Cast & Crew
William K. Howard
Chased by a Brussels cafe owner for an unpaid food bill, composer and pianist Victor Florescu jumps into a passing taxicab and meets pretty Shirley Sheridan, a visiting New Yorker. Upon arriving at Shirley's pension, which is next door to his own, penniless Victor insists on paying the taxi fare and gives the driver the score to his latest operetta in lieu of money. Victor then learns from his mentor, Professor Bertier, that Jules Daudet, a wealthy arts patron, wants to audition his operetta that evening at the Conservatory of Music. As he struggles to recall his score in his pension room, Victor is disturbed by the piano playing of a neighbor, who turns out to be Shirley. Forgetting his anger and his own practice, Victor demonstrates on Shirley's piano alternative arrangements for a song she has been composing, "The Night Was Made for Love." Grateful for Victor's musical insight, Shirley succumbs momentarily to his romantic overtures, but is perplexed when he suddenly rushes off for his appointment. After a desperate search through the city, Victor locates the taxi driver and, with a loan from Charles, an eccentric passerby, retrieves his score. Irritated by Victor's lateness, Daudet refuses to listen to his music, but changes his mind when the composer proclaims that his newfound love is more important than the audition. During the audition, Shirley shows up at the conservatory and is startled to see Victor there. While only mildly impressed by Victor's compositions, Daudet gushes at Shirley's song and immediately offers to publish it for her. When Daudet then makes a pass at her, however, Shirley rejects his offer and leaves the school in a huff. That night, Victor pledges his love to Shirley, and she confesses to a heartsick Daudet that she is in love with Victor. Determined to win Shirley, Daudet informs Victor that, if he wants his money for the operetta, he must leave immediately for Paris. To Daudet's surprise, Victor refuses to abandon Shirley, and thus forfeits his chance for instant success. Sometime later, Shirley, whose song has been published successfully by Daudet and who now lives in Paris with Victor, encourages the composer to pursue Odette Brieux, a wealthy operetta singer, as a possible star for his show. Depressed by his inability to compose in the shadow of Shirley's success, Victor instead declares his desire to return to Brussels, and the devoted Shirley prepares to go with him. However, when Daudet tells him that Shirley's career will be ruined if she leaves Paris, Victor pretends that he is no longer in love with her and returns to Brussels alone. There Victor mounts his operetta, The Cat and the Fiddle , with backing from Odette's husband Rudy. Shortly before opening night, however, Rudy catches Odette kissing a reluctant Victor and pulls both her and his money from the show. After the production loses its leading man, Charles, who plays harp in the show, goes to Shirley and begs her to join the cast. Engaged to Daudet, Shirley refuses to help Victor, who now faces arrest for writing a bad production check. As the curtain rises, however, Charles and Victor hear Shirley on stage singing the opening song. After accepting Victor's declarations of love, Shirley performs a romantic duet with him, and the operetta proves to be a huge success.
William K. Howard
Germaine De Neel
E. Alyn Warren
George Le Guere
J. H. Peters
Charles [g.] Clarke
William K. Howard
Bernard H. Hyman
Edwin B. Willis
The Cat and the Fiddle
All but forgotten today, Ramon Novarro had been one of MGM's biggest stars, a designation he enjoyed from 1925 to 1931. Born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico, in 1899, Novarro moved with his affluent family to Los Angeles on the heels of the Mexican Revolution. A second cousin to actress Dolores Del Rio, Novarro (who took his professional name from the region of Spain, Navarra, that was his ancestral seat - with the variation in spelling made on the advice of a numerologist) got work in Hollywood in uncredited bits in such films as Cecil B. DeMille's The Little American (1917) and Rex Ingram's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921). A friendship with Ingram and the filmmaker's actress wife, Alice Terry, boosted Novarro's industry status, paving the way for prominent roles in Ingram's The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Scaramouche (1923), and The Arab (1924). A younger, more compliant alternative to the temperamental Rudolph Valentino, Novarro beat out Valentino for the title role in Fred Niblo's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925).
