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Love comes down to the luck of the draw in The Girl of the Golden West (1938). Fortunately, the cards are stacked in favor of screen sweethearts Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in their fourth pairing. Eddy plays the dangerous Ramerez, an outlaw in love with small town saloon owner MacDonald who he must woo in disguise.
Based on a 1905 play by David Belasco, The Girl of the Golden West had been previously filmed three times before MGM decided it was the perfect vehicle for its hottest duo. The first version was a 1915 film by Cecil B. DeMille, the second one appeared in 1923, directed by Edwin Carewe, and the third version starred Ann Harding and was released in 1930. The Girl of the Golden West was originally set to music from an opera by Puccini (Belasco also penned the drama that would become Puccini's famed Madame Butterfly).
Yet, in 1938, an entirely new score was created for the Eddy and MacDonald version. None of Puccini's music was used. This time, Sigmund Romberg, the operetta composer who had co-written the play on which the popular Maytime (1937) was based, and lyricist Gus Kahn teamed up to create the memorable tunes. Curiously, The Girl of the Golden West was short on duets, only allowing the stars a few bars together at the end of "Mariachie" and a short reprise of "Senorita". Some might claim this was the best approach, considering reports of feuding between the two stars. Apparently MacDonald originally wanted Allan Jones, her co-star from The Firefly (1937) to play the role, reasoning that he'd be more believable as the masked, Mexican bandit than blond Eddy. In the end, Eddy got the part, and the story was changed, adding flashbacks at the beginning to set him up as the adopted son of a Mexican outlaw.
Here's some amusing side notes about The Girl of the Golden West. It was rumored that Joan Crawford had wanted to play the female lead, hoping to show off her singing abilities. Also, had Jeanette MacDonald agreed to it, she and Eddy might have been paired in a Robin Hood operetta. But MGM scrapped the idea when Warner Bros. beat them to the punch with 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.
Look for lots of famous faces in The Girl of the Golden West. Walter Pidgeon plays the sheriff. H.B. Warner appears as a priest. Buddy Ebsen, one of the best song and dance men around at that time, displays his unique talents. Unfortunately, due to the excessive length, Ray Bolger (The Wizard of Oz's Scarecrow) had his musical scenes cut for time.
Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Producer: William Anthony McGuire
Screenplay: Isabel Dawn, Boyce DeGaw, based on the play by David Belasco
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh
Editor: W. Donn Hayes
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Music: Sigmund Romberg
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Mary Robbins), Nelson Eddy (Ramerez/Lt. Johnson), Walter Pidgeon (Sheriff Jack Rance), Leo Carillo (Mosquito), Buddy Ebsen (Alabama).
BW & C-122m. Closed captioning.
by Stephanie Thames