Cast & Crew
Roy Del Ruth
Viennese musical comedy stars Karl Lang and Maria Lanyi are successful in their careers, but their six-month-old marriage is not doing well. When Maria expresses an interest in pursuing a career in Grand Opera, Karl thinks that it is just an excuse to leave him, and confides in their good friend, Bernard Fischer, that he thinks Maria is simply in love with romance and will soon be seeking other men. Bernard's suggestion that Karl act like "Tannhäuser" and be romantic toward Maria backfires when Maria becomes annoyed at Karl's late-night singing. After their performance the next night, Karl and Maria go to a nightclub, and Karl receives a telegram. Although Karl had sent the telegram to himself, he claims that it is from a friend who needs to be bailed out of jail. After he leaves, while Maria is confiding in Bernard that she, too, is jealous, Karl dons the disguise of a bearded Russian guardsman named Vassily Vassilievitch, then performs for the audience. Maria is intrigued by the singer, and when he comes to her table, they begin a flirtation. Shortly after "Vassily" leaves, Karl changes clothes again and returns as himself. The next day, when flowers arrive for Maria, she and Karl argue because she denies that the gift came with a card, and merely says that the man who sent them loves her. Later, she confides in Bernard that she thinks it was Karl posing as Vassily and was overjoyed to read his romantic note suggesting that she stand by her window at five that afternoon. Because it is Sunday and they have no performance, Karl must make an excuse to leave and says that he has a charity function to attend that will require him to be away until late the next day. At 5:00 o'clock, Maria goes to the window, as the note suggested, and Karl, who is standing below, as Vassily, is upset to think that she is contemplating being unfaithful. Unknown to him, though, Maria has drawn whiskers on one of his photos and confirmed her suspicions that the bearded Vassily is really Karl. When "Vassily" accepts her invitation to come up to the apartment, Karl arrives in his costume, amusing Maria, who notices that his disguise does not even fool their dog, whom Karl cannot discourage from licking him. While Maria and Karl engage in some verbal love-making, she tells him that she likes strong men, and he pounces on her. At first she angrily pushes him away and tells him to leave, much to Karl's delight, but then flirtatiously tells him that her husband will be out that evening. Because Karl cannot take any more, "Vassily" leaves, then Karl quickly returns, explaining that he had missed his train. Before he leaves again, they argue and he accuses her of seeing another man. Later that night, "Vassily" makes another appearance and serenades her, after which he and Maria go to a gypsy café. "Vassily" tells Maria that he feels sorry for her husband, then she passionately kisses him and runs off. Unknown to Karl, Bernard has been hiding in the bushes observing their conversation and tells Karl to follow Maria, otherwise he will never know whether Maria is faithful. Karl does follow Maria, who tells him they must say goodbye. Later, though, she throws her key off the balcony. The next day, Maria is very happy and smug, worrying Karl, who decides to appear during their performance of The Chocolate Soldier dressed as Vassily. Although the audience does not understand why he is dressed as a Russian guardsman, Maria is happy that he is finally revealing himself and offstage tells him that his kisses gave him away because no man on earth kisses like him. Karl is now happy and secure in Maria's devotion, but becomes a bit worried when they return to the stage and she winks at someone in the audience.
Roy Del Ruth
Betty Jane Graham
James B. Carson
Jack "tiny" Lipson
Foy Van Dolsen
John S. Detlie
James E. Newcom
Charles Camille Saint-saëns
Edwin B. Willis
The Chocolate Soldier
It all started with George Bernard Shaw's 1894 Arms and the Man, the fanciful tale of a Swiss mercenary who keeps his cartridge cases filled with chocolate creams but still manages to win a general's beautiful daughter from her heroic fiancé. The play was Shaw's first big hit and remains one of his most popular, but despite its carefully honed satire of war and national pride, it caught the eye of Viennese composer Oscar Strauss, who contracted to write a musical adaptation. Shaw's only stipulation was that he not use one word of the original. He even had to change the characters' names and the title. When the playwright finally saw The Chocolate Soldier, he swore he would never allow any of his plays to be musicalized again (My Fair Lady, adapted from Shaw's Pygmalion, would not be made until after his death). Nonetheless, the operetta proved so popular that it was transferred to New York, where it became a hit all over again. When the movies started to talk, MGM picked up the rights, hoping to turn it into an equally successful film.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar had created a risqué comedy of manners about an egotistical actor who masquerades as a Russian guardsman to test his actress wife's fidelity. As Testor it was a hit in Europe in 1910. Phillip Moeller wrote an English translation that became a hit on Broadway as The Guardsman in 1924, with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne bringing their legendary comic timing to the roles. MGM bought the film rights to this property, too, and hired the Lunts for their only co-starring film vehicle. But the Lunts didn't like filmmaking, and film audiences didn't like the Lunts, so the 1931 MGM version went nowhere. With the arrival of stricter film censorship two years later, MGM couldn't even re-issue the picture, as it was almost impossible to re-cut it to clear up the play's central ambiguity, the question of whether or not the wife knew the Russian guardsman was really her husband before inviting him to spend the night with her.
