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One Heavenly Night

One Heavenly Night(1931)

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teaser One Heavenly Night (1931)

In all the years that he was head of his own studio, Samuel Goldwyn only made one operetta, One Heavenly Night (1931) starring Evelyn Laye and John Boles. Made at a time when the film market had been saturated with musicals in the three years since the advent of sound films with The Jazz Singer (1927, so much so that theater owners would advertise a film with slogans like "Not a musical!"), One Heavenly Night was more Hell than Heaven: it was a box-office failure, one that Goldwyn would not forget.

The idea of putting British stage star and famed beauty Evelyn Laye in a film came to Goldwyn when he spotted her in London. Upon his return to the United States, he signed Laye to a contract and hired writers Sidney Howard and Louis Bromfield to come up with an appropriate vehicle for her.

The working titles were Escapade, Lilli and Queen of Scandal, with the story centering around a nave flower seller from Budapest, Lilli (played by Laye), who is a fan of risqu caf singer Fritzi (Lilyan Tashman). When Fritzi's antics get her in trouble with the local police, she is asked to leave Budapest for the country town of Zuppa. Unwilling to go, she hires Lilli to masquerade as her and serve out her exile while she stays behind in Budapest. Dressed in Fritzi's gowns and furs, Lilli goes to Zuppa and falls in love with Count Mirko (Boles) who thinks she's Fritzi and wants to make a conquest of her. Eventually he learns the truth but by then he is deeply in love.

It was a lightweight romance, perfectly suited to operetta, but Goldwyn put many of his best behind-the-scenes talent on the film: cameramen George Barnes and Gregg Toland (he is best remembered for his work on Citizen Kane, 1941); songs by a team of composers led by Nacio Herb Brown (who wrote scores of hits, including Singin' in the Rain). Arthur Hornblow, Jr. acted as producer and the director was George Fitzmaurice (who had guided Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik [1926] and Ronald Colman in Raffles [1930]). With such a production team, and with stars such as John Boles and Leon Errol along with Tashman and Laye, One Heavenly Night should have at the very least made its money back.

Apart from the fact that audiences were heartily sick of musicals, One Heavenly Night seems to have been a victim of overkill. According to a New York Times article the following year, a scene had been cut from the film where Boles sang to Laye in the middle of a rainstorm, which caused preview audiences to laugh. Mordaunt Hall described the scene in his January 10, 1931 review, "In one sequence, Lilli escapes from Count Mirko's chateau, darting through sheets of rain in a new white silk Paris creation. The Count follows, and when he perceives Lilli beating on the door of her own palatial residence he sings (in the deluge) to the girl, who returns the compliment. This is asking a wee bit too much, even for a musical comedy."

As A. Scott Berg wrote in his book Goldwyn, "That particular crapshoot cost him a fortune. Most of the critics mustered up some kind words for Evelyn Laye, but few could do the same for the rest of the production. The reviews were the worst Goldwyn had ever received and One Heavenly Night incurred his biggest loss since his entering the business over $300,000." Goldwyn never made another operetta and he never made another film with Evelyn Laye, John Boles, Lilyan Tashman, or Leon Errol.

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Screenplay: Louis Bromfield; Sidney Howard (adaptation)
Cinematography: George Barnes, Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Nacio Herb Brown, Bruno Granichstaedten
Film Editing: Stuart Heisler
Cast: Evelyn Laye (Lilli), John Boles (Count Mirko Tibor), Leon Errol (Otto), Lilyan Tashman (Fritzi Vajos), Hugh Cameron (Janos), Henry Kolker (prefect of police), Marion Lord (Liska), Henry Victor (Almady, the officer), Lionel Belmore (Baron Zagon).

by Lorraine LoBianco

The AFI Catalog
Goldwyn by A. Scott Berg
The Internet Movie Database
The New York Times film review, January 10, 1931.

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