Novarro's sideline as a touring tenor made his films especially viable on the Continent and his popularity in foreign markets allowed him to eclipse his other MGM rivals John Gilbert, Lon Chaney, and William Haines. With the transition in Hollywood from silent to talking pictures, Novarro gained added value as the star of such musicals as In Gay Madrid (1930) and Call of the Flesh (1930). Wiped out by the stock market crash of 1929, he was obliged to continue making films in the States at a time when he preferred singing engagements in Europe. Despite suffering its worst year since the onset of the Depression, MGM allotted The Cat and the Fiddle a budget of $843,000 - with $135,000 set aside for the film's three-strip Technicolor climax. (The process had yet to find favor with American moviegoers but would enjoy an uptake in legitimacy the following year with the success of Rouben Mamoulian's Becky Sharp , the first feature shot entirely in three-strip Technicolor.) MGM even went the distance to defend The Cat and the Fiddle against censors who objected to Novarro's and MacDonald's lovers living in the film out of wedlock; recommended changes to the script went unheeded by studio overseer Eddie Mannix.
The Cat and the Fiddle opened on February 16, 1934, to good notices but disappointing numbers; MGM recorded a loss of $140,000. Though the studio opted not to renew Novarro's contract the following year, it applied the model of the failed "musical drama" to subsequent productions and made a bona fide star of Jeanette MacDonald by pairing her with tenor Nelson Eddy, beginning with the Canada-set Rose-Marie (1936). While Eddy and MacDonald sang their way to international stardom and true love off the big screen as well as on, Novarro's star status declined as precipitously as it had risen. His bank account restored by real estate investments (his Hollywood home was the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's son, Lloyd Wright), Novarro continued to act, contributing supporting roles to John Huston's We Were Strangers (1949) and George Cukor's Heller in Pink Tights (1960) and guest appearances to such television series as Thriller, Rawhide, Bonanza, and Dr. Kildare. Murdered in 1968 by thugs seeking to abscond with his fortune, Novarro had survived by three years his Cat and the Fiddle costar, Jeanette MacDonald, who succumbed to heart disease in January 1965.
By Richard Harland Smith
Beyond Paradise: The Life of Ramon Novarro by André Soares (University Press of Mississippi, 2010)
< Ramon Novarro: The Life and Times of the First Latino Hollywood Superstar by Frank Javier Garcia Berumen (Vantage Press, 2001)
Ramon Novarro: A Biography of the Silent Film Idol, 1899-1968; with a filmography by Allan R. Ellenberger (McFarland & Company, Incorporated, 2009)
Hollywood Diva: A Biography of Jeanette MacDonald by Edward Baron Turk (University of California Press, 2000)
The Cat and the Fiddle
Cat and the Fiddle on DVD
Today MacDonald is most noted for her MGM operetta movies, mostly opposite Nelson Eddy. I'm not in a position to critique those movies musically but they've carried the reputation of High Kitsch since at least the 1960s. The Marx Brothers came back into vogue but the Eddy & MacDonald pictures remained the butt of parodies, despite the fact that they were often intentionally funny.
But Mac Donald's first MGM picture is an odd little charmer adapted from a 1931 Broadway musical that ran for almost 400 performances, an impressive achievement in a season hit hard by the Great Depression. Otto Harbach wrote the book and shared music and lyrics credit with Jerome Kern. The film version The Cat and the Fiddle appears to have altered a number of the play's particulars -- the singer in the movie is also the composer of her own tunes. Studio-created settings in Brussels and Paris encourage an association with MacDonald's previous hits with Ernst Lubitsch. For viewers that know screen star Ramon Novarro only for his role in the silent Ben-Hur, this musical will be a big surprise: the sweet-hearted Novarro seems perfectly natural singing love songs.
