THAT MIDNIGHT KISS ( 1949 )

MUSICAL MONTH

THAT MIDNIGHT KISS ( 1949 )

When talking about musicals, “That Midnight Kiss” is always one film that comes to mind. It is a film that remains rather special to me for several reasons. When I first developed a passion for classic cinema after discovering Judy Garland, and stepping out of what I call the ‘Garland boundaries’, this was one of the first movies that I collected, and ever since, it has remained one of my favorite musicals of all time.

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Mario Lanza made his screen debut in this extravagant production, which was directed by Norman Taurog, who was known for his directorial efforts in such films like “Boys Town”, which earned him an Academy Award nomination, and for working with a plethora of notable stars from the twentieth century. Norman was definitely no stranger to musicals either, with some of his success stemming from movies of this genre, directing singing and dancing talents like Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, so it’s no wonder that the film was efficacious from the start. After the films favorable outcome, Norman Taurog went on to direct Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson the following year in “The Toast Of New Orleans”

With Norman Taurog has director, they hired Joe Pasternak to serve as producer. Since transferring to MGM in 1941, Pasternak had become one of three most prominent people in the company, and was later crowned one of the worlds most influential producers. During his career, Joe Pasternak produced an array of musicals, eventually parlaying his talents into producing operetta films which featured the strong voices of Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell.

To add to an already lush production with a notable background team, they secured an impressive cast including, Ethel Barrymore, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza and the renowned conductor/pianist, Jose Iturbi playing himself. Famed novelist, Bruce Manning did the screenplay for the movie, and with all that, “That Midnight Kiss” boasted wide encomium from the start, welcoming a new tenor on the Hollywood scene.

tenor

The film follows the story of Prudence Budell ( Kathryn Grayson ), a young soprano singer, who returns home to Philadelphia, after five years of training in specialized music schools in Europe. Upon her arrival, her affluent, millionaire grandmother, Abigail Trent Budell ( Ethel Barrymore ), who is a recognized figure in Philadelphia, and patron of the arts, see’s that her granddaughter’s talent takes her on an operatic journey, so with her opulence, and to give Prudence the chance to lead an opera, she sponsors her own opera company under the command of the famous maestro, Jose Iturbi, with the renowned tenor, Guido Russino Betelli, as a partner for Prudence.

When Prudence encounters Johnny Donnetti ( Mario Lanza ), a menial truck driver, singing at the Budell mansion, she is instantly enamored by his strong powerful voice, and implores Iturbi to employ him in the opera, replacing the star tenor. With her instrumental background, and her grandmothers influence, she is able to bring Johnny to the public domain, and before she knows it, a love affair resulting in a midnight kiss blossoms, but that is shattered when she visits Johnny’s work colleague, who is also infatuated by Johnny’s majestic charm.

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“That Midnight Kiss” is a film that is held in significance, mainly for the fact that it marks Mario Lanza’s film debut, and considering that this was his introduction into motion pictures, his performance was absolutely commendable, deserving more accolades than what he actually achieved for the role. I tend to disagree with the common assumption that Mario Lanza was a wooden actor. To me his acting was more than acceptable, and of course he was handsome.

Mario Lanza in my opinion is the worlds greatest tenor, who captivated the hearts of millions worldwide. I first got introduced to Mario through watching the Kate Winslet movie “Heavenly Creatures”. In the movie the two main characters were absolutely obsessed by Mario, playing his records or mentioning his name during the duration of the movie. After hearing the first song played, he piqued an interest in me, and needless to say I was instantly hooked. To this day, Mario Lanza remains one of my favorite entertainers of all time.

The film also provided Mario the opportunity to belt out some wonderful opera numbers. The most memorable song he sang in the movie is Jerome Kern’s first hit song “They Didn’t Believe Me”, in which he sang with Kathryn Grayson. They did a beautiful rendition to it, and just hearing it gives me goosebumps.

