MAYTIME ( 1937 )

MUSICAL MONTH

MAYTIME ( 1937 )

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see “Maytime” on the big screen at the cinemas. When the film finished, it left me with not only a greater appreciation for operatic musicals, but a lifelong interest in John Barrymore, who I had always admired. Seeing it on the big screen was really an uplifting experience, and I was so pleased to see that the viewing received a favorable outcome with elderly flocking to see Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy belting out magnificent opera tunes, while watching John Barrymore possess his magic.

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“Maytime” is an exquisitely rendered and well crafted musical that is masterfully directed and produced by Robert Z. Leonard. The film was taken from many dimensions, but was largely based on the 1917 operetta of the same name. With a stellar cast including, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy and John Barrymore, the film boasted nothing but charm, and went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest triumphs of 1937.

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Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy showcases an array of memorable operetta tunes in this poignant tale of forbidden love. The film starts off at a May Day ceremony, where the elderly Miss Morrison ( Jeanette MacDonald ) reminisces her past to her young friend who has just been offered a job on the operatic stage.

The girl is surprised to discover that Miss Morrison was once the beautiful distinguished opera singer, Marcia Mornay, an American singer in Paris, whose life was faced with many obstacles and disappointments. After accepting the marriage proposal from her famed voice teacher, Nicolai Nazaroff ( John Barrymore ), she meets and immediately becomes infatuated in Paul Allison ( Nelson Eddy ) a fellow American also residing in Paris. Though she is not in love with Nicolai, she breaks her relationship with Paul to try to maintain a stable marriage with Nicolai.

Problems arise seven years later when Nicolai organizers a performance for her in the United States, and agrees to have Paul as her leading partner. On opening night, Marcia realizes that after all these years her love for Paul is still apparent, and implores Nicolai for freedom. Irascible, Nicolai promises her freedom by proving that his jealousy is fatal, resulting in one of the most chilling finales in the annals of cinema.

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“Maytime” is one of those films that leaves a lasting impression on you. It’s far distinguished compared to the Majority of MGM musicals that are bright and cheery. This is the true definition of melodrama at it’s best. It offers everything a film could possibly have from, flashbacks, unrequited love, grand opera, bittersweet moments, high comedy, dramatic tragedy, foolish young people learning from their elders’ hard-earned wisdom, and a haunting and ghostly finale.

The songs are also gold. My favorite number is when Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy burst out singing “Sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart. Though our paths may sever. Through life’s last faint embers, will you remember, springtime, lovetime, May”. That scene is packed with so much emotion, that it’s enough to make anyway tear up. The other operatic numbers are great too, but “Sweetheart” is the tune that stands out the most.

Another highlight of the film for me is John Barrymore in his thunderous portrayal of Nicolai Nazaroff, the tightly wrapped and jealous manager of Marcia. Barrymore displayed such raw emotions in his performance, and was more than capable of great subtlety in his screen roles. It’s a huge shame that he wasn’t considered for an Oscar for his performance here, as I feel that this was one of his most cultivating performances of the 1930’s.

“Maytime” is movie making to perfection. Everything about the film is glorious. Seventy eight years after it’s release, and the film still continues to enchant audiences. This is the perfect film to watch on a rainy afternoon, but don’t forget to have plenty of tissues nearby, because they are needed.

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Songs:

  • “Plantons da Vigne”
    • Sung by Nelson Eddy
  • “Ham and Eggs”
    • Music by Herbert Stothart
    • Lyrics by Bob Wright (as Robert Wright) and Chet Forrest (as George Forrest)
    • Sung by Nelson Eddy and chorus
  • Santa Lucia
    • Sung by Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy and an uncredited singer
  • “Cavatine du Page “Une dame, noble et sage”
    • from the opera Les Huguenots Act 1
    • Written by Giacomo Meyerbeer
    • Librette by Eugène Scribe
    • Sung by Jeanette MacDonald and chorus

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Trivia:

One of MGM mogul Irving Thalberg‘s personal projects, this originally began filming in Technicolor, with Paul Lukas as Nikolai Nazaroff and Frank Morgan as August Archipenko. When Thalberg died, production was halted. When it was able to resume, black and white was selected as a more economical format. Lukas and Morgan were no longer available, so John Barrymore and Herman Bing took over their roles.

The original operetta opened on Broadway in New York on 16 August 1917. It was so popular a second production was added to run simultaneously.

Grace Moore was considered for the lead before Jeanette MacDonald was cast.

During the ball scene, Marcia Mornay sings Les filles de Cadiz by Delibes at the command of the Emperor Louis Napoleon. However, the piece was not composed until 1874, whereas Louis reigned from 1852-1870.

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Cast:

Jeanette MacDonald: Born Jeanette Anna MacDonald on June 18th, 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: January 14th, 1964 in Houston, Texas. Aged 61.

John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blythe on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 60.

Nelson Eddy: Born Nelson Ackerman Eddy on June 29th, 1901 in Providence, Rhode Island. Died: March 6th, 1967 in Palm Beach, Florida. Aged 65.

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