For that, we’re going with his 1941 film The Chocolate Soldier, also starring Risë Stevens!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Hollywood Matador (1942)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection from Universal Studios)

(Length: 6 minutes, 58 seconds)

Woody Woodpecker takes on the bull Oxnar The Terribull in the bullring. As has been typical of the handful of Woody Woodpecker cartoons I’ve seen so far, this one was quite fun! I’ll admit, the idea of a cartoon character taking on a bull in the bullring is nothing new, with A Bully For Bugs as the standout classic of the type. So, some of the types of jokes here aren’t exactly new, but it’s still done “Woody Woodpecker”-style, which is still good enough! Personally, I like Woody’s take here (much better than the Pink Panther’s bullfight in Bully For Pink). We have yet another voice actor for Woody, with Kent Rogers voicing the character, and doing well enough that I haven’t been able to distinguish his voice from the others yet (again, this may just be my own inexperience with the character at the moment). Regardless, this short provided enough laughs that I’ll come back to see it again at some point!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In Balkany, musical comedy stars Karl Lang (Nelson Eddy) and Maria Lanyi (Risë Stevens) enjoy success onstage. Offstage, however, there is trouble. The two of them have been married for a few months, but both suspect the other of being unfaithful, due to their various admirers. Talking with his friend, theatrical critic Bernard Fischer (Nigel Bruce), Karl tells him about his suspicions that Maria may soon be leaving him for another man. Bernard doesn’t believe him, but suggests Karl try to be romantic towards her. When Karl’s initial attempt at romance fails, he comes up with a different plan. He takes her (and Bernard) out to the Double Eagle Cafe, but has to excuse himself when he receives a telegram from a friend who needed to be bailed out of jail. While he is gone, a Russian guardsman sings for the audience, and is instantly attracted to Maria. He introduces himself as Vassily Vassilievitch,, who flirts with Maria. After he leaves, Karl comes back, but acts nonchalant when Bernard and Maria tell him about their visitor. The next day, some beautiful flowers arrive for Maria while Bernard is visiting, and Karl goes into a jealous rage as he tries to find out who sent them to Maria. Privately (when Maria is out of earshot), he confides to Bernard that HE sent them in his disguise of Vassily, while Maria figures out on her own that Karl and Vassily are one and the same. Since the note that Karl sent with the flowers as “Vassily” asks her to stand by her window as a signal to him that afternoon, Karl make an excuse about needing to go perform elsewhere to get out of the house. As Vassily, Karl is less than thrilled to see Maria at the window, but he still decides to follow through with his plan. When he tries to come on to her forcefully, she turns him away (much to his happiness), only for her to then invite Vassily to come back later. They have several more meetings that go similarly, with her rejecting Vassily’s advances, only for her to then flirt with Vassily some more before Karl has a chance to rejoice at her faithfulness. Will Maria reveal the fact that she knows that Karl is Vassily, or will his jealousy continue to get the better of him?

In 1894, the play Arms And The Man proved to be one of George Bernard Shaw’s first hits as a playwright. He later gave Leopold Jacobson the rights to adapt the play into a musical, with music by Oscar Straus. The musical, now called The Chocolate Soldier, became a hit, but Shaw disliked the results, and decided not to allow any more of his plays to be adapted into musicals (at least, not while he was alive). Once the movies started to become talkies after the success of The Jazz Singer, MGM bought the film rights. At first, their intention was to make the film as a follow-up to their successful 1934 film The Merry Widow with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, but circumstances didn’t work out that way. With the box office fading for the team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, the studio was more interested in finding solo films for both of them. They decided to revisit the idea of The Chocolate Singer with Nelson Eddy in the lead, but Shaw still wouldn’t allow them to use the musical version of his play. A few years after The Chocolate Soldier had hit the stage, another playwright, Ferenc Molnár, produced a play called Testör in Europe, where it was a hit. It was translated into English by Phillip Moeller under the title The Guardsman, and became a hit on Broadway. MGM had bought the film rights to that show too, casting the show’s stars Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne for the movie. That film version didn’t do very well with audiences, but MGM decided to repurpose the play for The Chocolate Soldier, using the story of The Guardsman and the score of The Chocolate Soldier. Risë Stevens, who made her film debut here, would later get the chance to do the REAL Chocolate Soldier musical as a TV adaptation in 1955 with Eddie Albert as her co-star.

This movie was new to me, and one that I wanted to see when I made plans to focus on Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy as my Screen Team Of The Month. It certainly did not disappoint! I will definitely say that I enjoyed the music, particularly the songs “My Hero,” “Sympathy,” “Seek the Spy” and “While My Lady Sleeps” (with “My Hero” particularly being a bit of an earworm). But the comedy is what REALLY made this film enjoyable, especially with Nelson Eddy branching out a little more in his performance style to do it! Ok, so the idea of a husband suspecting his wife of infidelity and disguising himself to flirt with her isn’t exactly an original thought, but Nelson Eddy and Risë Stevens make it work! The fun is in seeing how much Nelson’s Karl thinks he is giving a great performance as “Vassily” (even when their dogs recognize him easily), and yet, we see early on that Risë’s Maria has figured him out. And that is the fun, seeing her doing her best not to laugh (at least, not when he can see her), and then, just when he thinks that she is being faithful to him by rejecting his “Vassily” persona, she drives him nuts by flirting with him some more! I’m not sure that I’d say that Risë is as good with Nelson as Jeanette MacDonald, but she certainly proves that she can sing and do comedy here just as well! Plain and simple, I did have fun with this film, and I certainly have no problems in recommending it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Balalaika (1939)Nelson EddyPhantom Of The Opera (1943)

Risë Stevens – Going My Way (1944)

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939) – Nigel Bruce – Roxie Hart (1942)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Roxie Hart (1942)

Next up, we have a fun film from 1942, the comedy Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers, with Adolphe Menjou and George Montgomery!

