Thursday June, 18 2015 at 06:00 PM
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After two years of watching their favorite musical duo serenade other co-stars, fans of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy got what they wanted when the team dubbed "America's Sweethearts" reunited in 1940 for New Moon, a remake of the perennial Sigmund Romberg favorite. The picture gave the singing duo some of their biggest hits - "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," "Wanting You" and "Lover, Come Back." The score was so full of memorable tunes, in fact, that one New York reviewer hailed Romberg for "writing the Hit Parade of 1928."
Some of those hits almost didn't see the light of day, however. "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "Lover, Come Back" were only afterthoughts, added after New Moon had flopped in one of its original out-of-town previews in 1928. The production was shut down for five months while almost everything about it was changed. But they must have gotten it right, as it moved on to a triumphant Broadway run of more than 500 performances.
MGM first bought the rights to New Moon in 1930, looking for a vehicle for its two operetta stars of the era, Lawrence Tibbett and Grace Moore. For some reason, however, they changed the plot, moving the setting from late 18th-century New Orleans to Russia shortly before the Revolution. As good as her singing was, however, Moore's weight problems led to the end of her MGM contract. Ironically, the studio would later seek her for two vehicles that helped make MacDonald a star, Naughty Marietta (1935) and Rose Marie (1936).
By 1940, studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted a vehicle to re-unite his favorite singing stars. After they had scored hits with their 1935 teaming in Naughty Marietta and a string of profitable operettas, he had tried to double his profits by splitting the team up. But without each other, MacDonald and Eddy just didn't have the same magic. Mayer wanted a vehicle similar to the one that had brought them together, and New Moon seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Both were set in French-controlled New Orleans (a historical inaccuracy as it turns out, since the city was actually a Spanish colony at the time) and both dealt with a nobleman traveling to the New World in disguise.
Mayer assured that New Moon would be a lavish production. MacDonald had 16 period costumes, some of them as wide as six feet. In fact, her dressing room had to be equipped with a double door so she could get in and out - and even then she had to walk sideways.
One curious footnote on the casting was the presence of silent screen clown Buster Keaton. By this point in his career, he was working as an uncredited gagman at MGM. Although originally cast in a supporting role he was cut from all but a few crowd scenes, effectively reducing the former cinematic genius to an extra. In fact, none of his biographies even mention his work on New Moon. Ironically, one thing critics would complain about in reviewing the film was the lack of strong supporting roles, despite the presence of such solid character players as Mary Boland and George Zucco. Any criticism, however, was overshadowed by the pleasure of film fans, who helped make New Moon a box-office hit.
Producer/Director: Robert Z. Leonard
Screenplay: Jacques Deval, Robert Arthur
Based on the operetta by Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II, Frank Mandel, Lawrence Schwab
Cinematography: William Daniels
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Music: Herbert Stothart, Sigmund Romberg
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Marianne de Beaumanoir), Nelson Eddy (Charles Mission, Duc de Villiers), Mary Boland (Valerie de Rossac), George Zucco (Vicomte de Ribaud), H.B. Warner (Father Michel), John Miljan (Pierre Brugnon, Overseer).
by Frank Miller
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