|The real-life couple Dolores Costello (as Manon Lescaut) and John Barrymore (as Des Grieux). Courtesy George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Click to enlarge.|
Restoration supervised by Bob Gitt.
A print with the Vitaphone score (originally sound on disc) reconstructed on the soundtrack with e-subtitles in Italian at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 4 Oct 2014
Catalogue: THE MUSIC
Philip C. Carli: "Henry Kimball Hadley (1871-1937), born in Somerville, Massachusetts, studied principally in the United States before finishing his studies in Vienna in 1894. On his return in 1896 he began an extraordinarily wide-ranging career as composer and conductor, achieving considerable success in both fields. His compositions include five operas, choral works, five symphonies, and much chamber music. He was the first conductor of the San Francisco Symphony (1911-15) and the first American-born conductor to hold a regular post with the New York Philharmonic (Associate Conductor, 1923-27). He was also, coincidentally, Lionel Barrymore’s music theory and composition teacher."
"Despite Hadley’s allegiance with the more conservative elements of American music, he did have an interest in music technology and links to recording in particular. His wife, soprano Inez Barbour, frequently sang popular and classical material in the major American recording studios. Hadley himself began making orchestral records by the acoustical process in 1921. Subsequent work with the New York Philharmonic led to him conducting the orchestra in the first musical short on the first Vitaphone program in 1926, a performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser overture. The orchestra playing the compiled score by William Axt and David Mendoza for the accompanying feature, Don Juan, was directed by Vitaphone’s chief conductor Herman Heller."
"According to musicologist Hannah Lewis in a revealing article on the music for When a Man Loves (Journal of the Society for American Music, August 2014), it was Heller who approached Warners and Hadley with the idea of a through-composed score for John Barrymore’s successor to Don Juan, to be based upon the Abbé Prévost’s novel Manon Lescaut. The terms of Vitaphone’s contract gave Hadley only five weeks to prepare a score, intended to be mostly original, though use of other composers’ themes was allowed provided they were in the public domain. Payment was to be $5,000 – a relatively modest amount for a production whose shooting expenses alone have been estimated at $500,000. The score’s copyright would belong entirely to Warner Bros."
"In addition to giving Hadley access to a print of the film, Warners supplied a list of cues they thought musically important, with suggestions about their treatment. Hadley waxed enthusiastic to the press: “Much more opportunity is given the composer than in writing an opera, because in the moving picture the action changes constantly...I have written six operas and music in every form for voices and orchestra, but I cannot remember ever composing music to any theme which gave me such delight from beginning to end as ‘Manon,’ the most beautiful of photo-plays.”"
"Surviving musical material, including full score and sketches, shows that Hadley did not compose an entirely new score, but, like Handel and Rossini, reused past material, in this case the third act finale from his opera The Atonement of Pan. Considering the material’s bulk, the compressed schedule, and the very large orchestra demanded, Hadley may have had help in scoring, probably from Heller. It is also possible that Hadley was simply a very fast worker – one of the fastest in film music history, perhaps, as the full score also includes an unused 49-page overture."
"The recording took place in October 1926 at the Manhattan Opera House Vitaphone studio. Despite its rushed creation, Hadley’s score for When a Man Loves is superb; arguably, it is his finest dramatic composition. He was a conservative but fluent and inventive composer with a finely-tuned sense for instrumental color, and the orchestration is both characteristic and masterful. To some extent he followed established silent film scoring practice by dividing his work into 115 cues. But within those cues, when allowed the screen time, he proves an affecting and powerful melodist, as in the love theme for Barrymore and Dolores Costello, initially scored as a clarinet solo, or in the furious section accompanying the prison ship sequence at the film’s end. Though harmonies move with the fluidity of Wagner’s, his melodic and dramatic style owes more to Puccini and the early 20th century Italians, with their flexible expressivity and frequent coups de théâtre. The overall effect is much more like a combination of Tosca and classical Hollywood film scoring of the 1930s and 40s than the hybrid tapestries heard in Joseph Carl Breil’s scores for D.W. Griffith or Erno Rapee’s for Fox’s What Price Glory? (1926) and 7th Heaven (1927)."