Ethel Barrymore as always is superb. Even though she is part of the supporting cast, she actually holds a main role, and is in the movie all the way through. Ethel portrayed Abigail Budell, the grandmother who lives a life of opulence. From the moment she first made her entry in the movie, when she descended down the imperial staircase, she was true class, bearing nothing but sophistication and a grandiose aura. She was every inch her role.

Kathryn Grayson was also copacetic, and the chemistry between her and Mario Lanza was great. It’s no wonder she was cast again with Mario the following year in “The Toast Of New Orleans”. Jose Iturbi also deserves credit. He was a standout, showcasing his piano prowess. This was his last film appearance, as he felt that his presence in the movies were hampering his career as a pianist. That being said, his presence in the 1940’s musicals were always meritorious. The only character in the film that annoys me is Michael Pemberton, played by Jules Munshin, but that’s not surprising, as he always appeared very lively and way too over the top with his rather ridiculous personality.

“That Midnight Kiss” is an absolute charming and fluffy musical extravaganza, that was filmed in glorious Technicolor, which epitomizes the romantic feel to the movie. If you haven’t already seen it, please do yourself a favor and give it your first viewing. You will be in for a real treat, and you can’t go wrong with Ethel Barrymore and Mario Lanza. The handsomeness of Mario is enough to watch the film alone.

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Songs:

Una furtiva lagrima
(uncredited)
from “L’Elisir d’Amore”
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Felice Romani
Performed by Mario Lanza
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat Major
(uncredited)
Music by Franz Liszt
Performed by José Iturbi
Mama mia, che vo sapé
(uncredited)
from “Cavalleria rusticana”
Music by Pietro Mascagni
Libretto by Guido Menasci and Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor
(uncredited)
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Performed by José Iturbi
Celeste Aida
(uncredited)
from “Aida”
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Performed by Mario Lanza
Caro nomé
(uncredited)
from “Rigoletto”
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
Performed by Kathryn Grayson (I)’
I Know, I Know, I Know
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Lyrics by Bob Russell
They Didn’t Believe Me
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Herbert Reynolds
Verrano a te sull’aura
(uncredited)
from “Lucia di Lammermoor”
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
Sung by Kathryn Grayson and Thomas Gomez (the latter probably dubbed)
Down Among the Sheltering Palms
(uncredited)
Music by Abe Olman
Lyrics by James Brockman
Sung by the G. I. Quartette
Revolutionary Etude
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Performed by José Iturbi
O sole mio
Music by Eduardo Di Capua
Lyrics by Giovanni Capurro
Overture
(uncredited)
from “Semiramide”
Music by Gioachino Rossini
Russian Nightingale
Written by Alexander Alabieff
Judaline
Lyrics by Don Raye
Music by Gene de Paul
Love Is Music
Based on “Symphony No. 5”
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
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Trivia:
The last film appearance of José Iturbi. Iturbi left Hollywood because his movie appearances were doing damage to his career as a conductor and concert pianist, as music critics were accusing him of “cheap exhibitionism” for appearing in Hollywood films.
Although this was officially Mario Lanza‘s film debut, he had previously appeared as an uncredited chorus member in Winged Victory (1944). Like the character he plays in the movie, Lanza was an opera singer from an Italian-American family in Philadelphia.
In a scene outside on the road, you will see Judy Garland and Van Johnson’s name advertised on a cinema marquee for “In The Good Old Summertime”
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Quotes:
Abigail Trent Budell: Every opera singer should fall in love with her tenor, or composer, or baritone, or conductor. I’m glad it’s a tenor. We could use one.
Prudence: I never want to see him again, and I never want to talk to him again. I’ll sing with him but that’s all. I’m not going to let him use you or me, he’s done that for the last time.
Abigail: You go to bed dear, I’ll take care of this.
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Cast:
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.
Mario Lanza: Born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza on January 31st, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: October 7th, 1959 in Rome, Italy. Aged 38.
Kathryn Grayson: Born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick on February 9th, 1922 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Died: February 17th, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 88.
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