Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1934. Columbia Pictures Corporation. Screenplay by S.K. Lauren,James Gow, Edmund H. North, based on the story Don’t Fall In Love by Dorothy Speare, Charles Beahan. Cinematography by Joseph Walker. Produced by Harry Cohn. Music by Gus Kahn, Victor Schertzinger. Production Design by Stephen Goosson. Costume Design by Robert Kalloch. Film Editing by Gene Milford. Academy Awards 1934.
The tragically short film career of Grace Moore, who brought her operatic talents to the movies for only a few years before dying in a plane crash, is likely best remembered for her charming Oscar nominated performance in this groundbreaking musical. The sound designers won a special achievement Oscar for their revolutionary work and the effect is impressive, it’s rare that a film from the early thirties has such a smooth transition between dialogue and musical scenes. Moore plays an opera singer with stars in her eyes who goes to Italy to study music and ends up a singing waitress until the most important maestro of all time (Tullio Carminati, who is terrible) spots her and takes her under his wing. He has decided to stop having personal affairs with his charges and trains her like a drill sergeant, giving her no time for a personal life and making her work night and day. By the time she starts booking gigs, Moore starts to feel rebellious and Carminati has to admit that he has feelings for her. The romantic subplot at the heart of the story is ridiculous, the leads couldn’t have less chemistry if he was a goldfish, and the idea that someone so talented would put romance above being successful at her work is just offensive, but the musical numbers are beyond outstanding. Moore sparkles in numbers like “Ciri-Biri-Bin” and excerpted selections from Madame Butterfly and Carmen are completely worth the effort on their own.