Cast & Crew
When Dolly Fabian, the harpist wife of Victor Fabian, the egomaniacal director of the London Festival Orchestra, returns home from charming the symphony's trustees into accommodating her husband's demands, she finds Victor trifling with his twenty-one-year-old "child prodigy" pianist. Furious, Dolly explodes, and after Victor puts his foot through her harp, she leaves him. Eighteen months later, Victor finds that he is unable to conduct more than the opening four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and the symphony board declares that they are not interested in Victor without Dolly. Maxwell Archer, Victor's agent, tries to convince Victor to reconcile with Dolly, who is now teaching music at a college, and consequently, when Dolly sends Victor a letter stating that she wants to see him, Victor sweeps into her office brandishing flowers and his recording of Romeo and Juliet . When Dolly announces that she wants a divorce, not a reconciliation, Victor falls through her harp. Refusing to admit defeat, Victor has Max lie to Luigi Bardini, the manager of the Festival Concert Hall, that he and Dolly are reconciling. When Bardini comes to the house and discovers that Dolly is not there, he warns Victor that Mr. Wilbur, Jr., the son of the orchestra's benefactor, Mrs. Wilbur, is coming to meet Dolly that afternoon. Soon after, Wilbur arrives, and when he confides that he dislikes music and that his position on the symphony board was thrust upon him along with his late father's canned goods business, a peeved Victor is about to walk out. When he opens the door, however, he finds Dolly standing outside. Passionately embracing Dolly, Victor pushes Wilbur out the door. Dolly is furious when she learns that Victor lied about their reconciliation, but when Wilbur returns with the news that his mother wants Victor to play her favorite tune, John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" at his concert, Dolly shields him from Victor's blast of bad temper. After Wilbur leaves, Dolly insists on a divorce, and when Victor tries to charm her into changing her mind, she bristles at his manipulation and blurts out that she is getting married. To Max's consternation, Victor casually states that one needs to be married in order to get a divorce, and they are not married. When Dolly explains that she wanted to make sure that they were compatible before committing to marriage, and that once Victor was appointed director of the orchestra, they were ashamed to admit that they never married, Max suggests having a secret wedding, followed by a divorce. Victor agrees to facilitate Dolly's divorce if she will live with him for the next three weeks. Calling Victor a "road company Svengali," Dolly storms out, and Victor instructs Max to summon Dolly's fiancé, the physicist Dr. Richard Hilliard, to London. Later, as Max tells Dolly that a secret wedding ceremony has been arranged, news comes that Victor has insulted violinist Jascha Gendel, who is the union member on the board of trustees. To forestall a complaint by Gendel, Max agrees to shorten Dolly's stay with Victor from three weeks to three days if she will mollify Gendel. After the newlyweds return home from their wedding, Gendel comes to see Victor. Dolly greets him, and once she deduces that he is a prima donna obsessed with his fingers, she gushes over his hands and wheedles him into retracting his complaint. Later, after Victor melts down Dolly's reserve and is about to make love to her, Hilliard arrives. Dolly, now dressed in a frilly nightgown, hides as Victor tries to get rid of Hilliard. Throwing Victor's coat over her nightgown, Dolly makes a dash for the door, but is stopped by Hilliard, who grabs her and insists that she return Victor's coat. When he sees that she is wearing a nightgown, Hilliard loosens his grip, sending her falling to the floor where she strikes her head and is knocked unconscious. Upon reviving, Dolly accuses Victor of trying to sabotage her engagement and explains to Hilliard that Victor will only grant her a divorce if she spends the next two nights with him. On the night of the concert, as a drunken Dolly waits in Victor's dressing room, she watches a televised interview with Victor in which he pays a saccharine tribute to her. After she throws a bust of Victor through the screen, Hilliard enters and, when he asks if she still loves Victor, she states that she wants to live alone. After Hilliard leaves, Victor and Max arrive, followed by Wilbur, who delivers Victor's new three-year contract that Dolly worked out with Mrs. Wilbur. Handing Wilbur back the contract, Victor informs Wilbur that he and Dolly are getting divorced. Dolly demands that he sign it anyway, and as Victor pens his name, Wilbur begins whistling "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Realizing that the contract requires him to play the dreaded piece, Victor threatens to kick Mrs. Wilbur's teeth down her throat, then ascends the podium and plays a glorious rendition of "The Stars and Stripes." Touched, Dolly tearfully blows him a kiss.
C. S. Stuart
C. E. Joy
Ludwig Van Beethoven
Joseph De Bretagne
Paul B. Radin
John Philip Sousa
Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
Once More, With Feeling!
