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 Eddy – Phantom 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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