The Chocolate Soldier wasn't having much more luck getting to the screen. After Maurice Chevalier and MacDonald teamed up for the hit The Merry Widow in 1934, the studio considered The Chocolate Soldier as a follow up, with Grace Moore, whom he had wanted in The Merry Widow, as leading lady. MGM had passed on Moore because her first films there had flopped. No sooner had they cast MacDonald, than Moore picked up a starring role as a madcap heiress in Columbia's One Night of Love (1934). The film was a hit, which led MGM to re-assess her screen potential. Unfortunately, Moore had become such a big star, that Columbia would only agree to loan her to MGM if they guaranteed her top billing. Chevalier wouldn't give that to anyone, and he disliked MacDonald too much to make the film with her. So he left MGM, not to return until he made Gigi in 1958, without top billing but with the promise that Jeanette MacDonald would not be cast.
As it turned out, MacDonald didn't need Chevalier or The Chocolate Soldier to become a star. When the studio teamed her with Nelson Eddy for Naughty Marietta (1935), they scored a substantial hit. Then scheduling conflicts pulled Moore out of Eddy's next, Rose-Marie (1936). When MacDonald stepped in for another hit, the screen's greatest singing team was born. The two would make eight films together, but as box office returns on their later films declined, MGM started looking for solo vehicles. MacDonald actually was doing well on her own, but Eddy had only limited success.
Then MGM took another stab at The Chocolate Soldier. By 1941, Shaw had decided he had no desire to see any new versions, so he informed MGM that they couldn't use the plot of Arms and the Man. He may have been doing them a favor. Finally, the studio had the chance to make a little money off of The Guardsman. They reset it in the world of musical theatre and cast rising opera star Rise Stevens -- a rarity among classical singers at the time in that she was thin, beautiful and sexy -- as Eddy's new leading lady. All they kept of the operetta was six of the songs, presented as part of the musical in which Eddy and Stevens were co-starring during the film's action. To those they added arias from Samson and Delilah and Tannhauser, a Russian song by Mussorgsky and a new piece by Bronsilau Kaper.
With the new script and new songs, The Chocolate Soldier also got a new Nelson Eddy. In most of his early films, he had been so stiff that crewmembers had dubbed him "The Singing Capon." But with screen stardom had come the chance to appear on radio, where he not only sang, but started to loosen up in comedy sketches. The Chocolate Soldier, or rather The Guardsman brought out a flair for comedy nobody had suspected. He stole the film from his sexy co-star, winning solid reviews from critics who had made fun of him in the past.
Fans of MacDonald and Eddy have long carped that she would have been much better in The Chocolate Soldier than Stevens, citing the flair for sophisticated comedy demonstrated in her early musicals at Paramount and The Merry Widow. They got their wish in the '50s, when MacDonald and husband Gene Raymond toured in a new production of The Guardsman. She even got Molnar to re-write the script so that she could sing in the role, which guaranteed a strong audience turnout. Mixed reviews, however, convinced them not to risk a Broadway run. For her part, Stevens got to do The Chocolate Soldier for real in a 1955 television production co-starring Eddie Albert in the role Eddy played on-screen.
Producer: Victor Saville
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Leonard Lee and Keith Winter
Based on the play The Guardsman by Ferenc Molnar
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Art Direction: Cedric Gibson
Music: Bronislau Kaper, Herbert Stothart
Cast: Nelson Eddy (Karl Lang), Rise Stevens (Maria Lanyi), Nigel Bruce (Bernard Fischer), Florence Bates (Madame 'Pugsie' Helene), Dorothy Gilmore (Magda), Nydia Westman (Liesel).
BW-102m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The Chocolate Soldier
Molnar's play, Testor, opened in Budapest, Hungary, in 1911. English versions were staged in London (as 'Playing With Fire') and New York (as 'Where Ignorance Is Bliss') in 1913. But the definitive English version, adapted by Philip Moeller, opened in New York in 1924, and starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. The Chocolate Soldier opened in New York City, New York, USA, on 13 September 1909 and ran for 296 performances. The popular musical had 5 New York revivals, the last one in 1947. Although it was based on George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man", only the music was used in the film version. Harold Rosson filled in as director of photographer when cinematographer Karl Freund became ill.
When the stage version of "The Chocolate Soldier" premiered, it was as a musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's satirical play "Arms and the Man". Shaw strongly voiced his outrage over the way his play had been adapted and forbade any other musical adaptations of his plays (at least, as long as he was alive). So when "the Chocolate Soldier" was filmed, the plot of Ferenc Molnar's "The Guardsman" was used instead.
The assumed name of "Karl Lang," the character played by Nelson Eddy, is variously spelled Vasily Vassilievitch and Vassiliy Vassilievitch in the film's cutting continuity, but is never spelled out onscreen. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, M-G-M wanted to borrow Ray Middleton from Republic for a role in the picture, but he did not appear in the released film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Broadway musical-comedy performer "Rags" Ragland was to make his film debut in the picture and that cameraman Hal Rosson filled in for Karl Freund while Freund was ill. Ragland actually made his debut in Ringside Maisie (see below). The Chocolate Solider marked Metropolitan opera singer Risë Stevens' motion picture debut. The film earned Oscar nominations for Freund (black and white cinematography), Herbert Stothart (scoring of a musical film) and Bronislau Kaper (musical adaptation and direction). In 1931, M-G-M filmed the first adaptation of the Ferenc Molnar play. That film, which was not a musical, starred husband and wife stage actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine as the leads, and was adapted for the screen by Ernest Vajda and Claudine West (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1738).