Cast & Crew
William A. Seiter
Edward Everett Horton
At Madame Cecile's Paris dress shop, Marie and her father, General de Villefranche, shop for her trousseau. Her father wants her to marry soldier Paul de St. Cyr, but she is in love with René, another soldier in her father's Foreign Legion regiment. Paul himself is in love with Fifi, a model at Maison Cecile. Fifi intends to become a great singer and is working there to pay for her lessons. While shopping at Maison Cecile, Count de St. Cyr, Paul's father, overhears Paul and Fifi planning their elopement. He learns Fifi's address and visits her that evening. At first Fifi refuses the count's offer of money, but when he explains that everyone will shun Paul if he marries her, she agrees not to marry him unless asked by the count himself. When Paul arrives, she pretends to have been after him for his money in order to become a singer. He believes her and leaves. Using an assumed name, she gets a job singing in a cabaret. Paul searches for her everywhere but fails to find her before his regiment is shipped to Algiers. Meanwhile, Fifi is singing opera to standing ovations. Without knowing who she is, the count invites her to sing at a party for Paul's returning regiment. Paul is delighted to see her, although his father still expects him to marry Marie. While Marie and René plot their elopement, Fifi is charming the audience with her singing. Finally, Paul insists that he will marry Fifi no matter what his father says. Impressed that his son is finally taking a stand, the count gives his consent.
William A. Seiter
Edward Everett Horton
Leo F. Forbstein
William A. Seiter
Kiss Me Again -
Pidgeon began as a stage actor on Broadway during the 1920s, appearing in dramas and musicals. When the melodrama Mannequin was made into a film, Pidgeon recreated his role on the big screen, marking his movie debut in 1926. After talking films supplanted silents, his pleasant baritone singing voice led him to a series of Hollywood operettas around 1930-1931: Sweet Kitty Bellairs, Viennese Nights, and Kiss Me Again.
Pidgeon's costar in Kiss Me Again, Bernice Claire, garnered most of the attention while the film was in production. Claire was an accomplished soprano and skilled coloratura who had been brought to Hollywood from New York by Warner Bros. and First National at the suggestion of another leading man of operettas, Alexander Gray. Warners/First National became the first to invest in musicals on a large scale, purchasing a number of stage works for adaption to film. They hired operetta composers Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein at $100,000 per film to create operettas directly for the screen. Claire was hired to replace Alice White in No, No, Nanette (1930), with Gray as her costar. Within a month, Gray and Claire were reteamed for Spring Is Here, the first Rodgers and Hart operetta produced for the big screen, followed by The Song of the Flame.
No sooner had that film wrapped than Claire was cast in Mlle. Modiste, the screen version of the operetta by Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom. During previews for the movie, the title was changed to Toast of the Legion then Kiss Me Again to take advantage of the play's main song. A few years later, promotion materials for Claire would claim that she held the record for performing "Kiss Me Again" because she had been singing it for years in auditions, on stage, in film, and on the radio. Born Bernice Janighen in Oakland, California, the singer first played the leading role in Mlle. Modistein a high school production, which prompted her to take professional singing lessons. Claire auditioned for a visiting vocal coach named Emil Pollack by singing "Kiss Me Again." Pollack suggested the 18-year-old move east to pursue a career on the stage. In New York, she auditioned for Lorenz Hart's father, Max, by singing "Kiss Me Again," and he recommended her as the lead in the road tour of Desert Song alongside Alexander Gray. By the time she ended up in Hollywood, Claire was primed to play the lead in the film version of Kiss Me Again. After starring in several operettas in Hollywood, Claire toured America on the vaudeville circuit, using "Kiss Me Again" as her encore song. In the late 1930s, Claire, who had married and returned to Oakland, appeared occasionally on radio, often singing "Kiss Me Again" for good luck.
Set primarily in Maison Cecile, a Parisian dress shop operated by the imposing Madame Cecile, Kiss Me Again is a love story about mismatched couples. Marie (June Collyer) is supposed to marry handsome Legionnaire Paul de St. Cyr (Pidgeon), but she is in love with another soldier, René (Edward Everett Horton). Paul loves Fifi (Claire), a vivacious model at Maison Cecile who intends to become a great singer. Count de St. Cyr, Paul's father (Claude Gillingwater), discovers that Paul and Fifi plan to elope, but he persuades the shop girl to give up his titled son for his own good. He explains that Paul's friends and family will shun him if he marries someone "beneath his station." Fifi changes her name and begins singing opera in a cabaret, while Paul serves in Algiers. Fifi becomes such a singing sensation under her assumed name that Count St. Cyr hires her to perform at a ball he is giving for Paul's returning regiment. The lavish ball serves as an appropriate site for the unraveling of secrets, the unmasking of identities, and the untangling of mismatched couples.
