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According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Breen Office spent nearly twenty years working with different studios to arrive at an acceptable adaptation of James M. Cain's novel. In the novel, a washed-up opera singer named Sharp wanders down to Mexico, where he meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Juana. Returning to Los Angeles with Juana and strengthened by her love, he becomes a famous singing star. Later, he goes to New York to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House and has a homosexual love affair with an opera impressario named Warfield. In the novel's climactic scene, Juana murders Warfield by dressing up as a toreador and performing a mock bullfight. According to an inter-office memo, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to many aspects of the first screen treatment of Cain's story, which he received in December 1937, including the unacceptable depiction of "illicit sex," prostitution, and homosexuality. He also wrote that the treatment of Mexicans "will probably be found objectionable to the authorities of that country."
Correspondence from early 1944 indicates that RKO was interested in turning the novel into a film, as was M-G-M. Between June and November 1944, the Breen Office and M-G-M worked out solutions to the problematic content of Cain's original story. The homosexual was changed to a rich, powerful older woman, whom the main character marries, Juana would no longer be a prostitute, and a sex scene in a church was eliminated. Also, the "squalor, poverty, etc," of Juana and the main character's life together was not to be shown. Finally, according to Al Block of M-G-M, "what would emerge, then,...seems...to be a good honest story, with no trace of the homosexuality which figured in the book, or indeed anything objectionable, that I can see." The file on the film contains no other correspondence regarding the M-G-M production of Serenade, however, and it appears that the project was dropped at this stage.
Warner Bros. was the next studio to take an interest in the project, as evidenced by a January 22, 1945 letter from studio executive James. J. Geller to the Breen Office. Geller asked for Breen's opinion on a five-page treatment written by Jerry Wald. Although Geller asserted that the studio's decision as to whether it would buy the rights to Cain's novel would depend on Breen's opinion, Breen responded that the treatment is too "general and nebulous" to warrant a definite statement. Wald's treatment eliminated the homosexuality and suggested making the main character a doctor. Wald insisted that the most important point about the character Juana is that she is "Indian-a simple, beautiful girl with direct emotion." According to Wald, the theme of the film-a "conflict between a cheap, somewhat degrading love and a deep simple one"-would resemble the theme of Somerset Maughan's Of Human Bondage.
The studio and the Breen Office continued to argue about the film's content, especially about what the Breen Office termed an "inescapable flavor of sexual perversion suggested by the present relationship of Warfield and Sharp." Throughout the project, the Breen Office expressed concern that the Mexicans in the film be represented in the most favorable light possible. In particular, Breen requested that all "pidgin English" spoken by the Mexican characters be eliminated. This planned production of Serenade, which according to a press release was to co-star Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan, was shelved in August 1946. It was picked up again in May 1948. The revised project was to star Jane Wyman and be directed by Michael Curtiz. In a March 10, 1949 news item, however, Curtiz remarked on the difficulty he had been experiencing casting the film, and by 1951, according to a December 22, 1954 Daily Variety item, Robert Sisk was set as the director. In August 1955, after years of discussion and rewriting, the script finally was deemed acceptable by the PCA.
The film was shot on location in San Miguel d'Allende and includes scenes shot at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Onscreen credits include the following acknowledgment: "Palace of Fine Arts Photographed Through Courtesy of the National Art Institute, Mexico." Although actor Harry Bellaver's character was listed as "Monte" in the Call Bureau Cast Service and Variety review, he was called "Tonio" onscreen. According to a May 3, 1956 Los Angeles Examiner review, Mario Lanza had not performed for three years prior to appearing in Serenade. The Hollywood Reporter review noted that a pudgy Lanza had thinned down for the role of the tormented Damon Vicente. In 1958, Jakob Gimbel filed suit against Warner Bros. and RCA Victor, claiming that he agreed to act as the film's musical adviser and offscreen pianist on the strict proviso that his name would not be listed in connection with the picture. Although Gimbel did not receive credit onscreen or in reviews, his name did appear on the soundtrack album. The final disposition of the suit is not known.