Sitting atop the 1937 movie season box office we find MGMs adaption of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth starring Paul Muni and Luise Rainer, MGMs operetta Maytime starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and Paramount's Waikiki Wedding with Bing Crosby. It appears that the audience of that year enjoyed epic drama from best-selling novels, and a variety of music and musical performers.
The operetta Maytime premiered on Broadway in 1917 and ran for 492 performances, cementing Sigmund Romberg as a legendary composer in the field. Romberg collaborated with Rida Johnson Young (Little Old New York) on the book and lyrics which was adapted from the 1913 German operetta Like Once in May.
Noel Langley and Frances Marion wrote the screenplay from Claudine West's treatment for the MGM film. The Broadway play was a generational love story starring Peggy Wood (The Sound of Music) and Charles Purcell wherein the children of thwarted lovers themselves find romance.
The film Maytime is the story of two singers who find romance while outside forces strive to keep them apart. Only one of the Romberg tunes made it to the screen, the hauntingly beautiful Will You Remember (Sweetheart). The rest of the tunes are classical pieces, opera excerpts, and contributions by Herbert Stothart, the film's musical director, and adaptor.
Nelson Eddy plays Paul Allison, who is studying voice in Paris. Paul and his teacher August Archipenko played by Herman Bing (Dumbo) live a hand-to-mouth existence with Archipenko constantly complaining about the young man's lack of dedication and ambition. Despite his grumbling, Archipenko couldn't be more fond of his young student if he were his own son. Paul is good-hearted and full of youthful joie de vivre. He has nothing in his pocket but lives life as if the world is his.
Jeanette MacDonald plays Marcia Mornay, a soprano who is reaching the success for which she has striven and worked so very diligently under the tutelage of Nicolai Nazaroff played by John Barrymore (Counsellor-at-Law). Marcia, as she is constantly reminded, owes everything to Nicolai who has taught her to sing, and how to deport herself like a star. Nicolai loves Marcia, perhaps truly but most definitely as a possession. Marcia is grateful, feels her debt keenly, and is trying to convince herself that these emotions will equate or lead to love.
The ebullient Paul falls madly in love with Marcia. Archipenko falls in love with Marcia, whom he sees as the one who will inspire in Paul some of the lacking ambition. Marcia is initially amused by her new suitor and soon learns to return the love that is offered so freely. However, Nicolai is not a power to be ignored and comes between the young lovers.
The passage of time finds both Marcia and Paul enjoying international success and, as will be expected in their world, the star-crossed lover's paths cross when Paul is hired to star opposite Marcia at the Metropolitan Opera. Is this the opportunity for true love to assert itself?
Maytime is a beautiful movie with an epic yet intimate romance, and music that will wash over your soul. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, who directed the top box office duo of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in five films, Maytime is an example of the best of that dream factory of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Adrian's sumptuous costumes are time-appropriate and awe-inspiring. Cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh's glorious black and white cinematography bring us a world of sunshine days and dark nights, reminiscent somewhat of his work on The Merry Widow, 1934. His two Oscar nominations were for work in color, and with Nelson and Jeanette for Sweethearts, and Bitter Sweet.
TCM is screening Maytime on Thursday, January 13th at 5:45 PM as the final film in a daytime lineup that appears to be spotlighting movies about opera singers. Look for other MGM stars like Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, and Walter Pidgeon.
July 29, 1887 - November 9, 1951
Note: MGM also produced a biopic of Sigmund Romberg in 1954 called Deep in My Heart. It may pique your interest in the composer, and your admiration for star Jose Ferrer, along with the opportunity to see many studio stars performing the composer's timeless music.
Note: Previous titles in the Caftan Woman's Choice series.