The intrigues at Maison Cecile offer comic relief from the primary romantic dilemmas. The stern proprietress is assisted in her business by pliable ex-husband Francois (Frank McHugh) in a perturbing example of the "odd couple." Though the couple is divorced, she berates him like a hen-pecked husband, prompting one of the best songs in the film. With a bevy of beauties behind him, McHugh belts out "A Make Believe Ladies Man."
A few operettas produced in 1930-1931 were shot in Technicolor or featured color production numbers to emphasize the spectacular nature of the costumes and sets. Kiss Me Again was released in both Technicolor and black and white prints. Copies of the film in Technicolor have long disappeared, but the use of color explains the predominance of extreme long shots in the film during large-scale production numbers. The array of pastel hues in the dozens of costumes would have dazzled viewers in 1931.
Despite the presence of Claire, Technicolor, and the Victor Herbert score, Kiss Me Again suffered because theaters were flooded with filmed operettas, and audiences were not as enthusiastic as studios predicted. By the time Kiss Me Again was completed in the summer of 1930, several operettas already in release, including Claire's Spring Is Here, were floundering. First National cut a few songs from Kiss Me Again, hoping to eliminate what they assumed was least interesting before postponing the release till 1931. Other operettas were also postponed or dropped from production schedules altogether.
The operetta was an early casualty of the sound era because the studios assumed film versions would be as popular as stage productions. Originating in mid-19th century Paris, operettas were intended to be showy entertainment mounted for profit at commercial theaters for continuous runs. The format was introduced to America at the turn of the century, where audiences preferred their operettas to be sentimental and romantic. Operetta was characterized by its extreme artifice in plotting, acting, performance, and setting. At the core of this genre were stories about ordinary folk cavorting with displaced royalty in exotic, Ruritania-like locales. Plots were complicated by mistaken identity, forbidden love, disguises, and misunderstandings. The lavish costuming, exaggerated subplots, rhapsodic outbursts, and broad acting prompted one historian to refer to them as "luscious escapism."
Victor Herbert reigned as the premier composer of operettas in America for three decades, with the genre peaking on the Broadway stage during the 1920s. Given the popularity of the genre, combined with the hiring of Herbert and other important figures, Hollywood studios assumed they were tapping into a sure thing.
How could they have known that pop music tastes were rapidly changing as Tin Pan Alley, jazz, and other types of music were being spread over the radio? And, viewing an operetta on stage, where viewers are far away from the highly stylized performances, is not the same as watching a movie, where close-ups and medium shots dominate. The closer the camera, the more artificial the story and characters became. Finally, other film genres emerged in the early talkie era, including melodramas about unwed mothers and gangster sagas. These storylines proved more relatable for viewers because they tapped into Depression-era experiences.
Holding back Kiss Me Again for a year did little to help its box office chances. In that time, Bernice Claire returned to the stage, experiencing only a sporadic career in Hollywood. During the mid-1930s, Walter Pidgeon moved on to secondary roles in dramas, before securing stardom opposite Greer Garson in a series of films during the 1940s.
Operetta musicals waned in 1930, but they did not entirely disappear. Ernst Lubitsch's light approach to the "boudoir musical" treated the cornier conventions with tongue in cheek, resulting in more successful interpretations of this highly stylized form. One of his actresses, Jeanette MacDonald, emerged as a bona fide movie star, teaming with Nelson Eddy in 1935 to breathe new life into the operetta for a few more years. By the end of the decade, the traditional operetta had disappeared.
By Susan Doll
Producer: William Seiter Production for First National
Director: William Seiter
Screenplay: Julien Josephson and Paul Perez, based on the operetta Mlle. Modisteby Victor Herbert and Henry Blossom
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Editor: Pete Fritch
Art Direction: Anton Grot
Dance Ensembles: Larry Ceballos
Cast: Mlle. Fifi (Bernice Claire), Paul de St. Cyr (Walter Pidgeon), Rene (Edward Everett Horton), Marie (June Collyer), Francois (Frank McHugh), Count de St. Cyr (Claude Gillingwater), Mme. Cecile (Judith Vosselli), General de Villafranche (Albert Gran)
Kiss Me Again -
Although the film was originally released in color, the viewed print was in black and white. The film was released in Britain as Toast of the Legion. The Victor Herbert musical was the basis of First National's 1926 film Mademoiselle Modiste directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Corinne Griffith and Norman Kerry (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3333). In 1933, Warner Bros. produced a short film based on the same material entitled Fifi. A television version was released in 1972.