Story construction is not The Cat and the Fiddle's strong suit. Penniless composer Victor Florescu (Ramon Novarro) plays piano for his supper in a Brussels restaurant but must flee when he can't pay for all the wine he's imbibed. He runs into American Shirley Sheridan, who rejects his advances but takes his advice to rent a room at the Pension La Tour, right next to his Pension La Fitte. The couple also discovers that they're both ambitious composers hoping to advance at the Conservatoire. Professor Bertier (Jean Hersholt) holds private auditions for Jules Daudet (Frank Morgan), a patron of the arts. Daudet thinks Victor's work is okay but offers to have Shirley's song published immediately because he wants Shirley too. When she turns Daudet down, he tries to get Victor out of the way with an offer of a big chance in Paris. Both lovers choose each other instead and move to Paris together. Daudet publishes Shirley's song and she becomes a popular star. The still-struggling Victor must court the vain operetta singer Odette Brieux (Vivienne Segal) to get one of his works performed. Still trying to connect with Shirley, Daudet convinces Victor that he's holding Shirley back. He returns to Brussels and puts on his show The Cat and the Fiddle starring Odette and bankrolled by her husband Rudy (Joseph Cawthorn). But that arrangement threatens to fall apart when Rudy catches Odette kissing her new composer.
The Cat and the Fiddle weaves a special magic spell in its musical moments despite being a goofy, minor musical. Unlike a Lubitsch film, it doesn't contain self-referential humor. It also has no clever cinematic tricks up its sleeve, as made Love Me Tonight so impressive. The comedy depends heavily on our liking the leading players. Running away from a restaurant owner and the cops, Victor takes over for a tired marching band's leader, changing the beat and making the band run instead of walk. Stuck for a taxi ride he can't afford, he's forced to surrender his compositions to the taxi driver (Henry Armetta), who holds them for ransom. Eccentric harp player Charles (Charles Butterworth) provides comic relief, lending lends Victor the money to get his precious music back. Frank Morgan's Daudet is both the enabler of the lovers' dreams and a force determined to break them up. He's determined to have Shirley for himself, one way or another.
What really works is the chemistry between Novarro and MacDonald, a genuinely playful pair that meet cute on the street. Victor smilingly
The February 1934 release date identifies The Cat and the Fiddle as a Pre-code item. Besides Shirley's 'naughty' attitude toward hanky-panky, the lovers are clearly co-habiting in complete harmony while in Paris, without benefit of a marriage license. What seems harmless now was exactly the kind of content that conservative censors would suppress for over thirty years.
Some of the music in The Cat and the Fiddle is fairly forgettable, especially the bulk of Victor's operetta. But the movie's three main songs are marvelous, simple melodies that stick in the mind. Even better, they're sung intimately. We do wonder exactly what Shirley is doing in the Conservatoire, seeing that her musical talent runs to little pop ditties. Encouraged to entertain the party with something racy, Shirley takes to the piano to play "She Couldn't Say No," raising a naughty eyebrow as she sings its tale of temptation. More central to the romance is The Love Parade, the lyrics for which Victor and Shirley invent while sprawled across a bed. Music playback was surely already in use by 1934, but the singing for these scenes appears to be recorded live -- we can practically feel the lovers' breath as they sing nose-to-nose.
MGM certainly had the technology to film these scenes to playback, as they'd invented the technique of pre-recording music tracks back in 1929. As the scenes in question are one-take, one-angle masters, the actors' singing appears to have been recorded live. 2012's Les Miserables heavily publicized the fact that its performances were recorded on the set as well. But today's digital technology would allow stray microphones to be removed later in post-production.
The third major song is Shirley's big pop music hit "The Night Was Made for Love", which is used for several reprises. A standard operetta duet, its romantic melody is perhaps even farther removed from contemporary taste. Defending older musicals and popular music based on today's tastes is a pointless exercise -- Jerome Kern's melodies have qualities seemingly lost to modern music. Imaginative viewers curious about the past will be intrigued, especially if the romantic angle appeals.