The film was based on a play by Harry Kurnitz, which had opened on Broadway in late 1958, starring Arlene Francis and Joseph Cotten. Brynner, then one of the biggest movie stars in the world, was offered the part of the conductor in the film version. He agreed, if Stanley Donen could be persuaded to direct. By the late 1950s, Donen, who had directed some of MGM's greatest musicals of the decade, had left the studio and had signed a four-film deal with Columbia. He had recently made the sophisticated comedy, Indiscreet (1958) in London, and Donen liked the city so much he decided to move there. Donen agreed to direct Once More, with Feeling!, and changed the film's setting from Chicago to London, making plans to shoot there once again. Donen and playwright Kurnitz, who was adapting his own play, agreed to offer the female lead to Kendall, a close friend of Kurnitz's. "I've never had a picture shape up so fast and smooth," Donen later recalled. But production would be anything but smooth. Kendall, newly-married to Rex Harrison, refused to film in London for tax reasons, and Donen was forced to scrap his plans for location shooting in London. The film was shot in Paris instead, with a Paris theater standing in for London's Festival Hall. Production began in Paris in April of 1959.
Kendall had been diagnosed with leukemia in early 1957 and given only two years to live, but as was the custom at the time, she was not told of her condition. Instead, her doctor gave the bad news to Harrison, who was then living with Kendall, but still married to actress Lilli Palmer. Harrison got a quick Mexican divorce, and he and Kendall were married in June. Although Kendall apparently didn't know of her condition, Harrison confided the news to several friends, and her illness was something of an open secret. It's unclear how Kendall managed to pass the insurance physical examinations for her next film, The Reluctant Debutante (1958), and for Once More, with Feeling!
By the time production began on Once More, with Feeling! Kendall no doubt had some inkling about how sick she was, but she carried on in her usual madcap manner. Kurnitz recalled a story conference in a noisy Paris restaurant, as Kendall talked on the phone to Harrison. "I'm being a very good girl, darling," Kurnitz heard her say. "I'm in the Christian Science Reading Room with Harry." But her role required a lot of physical comedy, and it was clear how difficult it was for her. "She was very brave," Donen recalled, "but it was poignant to watch her. Everything was now an effort. You could see her fragility getting more and more pronounced as we screened each day's set of rushes." After a few weeks of shooting, Kendall collapsed and was hospitalized. Production shut down while the studio decided whether to replace her. Brynner reportedly told Columbia executives, "If she goes, I go." Since the film was already two-thirds completed, Donen shot around her in Paris while Kendall recuperated in London. By this time, rumors of the severity of her illness had reached the media, and Harrison told the press she had a "lung infection," complicated by "anemia," but that she was "feeling enormously better." Somehow, Kendall managed to rally enough to complete a final week of shooting. After the production wrapped, she and Harrison spent the summer at their home in Italy, but by the end of August, her condition was grave. They returned to London, and Kendall was immediately hospitalized. She died a few days later.
Once More, with Feeling! opened in March of 1960, and the reviews were, inevitably, elegiac. Time Magazine, after describing some of Kendall's funniest bits in the film, noted her "delicious wit and berserk precision of gesture that only Bea Lillie...can match. Like Lillie, Kay Kendall was not really so much a comedienne as clown, and her last picture should leave no doubt in anybody's mind that she was a clown with a touch of genius."
Director: Stanley Donen
Producer: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Harry Kurnitz, from his play
Cinematography: Georges Perinal
Editor: Jack Harris
Costume Design: Givenchy
Art Direction: Alexandre Trauner
Music: Muir Mathieson
Cast: Yul Brynner (Victor Fabian), Kay Kendall (Dolly Fabian), Gregory Ratoff (Maxwell Archer), Geoffrey Toone (Dr. Hilliard), Maxwell Shaw (Jasha Gendel), Mervyn Johns (Mr. Wilbur, Jr.), Shirley Anne Field (Angela Harper).
by Margarita Landazuri
Once More, With Feeling!
Onscreen credits read: "Music by Wagner, Beethoven, Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and John Philip Sousa." Selections from works of these composers are heard throughout the film. The film opens with an animated image of a bird in a cage. Another bird flies into the cage and kisses the bird. The imagery of the birds then turns into profiles of the film's stars, Kay Kendall and Yul Brynner, who kiss. The film's title, Once More, With Feeling!, then appears and the letters dissolve into harp strings. The film ends with a silhouette of the stars kissing. The Variety review misspells actor Harry Lockart's name as "Lockhart."
In a letter from PCA official Geoffrey M. Shurlock to producer-director Stanley Donen, contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Shurlock noted that in order to balance " the unconventional relationship of the leads," the script needed a "sufficiently strong voice for morality." Donen responded to Shurlock's concern by having "Dolly" state that she regretted never marrying "Victor."
Although a March 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that this was to be the first of Donen's independent productions for Columbia, Donen, who in an interview noted that he had signed a four-picture deal, made only one more picture with the studio, Surprise Package (see below). According to a June 1959 New York Times news item, the sequence in with Victor conducts "The Stars and Stripes Forever" was filmed at the Theatre de Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Once More, With Feeling! marked Kendall's last film before her death from leukemia on September 6, 1959. An August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that playwrights Constance Hall and Theodore Nathan filed a plagiarism suit against Henry Kurnitz, Samuel French and Columbia, charging piracy of their 1948 play Obligato and asking that Columbia be enjoined from distributing the film based on Kurnitz' play. That suit was overruled.
Released in United States Winter February 1960
Kay Kendall's last film.
Released in United States Winter February 1960