Coming Up Shorts! with… I’ll Be Skiing Ya (1947)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 7 minutes, 25 seconds)

Popeye tries to teach Olive how to skate at a winter resort, and skate instructor Bluto has other ideas. A lot of fun here, from Popeye’s ridiculous skating, to all the skiing stunts they do. Popeye and Bluto’s rivalry is certainly the source of most of the fun here, and the gags all work well enough. With Jack Mercer voicing Popeye, things certainly sound right here, and it was a lot of fun (and laughs)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

After one gambler kills another, two reporters come walking into a bar. The older and more experienced reporter is lamenting the type of murderers they have today, and is reminded by some music playing of the case of Roxie Hart nearly fifteen years earlier. As he tells the story, we find that a man has been killed by Amos Hart (George Chandler). However, reporter Jake Callahan (Lynne Overman) doesn’t think it to be anything big. He catches Roxie Hart (Ginger Rogers) sneaking back into the apartment, and convinces her to take the rap, promising her fame and publicity, which could only help her career. She goes along with it, and they are able to hire lawyer Billy Flynn (Adolphe Menjou) to take her case. At first, she gets a lot of publicity, plus the attentions of reporter Homer Howard (George Montgomery). Soon, though, another woman commits murder, and Roxie becomes yesterday’s news. However, she gets everyone’s attention by announcing she is pregnant, and the trial finally happens, as all the craziness ensues on both sides. But will Roxie be freed, or hung?

Roxie Hart, as you can guess, is based on the 1926 play Chicago. It quickly became a silent film in 1927, then this version came along in 1942 (and, of course, Bob Fosse got ahold of it and turned it into a Broadway musical in the 1970s, which was made into a movie in 2002). The 1942 film is different than the other films, mainly because it was the only one made during the period that movies were censored due to the Code. It had originally been considered as a vehicle for Fox star Alice Faye, but she was pregnant and had to turn it down. Ginger Rogers, fresh off a new contract with RKO Studios which gave her more freedom in choosing her movies (even allowing her to do movies for other studios), wanted the role, and so she got it.

Right from the start, the movie gives you an idea of what is to come, with this dedication: “This picture is dedicated to all the beautiful women in the world who have shot their men full of holes out of pique,” and then follows up with several newspaper headlines of women getting away with murder in a ridiculous fashion. I would definitely say that the movie is very much over-the-top in style, with performances to match, especially from the constantly gum-chewing Ginger Rogers. From the “catfight” in prison (with Ginger fighting another prisoner with the sounds of cats fighting in the background) to some of the random dancing, to the trial itself, this movie is just so much fun! The movie can and does emphasize the press and the power of fame, as the main reason for her taking the rap for her husband (instead of being the killer herself). Watching the trial, and how everybody always has to get in the photograph is always hilarious (especially Ginger, who is awake and smiling for one photo, even though she supposedly just “feinted”). I can’t say enough positive things about this movie, as it is one I have always enjoyed! I know the over-the-top style may put off some, but I still give this movie some of my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox.

Film Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Tom, Dick And Harry (1941)Ginger RogersThe Major And The Minor (1942)

One Hundred Men And A Girl (1937) – Adolphe Menjou – You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

The Chocolate Soldier (1941) – Nigel Bruce

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939)

Up for a good mystery? Then let’s get into The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1939, starring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie and Nigel Bruce.

Upon the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), his nephew Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) comes from Canada to take over the estate. Among some of the late Sir Charles’ friends is Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who comes to see Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) in hopes that the famous detective might be able to convince Sir Henry to stay away from Baskerville Hall. When Sir Henry arrives, Sherlock instead wants to encourage him to go on. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt before Sir Henry leaves London, but sends Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) with Sir Henry, electing to stay behind to work on something else. After they arrive at Baskerville Hall, they meet Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie) and her brother John Stapleton (Morton Lowry), along with a few of their other neighbors. The howling of a hound at night bothers them, considering the legend of a hound that had killed one of Sir Henry’s ancestors, but it is the convict brother of Sir Henry’s butler’s wife that ends up killed (because he was wearing some of Sir Henry’s clothes). Sherlock, meanwhile, has been lurking in the background, trying to figure things out. After revealing himself, he decides to pretend to leave, in order to allow the potential murder of Sir Henry so that he could catch the killer. But can he get back in time and prevent the murder?

Based on the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1939 film is probably the best-known version of the tale. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that it would be so successful, spawning thirteen more films as well as a radio series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce continuing in their roles. But for this movie, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock was the second-billed actor, behind Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville (although, to be fair, Basil’s Sherlock disappears for a good part of the movie). But one remarkable point about this movie, according to TCM, is that it was the first Sherlock Holmes movie done as a period piece, being set firmly in the past as opposed to being done in then-modern times. The movie’s success resulted in another film being produced by Fox that same year (also a period film, based on a play), before the series moved to Universal a few years later, who brought the series back to modern times.

Having seen all of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, I will say that this is the best of the bunch. While it is definitely an introduction, I do like Basil’s portrayal of the character. It may not be based on the original stories, although I really don’t know myself, as I am going off what others have said plus other big and small screen versions of the character, but I like his way best. To me, he brings out the character’s humanity without maintaining the arrogance that I have seen in other portrayals. To me, he cares, and that alone makes his version more fun to watch. The fact that Basil and Nigel were friends offscreen just heightens the dynamic here. This is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend! The first movie in this series is definitely the best place to start (at least, if you want to start with a high point instead of a low one, anyways)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the fourteen film Basil Rathbone In The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection from MPI Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Basil Rathbone – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Nigel Bruce – The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!