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I Married an Angel

I Married an Angel(1942)

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teaser I Married an Angel (1942)

It took nine years to get I Married an Angel (1942) to the screen, with adetour via Broadway to prove the material commercially viable. But afterall that effort, it turned out to be a rare musical flop for MGM. Andalthough it contains some charming musical sequences, particularly anout-of-character jitterbug for star Jeanette MacDonald, it's now largelyremembered as the picture that ended her on-screen romance with NelsonEddy.

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart first worked on the script,with playwright Moss Hart, in 1933. Even then, the story was hardly new.It was an adaptation of a Hungarian play by Vassary Janos that had been asuccess in Europe. From the start, they envisioned it as a vehicle forJeanette MacDonald, who had just triumphed on-screen as the star of theirLove Me Tonight (1932). They pitched the project to MGM, whereMacDonald had just signed a long-term contract, but were turned down bystudio head Louis B. Mayer. Not only did he dislike the story's fantasyelement (a devil-may-care banker saves his family business by marrying theonly woman good enough for him, an angel), but the censorship problems in astory about an angel giving up her wings to wed and bed a mortal seemedinsurmountable.

Not ready to give up on the project, Rodgers and Hart finally got the storypackaged for Broadway, where it scored a big hit in 1938. Singing starsDennis King and Vivienne Segal headlined the cast, with prima ballerinaVera Zorina in a non-singing role as the angel. Helping greatly was astylish production from director Joshua Logan and legendary choreographerGeorge Balanchine. With a Broadway success and several songs, includingthe title number and "Spring Is Here," climbing the charts, Mayer decidedthat maybe it could work as a film after all.

MGM picked up the rights in 1938, planned to star MacDonald, then spentfour years re-writing the script to get it past the Production CodeAdministration, Hollywood's self-censorship board. Even making themarriage to the angel a dream didn't seem to be enough. After the film hadgone into production, they had to cut scenes suggesting that the angel hadactually borne children by her lawfully wedded husband. Nonetheless, withthe scripting problems finally solved, they put the film into productionwith Nelson Eddy, who had already teamed with MacDonald in seven otherfilms.

But though Eddy and MacDonald still had a devoted following, it had decreasedover the years. Their previous two films -- Bitter Sweet (1940),from Noel Coward's operetta, and New Moon (also 1940), with music bySigmund Romberg -- had suffered from diminishing box office returns.Moreover, Eddy was really more at home with light classics and seemed lostin I Married an Angel's comic plot and more contemporary musicalstyle. Nor did it help that the studio assigned the project to W.S. VanDyke, a director more noted for working quickly than any discerniblestyle.

The script that had already been compromised by the censors became even more truncated as numbers were cut and sequences re-thought. After MacDonaldtested for early scenes as Eddy's secretary in dowdy costumes and make-up,she inexplicably filmed the scenes with a more glamorous appearance thatfit neither her character nor the plot. And as Hollywood frequently didwith Broadway musicals, they not only cleaned up the score for I Marriedan Angel, but added other numbers, including a few opera excerpts forthe singing team's fans. Since Rodgers and Hart had other commitments atthe time, two other songwriters, Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, were assignedto the adaptation. They were so appalled at being forced to desecrate thescore, they quit MGM and fled to Broadway, where they scored solid hitsturning the music of classical composers Edward Grieg and Alexandr Borodininto the scores of Song of Norway and Kismet, respectively.Needless to say, I Married an Angel was trounced by the critics andignored by fans. MacDonald and Eddy would only re-team for some radioappearances and an album of their greatest hits, made in the '60s.

Yet for all its reputation as a disaster, I Married an Angel has itsstrengths. Eddy may be outmatched by the score, but MacDonald is at herbest trilling through the bowdlerized version of "A Twinkle in Your Eye"and duetting with Eddy on "Spring Is Here." As Eddy's ex-mistress (hissister in the play; one case in which Hollywood made the originalnaughtier), Binnie Barnes steals just about every scene she's in. And herjitterbug with MacDonald after telling the angel how to win a man on Earthis still the film's highlight.

Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Anita Loos
Based on the Musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and the Play byVassary Janos
Cinematography: Ray June
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Anna Zador/Brigitta), Nelson Eddy(Count Willie Pilaffi), Edward Everett Horton (Peter), Binnie Barnes (PeggyCanery), Reginald Owen (Whiskers Rosbart), Douglass Dumbrille (BaronSzigethy), Mona Maris (Marika), Janis Carter (Sufi Sampo), Leonid Kinskey(Professor Zinski), Anne Jeffreys (Polly).
BW-85m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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