As is often mentioned, the finale of The Cat and the Fiddle was filmed in experimental 3-Strip Technicolor. The image that survives for this disc presentation may not fully represent the look of original prints, as contrast issues affect the color design. When painted red trees appear, the screen looks like a bloodshot eye. Compared to the elaborate 3-Strip musical number seen in Eddie Cantor's Kid Millions, released the same year, this scene is barely two or three static camera setups. A wide shot of the stage proscenium is held far too long, presumably to show off the scenery.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of The Cat and the Fiddle looks to be an improved transfer over what I've seen on the TCM cable channel -- the image is sharp and the contrast very nicely defined. The sound is excellent. The Technicolor finale may have been sourced from a collector's print, possibly a 16mm reduction, as it is softer in addition to having more contrast than one would expect. Jeanette MacDonald fans, and aficionados of vintage musicals, will be more than satisfied.
By Glenn Erickson
Cat and the Fiddle on DVD
Every morning you and I will ride Teresa through the park. The sun will shine, the birds will sing, the flowers will bloom...- Victor
And I'll yell for the police!- Shirley
At the request of Jeanette MacDonald, soprano Vivienne Segal's once substantial supporting role was reduced until it was almost non-existent.
First use of 3-strip Technicolor in a live-action sequence.
The musical play opened in New York City, New York, USA, on 15 October 1931 and closed on 24 September 1932, after 395 performances. All songs in the musical were performed to some degree in the movie.
This movie was rejected for re-release certification because the leading characters were in an illicit sexual relationship without any compensating moral values.
Jeanette MacDonald's costume in the finale was used earlier by Joan Crawford in Dancing Lady (1933).
The final musical sequence of this film was shot in three-strip Technicolor. For more information on this process, for Becky Sharp. According to a August 21, 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item, James K. McGuinness was hired to write the screenplay for the film. A September 1, 1933 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Anita Loos was hired to rewrite the script because studio executives and Jeanette MacDonald became dissatisfied with the original script after a few days of shooting. By mid-September 1933, Zelda Sears and Eve Greene were brought in to work on the script, according to Hollywood Reporter. The exact nature of these writers' contributions to the final film is not known. According to a November 18, 1933 Daily Variety news item, retakes, which were directed by Howard, were ordered to give the picture a new ending. Six weeks later, additional retakes of the ending were shot and were directed by Sam Wood and supervised by Bernard Hyman, according to Daily Variety.
An early January 1934 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Ramon Novarro and Jeanette MacDonald were to film a "special musical number" in French to accompany the dubbed French release print. M. Farrell is credited in M-G-M music files as instructing the chorus in the singing of the French lyrics. Daily Variety reported that M-G-M had budgeted $135,000 for retakes and the filming of the French version. The second round of retakes were completed by mid-January 1934. Motion Picture Herald's "In the Cutting Room" announced that Vivienne Segal was to sing "If You're for Me" as her "big single number," but this song was not included in the viewed print. All of the songs from the stage musical were included in the film, although in some cases only part of the song is heard, or in the case of "Poor Pierrot" and "One Moment Alone," the lyrics were re-written. Jerome Kern re-used "Don't Ask Me Not to Sing" in his 1933 stage musical Roberta. Modern sources claim that, prior to casting her in The Cat and the Fiddle, Louis B. Mayer wanted I Married an Angel as the first film of MacDonald's new contract with M-G-M. Because of strong disapproval from the Hays Office, however, the project was abandoned until 1942, when it became the last film that MacDonald and Nelson Eddy appeared in together. According to files in the MPPA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, The Cat and the Fiddle was rejected for re-issue certification by the Hays Office in 1937 because the "two sympathetic leads" engage in an "illicit sex relationship without compensating moral values." According to modern sources, MacDonald's costume in the finale was designed for and used by Joan Crawford in the "Let's Go Bavarian" number in M-G-M's 1933 film Dancing Lady.