Today brings the end of the first week of #CleanMovieMonth, the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s month-long celebration of Code films. During this week, we have reviewed Three Smart Girls from 1936, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex from 1939, The Cowboy and the Lady from 1938, Let Freedom Ring from 1939, The Chocolate Soldier from 1941, and Rebecca from 1940. The seventh film for #CleanMovieMonth is another musical, New Moon from 1940.
This musical celebration is the sixth film collaboration of MGM’s great musical team, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. This dramatic film operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg brought the Singing Sweethearts to colonial New Orleans for the second time in their careers. Their first movie together, Naughty Marietta from 1935, was also set in 18th-century Louisiana. New Moon was directed by both the directors who worked with Jeanette and Nelson, W. S. Van Dyke and Robert Z. Leonard. However, Mr. Van Dyke left the picture after a few weeks, so Mr. Leonard is the only credited director. Together, they created this musical, historical masterpiece.
Marianne de Beaumanoir is a beautiful young French woman who is returning to her family’s Louisianian plantation after years in Paris. With her is her capricious, silly aunt, Valerie de Rossac. One day, Marianne visits the captain’s cabin to complain about the noise which the ship’s bondservants have been making. However, the only person in the cabin is a handsome, charming young man named Charles Henri, whom she assumes to be one of the ship’s officers. They are immediately enchanted with each other. Little does Marianne know that Charles is really the Duc de Vidier, a revolutionary nobleman who is disguised as a bondsman. When the ship arrives in New Orleans, Marianne looks for Charles among the officers, but she is disappointed when she can’t find him. Imagine her surprise when she sees him acting as a footman at her plantation! At first she thinks that he is playing a romantic joke on her, but she soon learns the truth that her major domo bought him as a footman for her. She is rather harsh with Charles because he led her to believe that he was an officer in the captain’s cabin, but it is just because she feels deep affection for him yet knows that he is below her rank. However, as their time together progresses, they feel their emotions for each other growing stronger. Charles feels no social restrains between them, since he is really a nobleman himself, yet he knows that he is currently a servant. In addition, he is torn between his affection for Marianne and his revolutionary ideals. Will Marianne ever learn the truth about Charles? Will she be able to love him and forgive him for deceiving her? Will Charles be able to win his girl and remain safe from the king’s police? Watch the movie to find out!
Marianne de Beaumanoir is played by Jeanette MacDonald. Charles Henri de Vidier is played by Nelson Eddy. Valerie de Rossac is played by Mary Boland. The governor of New Orleans is played by Grant Mitchell. One of Marianne’s servants, Brugnon, is played by John Miljan. Another servant, Guizot, is played by Ivan F. Simpson. A kind priest, Father Michel, is played by H. B. Warner.
This score features more songs from the original operetta than most MacDonald and Eddy pictures. Many of the songs are classics which a lot of people would recognize. Their musical talents display the songs “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise,” “One Kiss,” “Lover, Come Back to Me,” “Stout-Hearted Men,” and “Wanting You.” In addition, they perform a few additional songs which are based on music from Sigmund Romberg’s stage score; they were given new lyrics to fit the context of the film. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy are at the height of their musical and acting talents in this film. They sound beautiful in their solos and their duets. If you admire the singing of Miss MacDonald, Mr. Eddy, or both, you will enjoy the beautiful music in this movie!
Like most of the films I have reviewed so far during #CleanMovieMonth, New Moon is a perfect Code film. As I explained in an article for the Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, all three movies with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy that Robert Leonard directed were perfect Code films. This particular film offers a great example of how revolutionary stories should be depicted. Since the leading man is a revolutionary, the film’s sympathy is on the side of the French Revolution as opposed to the monarchy. This is natural, since America is also a country which was formed by a revolution. However, no matter how worthy the cause, revolutions have to be depicted carefully. After all, there is a difference between respecting the brave fight against oppression and glorifying blatant rebellion. The Code had to be careful to not make revolutionary movies dwell so heavily on the revolution that they became dangerously rebellious and anti-social. In addition, the few battle scenes are extremely brief while being very exciting and effective. Under Charles’s leadership, the rebels do not wildly murder their opponents. They kill only a few men in fair fighting.
One definite difference between this film and the pair’s other colonial film is the costumes. In Naughty Marietta, a sorely un-Codish film, the women’s 18th century necklines are so realistically low-cut that they are quite indecent. However, the costumes in this film show beautiful restraint in that department. They are all grace and elegance with no cheapness. In addition, two songs in this film received some very clever breening. In “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” the lyric “And let you fall to hell” was completely reformed by changing the italicized words to once more. In “One Kiss,” moving an s fixed the lyrics. The original lyric, “with passion’s flower unfurled,” could be interpreted to have a suggestive meaning. However, the lyric was changed to “with passionflowers unfurled.” Now, the couple is just in a garden with flowers blooming! I think that’s terribly clever.
Watch this musical extravaganza to enjoy the music, costumes, acting, history, battles, adventure, and drama of a wonderful MGM Code film. Come back tomorrow for another Code film review, which will correspond with a blogathon!
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