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It's easy to understand why Interrupted Melody (1955) was actress Eleanor Parker's favorite film performance. The life story of Australian opera singer Marjorie Lawrence had more drama than the average musical biography. Lawrence was paralyzed by polio at the peak of her career in 1941, and courageously fought her way back to performing with the help of her physician husband. Sumptuously filmed in Cinemascope and Technicolor, with stunning operatic sequences, Interrupted Melody was nominated for three Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Parker. The film won one Oscar® for best story and screenplay.
Lawrence had published her autobiography, also called Interrupted Melody, in 1949. MGM bought it as a vehicle for Lana Turner in 1952, but Turner was deemed too lightweight for the role. Greer Garson was also considered, but she was no longer as big a star as she had been in the 1940s, and by the time the film was ready for production, she had left the studio. Producer Jack Cummings had never considered Parker for the role - he thought she was too ordinary and mild-mannered to play a diva. When Parker learned this, she stormed into Cummings' office and proceeded to display some diva temperament, telling him how the role should be played. Cummings eventually realized that Parker's flamboyant act was just that, and decided she would be fine as Lawrence. Parker, who knew nothing about opera, threw herself into the part, taking voice lessons and learning 22 arias in several languages so she would be able to lip-synch credibly. Parker recalled that she drove to work "with the score propped up on the steering wheel of my car, and I woke up at night to find I'd been repeating the songs in my sleep." According to director Curtis Bernhardt, Parker "screamed the songs. That's what probably made it look genuine. She had never seen an opera in her life." However she did it, Parker's lip-synching was perfect.
Lawrence was still very much alive when the film was made, but had retired from performing in 1952 and had turned to teaching voice. Polio had damaged her abdominal muscles, so although she was supposed to dub the vocals that Parker would lip-sync, she was no longer up to the vocal demands of singing opera. Eileen Farrell, then a well-known concert singer who had not yet made her opera debut, agreed to dub the vocals. Like Parker, Farrell was easy to work with and un-diva-like, and she insisted that she get no screen credit for her singing - she did not want to embarrass Lawrence. However, Lawrence herself went public with the information, suing MGM for not allowing her to sing the arias in Interrupted Melody. Farrell has a witty cameo in the film as a fellow opera singer who can't hit the high notes. Farrell made her grand opera debut in 1956, became one of the best-known opera singers of her era, and also one of the first to record a pop album.
Lack of familiarity with opera was not Parker's only challenge. The real Lawrence had grown up in rural Australia, and was an expert horseback rider. In fact, when she played Brunnhilde in Gotterdammerung at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Lawrence stunned audiences in the climactic scene where her character charges into her lover's funeral pyre on horseback, one of the most famous - and challenging - moments in Wagnerian opera. Most singers would walk the horse sedately, or even get off the horse and lead it. Lawrence went into the flames at full gallop, a scene that is repeated in Interrupted Melody, with a stunt double, since Parker could not ride. A scene early in the film where Lawrence rides to the railroad station involved some trickery, because Bernhardt shot it all in one shot. As she arrives at the station, Parker's stunt double dismounts and goes behind some boxes, then Parker emerges from behind the boxes and walks towards the camera.
Interrupted Melody earned Parker some of the best reviews of her career, with such superlatives as "electrifying" and "outstanding," as well as raves for the entire production, script, directing, music, cinematography, and costumes (also Oscar-nominated). Parker earned her third Oscar® nomination for the performance, but according to Parker biographer Doug McClelland, "M-G-M chose to put its promotional clout behind four-time nominee Susan Hayward in their bigger box-office I'll Cry Tomorrow, another biography of a musical star (Lillian Roth). Both lost to Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo." Parker followed Interrupted Melody with another strong performance, as Frank Sinatra's shrewish wife in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), and continued to do good work until the mid-1960s. Interrupted Melody remains a career peak, and a personal best for the talented and beautiful actress.
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Producer: Jack Cummings
Screenplay: William Ludwig, Sonya Levien, based on the book by Marjorie Lawrence
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg, Paul C. Vogel
Editor: John Dunning
Costume Design: Helen Rose
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Daniel B. Cathcart
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Principal Cast: Glenn Ford (Dr. Thomas King), Eleanor Parker (Marjorie Lawrence), Roger Moore (Cyril Lawrence), Cecil Kellaway (Bill Lawrence), Peter Leeds (Dr. Ed Ryson), Evelyn Ellis (Clara), Walter Baldwin (Jim Owens), Ann Codee (Mme. Gilly).
C-106m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri