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Years before singing sensation Elvis Presley served a highly publicized hitch in the Army, MGM did the same for Mario Lanza in the fluffy 1952 musical Because You're Mine. Though it was not Lanza's greatest vehicle at the studio -- he would walk out on his contract shortly after finishing the picture -- it had a strong score, including the Oscar®-nominated title song, and the kind of supporting cast only a studio with MGM's resources could assemble.
Joe Pasternak, who had produced all of Lanza's films, thought the lightweight story would provide a nice change of pace after the lavish period production of The Great Caruso (1951), both for the fans and the studio's balance books. Of course, there was no such thing as a small picture at MGM. Pasternak gave Lanza an Oscar®-winning cinematographer, Joseph Ruttenberg, and a strong cast including James Whitmore, Spring Byington and rising Broadway star Doretta Morrow, fresh from her role as Tuptim in The King and I. He even cast the singer's parents as fans seeing him off at a train station.
The studio also pulled out all the stops with the score. Not only did they reprise Lanza's biggest hit, "Be My Love" from The Toast of New Orleans (1950) (though here it was sung by Morrow), but they hired that song's writers, Nicholas Brodsky and Sammy Cahn, to create the title song. They also gave Lanza ample opportunity to perform items from the operatic repertoire, including "Questa o Quella" from Rigoletto, "O Paradiso" from L'Africaine and the sextette from Lucia di Lammermoor.
Lanza was having none of it, however. He hated the script and turned on Pasternak, who had previously been one of his best friends at the studio. "If it weren't for people like me," he protested, "he'd be back washing dishes. I make the pictures -- I sing -- and that bastard thinks it's him." Finally, studio head Dore Schary informed Lanza he could make the film or go on suspension. The star would later claim that as compensation, he made the studio add "The Lord's Prayer" to the film, to give it some dignity.
Dignity was rarely a hallmark of Lanza's on-screen characters. Most of his films were built around the contrast between his angelic singing voice and his characters' uncouth behavior, usually depicted as natural and even sexy. In that sense, the roles were somewhat autobiographical. Though Lanza's singing had made him a star, his off-screen shenanigans made him the bane of MGM. His behavior had been deteriorating even before he made his biggest hit, The Great Caruso. His eating and drinking were out of control as he binged and then dieted repeatedly. During filming, he sometimes showed up drunk, and his costumes had to be altered weekly to accommodate the changes in his size.
His worst behavior, however, was aimed at Morrow. Before filming began, they were called in to record the songs. During the session, he not only chided her for not being sexy enough, but made lewd comments about what she had to do physically to compensate. By the time Morrow got to Schary's studio, in tears, he had heard the story already from musical director Johnny Green and producer Pasternak. He convinced her he would handle the matter and had a strong talk with Lanza. But the next day he was back to the same behavior. Finally, Schary had to hire a stunt man to wear a Marine's uniform and inform Lanza he was Morrow's brother. He then warned him that if there were any more ungentlemanly behavior, "I'll come, and you'll sing soprano for the rest of your life." There were no more problems, and when the film finished Morrow asked Schary to thank her "brother" for her. Because You're Mine would be her only film. She returned to Broadway to star in Kismet, then retired to marry.
When the film came out, it received respectful reviews, though most critics were happier with the music than with the script or Lanza's acting. In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther opined that "Mr. Lanza delivering a song is a great deal more entertaining than Mr. Lanza delivering a gag, especially the sort here written for him..." The best notices went to Whitmore as Lanza's sergeant and biggest fan (he even performed some opera of his own, from Il Trovatore). The film turned a profit, but didn't crack the year's top 20. In fact, it was the lowest grossing of Lanza's MGM films. It would also be his last there. Even though the studio put The Student Prince (1954) into production as his next film, he walked out in a temper tantrum after recording the score. MGM would make the film with Edmund Purdom mouthing Lanza's vocals.
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Karl Tunberg, Leonard Spigelgass
Based on the story by Ruth Brooks Flippen, Sy Gomberg
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Score: Johnny Green
Principal Cast: Mario Lanza (Renaldo Rossano), Doretta Morrow (Bridget Batterson), James Whitmore (Sgt. Batterson), Dean Miller (Ben Jones), Paula Corday (Francesca Landers), Jeff Donnell (Patty Ware), Spring Byington (Mrs. Montville), Don Porter (Capt. Loring), Eduard Franz (Albert Parkson Foster), Bobby Van (Artie Pilcer), Celia Lovsky (Mrs. Rossano), Dabbs Greer (Sergeant), Thurl Ravenscroft (Singer in Radio Commercial), Dick Wessel (Sgt. Grogan).
C-103m. Closed Captioning.
by Frank Miller
The MGM Stock Company by James Robert Parish
Heyday: An Autobiography by Dore Schary
Because You're Mine (1952)
After The Great Caruso (1951) was a hit, Mario Lanza assumed MGM would be starring him in more projects of equal prestige. Not so - producer Joe Pasternak wanted to give the opera star a hint of the everyman by casting him as an army private who romances the vocally gifted Bridget (Doretta Morrow, veteran of The King and I on Broadway), who is the sister of his sergeant in command (James Whitmore). (The fact that such a picture would be cheaper to produce than another operatic period piece helped Pasternak cozy up to formidable MGM president Dore Schary, too.) Distressed by a project he felt was beneath him, Lanza binged on alcohol and comfort food before shooting began (despite orders from on high to slim down before the cameras rolled, his weight noticeably fluctuates from scene to scene in the final print) and harassed his co-star Morrow until she stormed out of a recording session. But the end result on screen can be summed up by The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther: "It's really Mr. Lanza's singing that should and will attract attention to this technicolored film."
By Violet LeVoit