Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
In 1939, at an Italian hotel overlooking the Mediterranean, singer Frederica Brown is "rescued" from an overzealous admirer by a distinguished-looking man, but soon realizes that the rescue was a set-up to meet her. The man introduces himself as "Mr. Imperium" who works in the family business, the government. After Imperium rents the room next to hers, Fredda, as Imperium calls her, learns that he is the internationally famous playboy Prince Alexis, heir to a European throne. At first Fredda resists Imperium's charms, but soon acquieces and dubs him "Al." They meet the next day and begin an idyllic romance of sailing, horsebackriding and biking, during which she introduces him to American customs and he teaches her Italian words such as "arrivederci," or "I'll be seeing you." At Imperium's villa, she learns that he is a widower who hopes that his six-year-old son will lead a more normal life than he. One night, Imperium receives a telegram informing him that his father is gravely ill. His prime minister, Bernand, promises to deliver a letter from Imperium to Fredda, but instead leads her to believe that there was no note and the prince is merely following his pattern with women. Twelve years later, when Imperium is in Paris, he sees a theater marquee advertising American actress Fredda Barlo's latest film. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Fredda has become a star who is loved by her producer, Paul Hunter. While looking for the perfect actor to co-star in her latest film, Fredda arranges to go to Palm Springs and uncharacteristically drive there without her maid, Anna Pelan, who suspects that a recent mysterious call from Paris is the reason she went alone. Before Fredda leaves the studio, Paul wonders why she is having so much trouble finding a co-star for a film that she suggested to him, the story of an American girl who falls in love with a European king. Paul then proposes, but she begs him to ask again on Monday. On the drive to Palm Springs, Fredda stops at exactly 3:00 o'clock to call Mrs. Cabot, the owner of the ranch at which she always stays, asking her to rent the other room she had reserved to whomever wants it. A moment later, Imperium arrives at Mrs. Cabot's doorstep asking for a room. Mrs. Cabot's suspicious niece Gwen thinks that she recognizes him, but cannot remember where she has seen him before. When Fredda arrives, she and Imperium pretend not to know each other, but once settled in, she unlocks the door connecting their two rooms and they embrace. He then tells her that he was a prisoner in his palace during World War II and was sent into exile when a revolution broke out after the war. He also reveals that he was very upset when he learned what Bernand had said to Fredda. Within a few days, there will be a plebiscite in his country to determine whether he should be returned to power, but Imperium does not want to be king. That night, as Fredda and Imperium dine together, he considers what he will do in America and she casually tells him about the film, knowing that he has a beautiful voice and has always secretly wanted to be a singer. He thinks that he would be perfect as the movie's king, and the couple happily drive back to Beverly Hills after she telephones Paul to say that she has finally found the right actor and wants him to come to her house in the morning. The next day, as Fredda and Imperium enjoy breakfast, Bernand, who had been at Paul's house when Fredda called the night before, arrives. When Imperium says that he plans to abdicate, Bernand coldly informs him that his son is no longer at school in England but is now on the continent, preparing to take the throne if his father will not accept it. Bernand then leaves, but asks Imperium to meet him at the airport. Fearing that his son was forcibly taken from school, Imperium calls England, but learns that the boy left of his own free will, to do his duty. Imperium and Fredda now know what must be done, and at the airport, he says "arrivederci" as he boards the plane. Paul again proposes to Fredda, but she ignores him, saying through her tears, "he said 'arrivederci.'"
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
The Guadalajara Trio
George J. Folsey
Edwin H. Knopf
Edwin H. Knopf
Richard A. Pefferle
William J. Tuttle
Edwin B. Willis
In Mr. Imperium, Pinza plays a prince who wants to be a singer but is duty-bound to his family and his country. He falls in love with an American showgirl (Turner) while cruising the Italian Riviera, but they know their love is impossible. Twelve years later, the prince has become a king in exile who ends up in Palm Springs and finds his lost love, now a movie star. Also in the cast were a young Debbie Reynolds, Marjorie Main, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and Barry Sullivan.
Mr. Imperium did not come at a good time in Lana Turner's life. She had been married to millionaire Bob Topping, whose finances were in trouble. To add to this, she had been pregnant, but gave birth to a stillborn boy. She returned to work on A Life of Her Own (1950) thirty pounds overweight, and was still taking off her baby weight during Mr. Imperium. Then as now, an actress' weight was an obsession of the gossip columnists. Mike Connolly in particular was taking potshots, writing "Lana is certainly a zaftig-looking matron these days, so the cameraman on Mr. Imperium has really got his job cut out for him." Other columnists, like Alice Hughes, wondered what MGM was thinking when they paired Turner and Pinza, "I'm told Pinza is none too happy over the Hollywood movie, Mr. Imperium, he has recently finished making with Lana Turner as his leading lady. What, these two! They may not belong in the same world, let alone the same picture!" Whether Hughes' sources were correct or not, Pinza's unhappiness over the film did not extend to Turner, who he called, "very beautiful," and was seen greeting her affectionately when the two ran into each other at the Hollywood Bowl after filming was complete.
