A few months ago, Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Movies and Catherine from Thoughts All Sorts tagged me to write an article in “The Unpopular Opinion Film Tag” series. I would like to thank them and to say that I am honored; I have never been tagged for anything before. The three films I have chosen are Holiday from 1930, I Married an Angel from 1942, and The Desert Song from 1953. I’m not sure that all of these films are very popular, but I know that many people like them, and I can’t stand them. I will destroy these films one by one chronologically.
Holiday from 1930 is the worst pre-Code film I have ever seen. I think it is horrible. To be fair, I must admit that this film is at a disadvantage, since the 1938 remake, which I saw first, is one of my very favorite films. Thus, the original could never really compare to the masterful Cukor remake, which I adore. However, I know that I would dislike it under any circumstances. Firstly, I feel that the script is very weak. The dialogue is laborious and strained. Some parts of the film were so labored that I found it almost uncomfortable to watch. Secondly, the character development is rather shallow. The sincerity and depth between characters in the second version are completely missing in this version. Thirdly, I think the acting is mediocre. In the first half, Mary Astor and Ann Harding are pretty good, but in the second half, their levels fall. Miss Astor probably gave the best performance in this picture. Both these actresses were talented, but I don’t think the director did a good job of getting convincing performances out of his players in this picture. The two important male characters, Johnny and Ned, were played by Robert Ames and Monroe Owsley. Please forgive me if you like them or this movie, but I thought that they were positively horrendous. They alternated between obnoxious over-acting and infuriating under-acting throughout the entire picture. In general, I would say that Johnny was unmemorable and unconvincing, but Ned was just horrible. Now, poor Mr. Owsley does face a huge challenge in playing this role in front of me, since Lew Ayres was in the remake, and he is my favorite actor. In fact, Holiday was the film which introduced me to Mr. Ayres, so I have always been particularly fond of his role in that picture. The scene in the playroom on New Year’s Eve with Ned and Linda, which is one of the most touching, poignant moments between Katharine Hepburn and Lew Ayres, was almost comical in its ridiculousness. Most of the lines were rushed. The actors threw away the moments which should be savored, and they overdid the inconsequential elements. The one excuse I can make for Mr. Ames and Mr. Owsley is that they were both drunks at this time; however, there were many actors who were excellent in spite of their sottishness, such as John Barrymore. One would think that Monroe Owsley would have had no trouble playing the drunken Ned, but I think his main problem was that he thought he didn’t have to act, since he knew how to be a drunk. That is always a mistake. The one way I think this movie could have been saved is if Lew Ayres had played Ned in it. Edward Everett Horton played Nick in both versions, even though he is practically a different character, so why not Lew Ayres with Ned? Some might think he was too young and inexperienced. It is true that he was only twenty-one, but he was already getting some very important roles. He would have been entirely different than in the second one, I am sure, but I know he would have been grand. Perhaps his energy and exuberance would have helped the ladies, who were getting no inspiration from the gentlemen. I think he could have made more of the relationships in this picture. The only good thing I can say about Holiday from 1930 is that it is very clean for a pre-Code film. There were practically no changes because of the Code for the 1938 version.
I Married an Angel from 1942 is the eighth and final collaboration in the famous pairing of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Some may think that Miss MacDonald and Mr. Eddy were a screen couple which was made in heaven, but this picture with an angelic theme is far from celestial. Unlike Holiday, I place no blame on Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy for this picture, since they are two of my favorite actors and proved themselves to be very talented in the other movies they made. This picture, however, I find to be a terrible artistic, musical, and moral failure. I think it is a shame that it had to be their last picture, since it is their worst. The main problem is that the score, which was written by Rodgers and Hart, is not classical enough for them, especially Nelson Eddy, who was an opera singer. Also, the dream sequence is goofy and much too long; it spans almost the entire length of the film. In the original play, the Hungarian count actually marries an angel. The Production Code Administration found this sacrilegious, so he only marries an angel in a dream in the picture. I am certain, due to the timing and the content of this film, that the PCA reviewed it when Joseph Breen was the vice-president of RKO. During this eight month period in 1941 and 1942, his incompetent assistant, Geoffrey Shurlock, allowed films to be less strict in their morals, as he always did. I call this strange time the “non-Code era.” However, I still find the situation sacrilegious. I can find virtually no redeeming qualities in this film. The leads’ costumes are not very flattering, and Nelson Eddy is not wearing enough makeup. The music, especially the title song, is not up to the usual level of MacDonald and Eddy or Rodgers and Hart. The lyrics are trite and goofy, and the music is rather simple. However, I must point out the fact that most of the music besides the title song was written by Herbert Stothart with lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright. Apparently someone at MGM didn’t like the original Rodgers and Hart score very much. In addition, all the music doesn’t fit Nelson Eddy’s voice very well; he seems unhappy with the music to me and over-sings at times. The lines are stupidly simple, too. The direction is very strange, since both actors, who were usually quite serious, are very goofy. Jeanette is positively ridiculous in the number, “Twinkle in Your Eye,” which she does with Binnie Barnes. They both end up dancing around like lunatics! Regarding the non-Codishness of this film, the essential idea of the film is in violation of the Production Code. The worst part is the wedding night and morning after, which are depicted in the dream. In the hotel room, Willie (Nelson Eddy) explains to Brigitta (Jeanette MacDonald) the concept of beds, since she sleeps on a fleecy cloud in the sky. She says that she must soon return to it. He is not exactly thrilled with that suggestion. As they kiss goodnight, rather excessively, I might add, the lights begin to turn off. Soon, they are kissing in darkness. Fade out. The next morning, she is lying in the feathery king bed, alone, thankfully, but without her wings. When she discovers that her huge, ridiculous-looking wings are gone, she is alarmed, but Willie is pleased, since now she is a real woman. I know I am a prude, but I think that the Section II implication is disgusting, and I know Mr. Breen would have agreed. Finally, there are some very risque costumes in this, which display the sweet, wholesome Jeanette in a way which is not pleasant to see. At the end of the dream sequence, Brigitta, the “angel,” has become the “business advisor” of a lecherous nobleman who supports Willie’s bank. She has a revealing neckline, slits in her skirt, and tons of black eye makeup. It simply is not pleasant to see her playing a vamp who is a former angel! Besides that, Nelson Eddy’s character is quite lecherous, and lechery does not become him. What more can I say? I know I have torn apart every single element of this film, but I think that it failed on all accounts. It had a wonderful director, great producer, excellent screenplay writer, good composers, and a fine cast, but it was a bad final product. No wonder it was the lowest earning MGM picture of 1942.
The Desert Song from 1953 is by far the best of the three movies. It was not really bad; it just was not very good in my opinion. I think the main problem is that it was made by Warner Brothers when it should have been made by MGM. It was an MGM sort of musical, and it featured an MGM actress, Kathryn Grayson, as the leading lady. It should have been made with her and Howard Keel at MGM. Better yet, it should have been made by MGM when Warner Brothers made the first Desert Song, in 1943, with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The Sigmund Romberg score would have suited them perfectly, since their four Sigmund Romberg pictures were masterpieces. Besides, a good picture with them in 1943 would have removed the bad taste of I Married An Angel. I haven’t seen the 1943 Desert Song, so I can’t judge it. I will list my thoughts on the 1953 version. I think that Gordon MacRae was an excellent singer, but I don’t think this was the right music for him. He was better in musicals with Doris Day or in Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. This film has the same problem as I Married An Angel. The music was not right for the leading men, or rather, the leading men were not right for the roles. Mr. Eddy and Mr. MacRae should have swapped roles and composers. Mr. Eddy should have stayed with Mr. Romberg, and Mr. MacRae should have stayed with Mr. Rodgers. Also, this role doesn’t seem quite right for Miss Grayson. In the beginning, she seems like a flighty little flirt; the role doesn’t seem to have enough depth. Also, her looks were not done any favors in this. She was still very beautiful and not that old, but her hair is short, curly, and black. This style was not very complimenting; it aged her. Also, her costumes are in poorly chosen colors, and the styles make her look heavier. She looks marvelous in Kiss Me, Kate, which she made later that year. She looks better in the later part of the movie, when she wears Arabian clothes; surprisingly, these compliment her figure more. Since this is from 1953, when Mr. Breen was retiring from the PCA, and it is a Warner Bros. picture, there are two unCodish points which I detected. Firstly, Azuri, a dancer who is played by Allyn McLerie, is frequently rather scantily clad. Benjy Kidd, played by Dick Wesson, encounters her for a second time. Recognizing his unusual face, she says, “You are the one with the face.” He replies, “You’re the one with the body.” That’s a little risque, if you ask me. The other thing is that a villain gets stabbed through a door. When the door is open, his body is seen hanging from the door by the knife which is stuck in him. That’s rather gory, but what else is to be expected from Jack Warner? As I previously stated, nothing is really bad about this picture except perhaps the casting. I just think it lacks something.
This concludes my highly opinionated, very detailed criticisms of three classic films, Holiday from 1930, I Married An Angel from 1942, and The Desert Song from 1953. Some of my readers probably will want to watch these pictures now to see if they are as bad as I have said they are! By all means, watch them for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I love many films which others dislike intensely. I know that my readers won’t hold my opinions against me, since we have a preliminary agreement that opinions in this tag will not be taken personally. Below is the list of the six writers I am tagging:
- Box Office Poison
- All About War Movies
- Whimsically Classic
- Moody Moppet
- Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews
- Reflecting on Cinema
I look forward to reading about the films they dislike. Also, I would like to invite each of them to join my first blogathon, “The Great Breening Blogathon.” In it, we are going to examine and celebrate the Motion Picture Production Code, the Golden Era it produced, and the man who enforced it, Joseph I. Breen. We are celebrating his 129th birthday, October 14. Read the article to get all the details. I hope all my readers will honor us with their talent. Let the breening begin!