Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Smilin' Through

Kerran elämässä / En gång i livet. US © 1941 Loew's, Inc. PC: MGM. D: Frank Borzage. SC: Donald Ogden Stewart, John L. Balderston – based on the play by Jane Cowl and Jane Murfin (1919). DP: Leonard Smith – Technicolor. PD: Cedric Gibbons, Edwin B. Willis. Costumes: Adrian. Songs:
    "Smilin' Through" (1918 Penn)
    "The Kerry Dance" (1875 trad. / Molloy)
    "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" (1616 Melish / Ben Jonson)
    "Ouvre ton coeur" (Bizet / Louis Delâtre)
    "There's A Long, Long Trail (Awinding)" (1915 Elliott / King)
    "Land Of Hope And Glory" (1901 Elgar / Arthur C. Benson) etc. sung by Jeanette MacDonald and her voice double Lorraine Bridges.
    Starring Jeanette MacDonald (Kathleen / Moonyean), Brian Aherne (Sir John Carteret), Gene Raymond (Kenneth / Jeremy Wayne), Ian Hunter (Reverend Owen Harding). 100 min.
    Musical / melodrama from WWI in England.
    A clean, fresh, good dupe.
    Viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 6 April 2005.

The hard MGM gloss is somewhat oppressive in Borzage's first colour film. Thick pancake makeup for Technicolor leads to loss of sensitivity and vibration in Jeanette MacDonald's face. She has the dual role as the dead bride and as the orphan girl whose parents died in a shipwreck. The classical numbers (Bizet, Elgar) are the best. Mostly the film fails to come alive, but the "falling in love" scene in the ghost house is somewhat better.

Borzagean connections:
    (1) The lost generation theme obviously strikes a chord (see also A Farewell to Arms, Humoresque, and Three Comrades).
    (2) The presence of the beloved as a ghost all through the life Sir Carteret (Brian Aherne).
    (3) The hero comes back from the war a cripple (as in Humoresque, Seventh Heaven and Lucky Star).
    (4) The profoundly romantic substance: this was the favourite and "life film" of the wife-husband-team Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond, their only film together; they realized the idea of true love in their own lives.
    (5) The film as an act of solidarity to the fighting England. Borzage hated war, yet always supported fight for freedom against tyranny. Although this is about WWI, the connection to the actual war in 1941 is strong.

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