Marjorie Main had become a star in the Ma and Pa Kettle films, and in Mr. Imperium she plays a more sophisticated character. Her co-star Debbie Reynolds later remembered that Main had physical and emotional issues that made themselves apparent during shooting. Main's bladder problems caused her to walk offstage in the middle of a scene and use a toilet that the studio had installed in her dressing room. "You'd hear the toilet seat go up, the toilet seat go down, the flushing, and Marjorie was still saying her lines. Then she'd come right back on the set, as if we hadn't cut, and finish the scene." While Main's husband, Dr. Krebs, had passed away years before, she would speak to him as though he were in the room with her. "I was sitting in a chair next to Marjorie one day when I heard her say, 'Horace [Dr. Krebs] this is a very warm day and I'm tired. Why don't you get me a glass of water.'" She would also set a chair for her late husband at her table in the studio commissary and order meals for him.
Despite Pinza's singing, Turner's beauty, and the talents of a top supporting cast, Mr. Imperium turned out to be so bad a film that it was pulled from distribution after a few poor showings on its first release in March 1951. MGM waited until Pinza's second film, Strictly Dishonorable (1951) was released in July before Mr. Imperium was re-released in October. It didn't help. Strictly Dishonorable was called "second-rate" by the New York Times' Bosley Crowther, and Mr. Imperium was panned by an anonymous reviewer, who wrote that the film was, "to be perfectly candid, third-rate." The fault, wrote the critic, was not with Pinza, Turner, the other cast members, or even the cameramen or the Technicolor crew. The blame lay squarely on the shoulders of producer Edwin H. Knopf (who wrote the play on which the film was based) and director Don Hartman "who collaborated on the script, have supplied their stars with a story that is as pat, obvious, and dated as Prince Charming and Cinderella."
By Lorraine LoBianco
Crowther, Bosley "Strictly Dishonorable, Starring Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh, New Feature at Capitol" The New York Times 12 Jul 51
Greenspan, Charlotte Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and the American Musical
Holly, Val Mike Connolly and the Manly Art of Hollywood Gossip
Hughes, Alice "A Woman's New York" Reading Eagle 1 Jun 51
Nissen, Axel Actresses of a Certain Character; Forty Familiar Hollywood Faces from the Thirties to the Fifties
"Pinza Co-Stars with Lana Turner" The New York Times 15 Oct 51
"Pinza in Hollywood" Life 18 Sep 50
Tyler, Don Hit Songs, 1900-1955: American Popular Music of The Pre-Rock Era
Vogel, Michelle Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Ma Kettle
Wayne, Jane Ellen The Golden Girls of MGM: Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Others
Early Hollywood Reporter production charts include actress-singer Nina Koshetz in the cast, but she was replaced by Ann Codee in the role of "Anna Pelan." The role was apparently a singing one, as M-G-M music records contained in the USC Cinema-Television Library indicate that Blythe Taylor Burns and Dorothy Wilkerson had recorded the song "Let Me Look at You" for Codee. Codee's character does not sing, however, and that song was not in the released film. The CBCS includes Keenan Wynn in the cast as "Motor cop," but neither he nor the role was in the released film. Several additional actors included in the CBCS were not in the released film: Chick Chandler, Jimmy Cross, Don Haggerty, Bert Davidson, Tony Merlo, Bob Stephenson, Mae Clark, Al Murphy and Tom Quinn. Their roles were apparently in a sequence in the motion picture studio that was cut from the released film.
Although Mr. Imperium was the first dramatic film role for Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza, his second film for M-G-M, Strictly Dishonorable, was actually released first (see below). Pinza had earlier appeared in a singing only role in the 1947 film Carnegie Hall. (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). Reviewers, who were generally negative about Mr. Imperium, commented that Pinza, who had had a great success on Broadway in the Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II musical South Pacific (NY, 7 April 1949) was ill used in Mr. Imperium. According to a December 29, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, due to audience reaction at the film's preview, additional musical numbers featuring Pinza were to be added. The film also marked the motion picture debut of Giacomo Spadoni who, according to M-G-M press releases, had coached opera stars from Enrico Caruso to Pinza.