"Finally, Hadley achieved something very special and indeed revolutionary: When a Man Loves is really a score designed to be heard as a recorded film score, rather than played live. The film is long; the score makes extraordinary musical demands, especially in the last two reels; and a live public performance with the film all the way through without a break might almost kill any orchestra. But by recording the score in ten-minute sections, following the length of Vitaphone discs, Heller and his musicians could take respite and deal with retakes before the next onslaught began. Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times was certainly impressed by the results: “This orchestra effect was so good that there were many in the audience who forgot until the last moment that there were no musicians in the pit. They were reminded of the absence of the orchestra when the body of musicians was depicted on the screen, and then the spectators were moved to applaud.” We should follow suit with our own ovation, honoring artists now long gone but whose work still brings astonishment and delight." Philip C. Carli
A longer, more detailed version of this note is available (in English only) on the Giornate del Cinema Muto website.
Catalogue: THE FILM
Jay Weissberg: "On the surface, it would seem that Warner Brothers and John Barrymore were good for each other. When he signed his second contract with the studio in early 1925, he’d just returned from London, where his production of Hamlet (as producer, director, and star) was generally considered a triumph – unexpected, given British wariness about an American playing the role in Shakespeare’s homeland. Laurence Olivier was seventeen at the time, and later recalled, “When he was on stage, the sun came out.”"
"Nascent talks with Ufa to co-star him with Emil Jannings in Faust unfortunately came to nothing, but on his return to the States, Barrymore was riding high from acclaim as America’s greatest actor. The terms of his Warners contract reflect this status: $76,250 per film, a suite at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel, a chauffeured limousine, and approval of scripts and co-stars, among other perks. The initial agreement was for two pictures, but in September 1925, while completing the first, The Sea Beast, he negotiated for a third film, provisionally announced as Paolo and Francesca, based on Dante. In February 1926 Warners switched properties and publicized Barrymore’s new project as The Tavern Knight, from the Rafael Sabatini novel; the following month Alan Crosland came on board as director. Louella Parsons broke the news later in March that the next Barrymore film, co-starring Dolores Costello, would instead be Manon Lescaut. (Warners held on to the idea of casting Barrymore in The Tavern Knight, announcing it as John’s first all-talkie as late as December 1928; it never went into production.)"
"Manon was not exactly a fresh property: besides the three operas (at that time) adapted from the Abbé Prévost novel, there were already a number of film treatments. Production got underway at the end of March 1926, with screenwriter Bess Meredyth bowdlerizing the novel to make it more palatable to the tastes of the era: Manon is no longer Prévost’s capricious harlot but an innocent girl from the countryside, in love with the Chevalier des Grieux yet forced into an immoral relationship with the roué Guillot de Morfontaine. Variety estimated that the production costs for the lengthy shoot, which ended in early June, reached close to $1 million, though H. Mark Glancy, in his study of Warner Bros. grosses, gives a more likely figure of $500,000. Whatever the actual amount, there’s no denying the film’s lavish design: Ben Carré’s extensive sets included building an entire French village, and according to the hyperbolic promotional booklet, 24 original costumes from the Louis XV period were borrowed “from the French government,” with Warner Brothers posting a $24,000 bond to guarantee their safety."
"The release was delayed by several months, probably to allow some spacing between it and the earlier Barrymore-Crosland partnership Don Juan, which opened at the beginning of August. Like that film, the Manon story was used to showcase Warners’ collaboration with the new Vitaphone process: in early October, Film Daily announced that noted American composer Henry Hadley was preparing an orchestral score, to be recorded later that month. Motion Picture News mentioned a successful preview screening in Pasadena sometime in November, when the film’s title was still Manon Lescaut, but that finally changed in early January, when the studio settled upon When a Man Loves, no doubt to distinguish it from the Ufa film Manon Lescaut released in the U.S. in November."
"When a Man Loves opened in New York in February 1927, a full halfyear after Don Juan, which was still playing in a Broadway cinema. The premiere was a lavish event, and predictions of a long run proved to be accurate – the film remained in Manhattan for five months. According to Glancy, When a Man Loves earned back twice the amount it cost; Warner’s three Vitaphone synchronized films (Don Juan, When a Man Loves, and The Better ‘Ole) “accounted for 31% of the season’s total costs and returned 36% of total earnings.” Critical reception however was decidedly mixed: the crushing weight of expectation sat heavily on all John Barrymore vehicles in the immediate wake of his greatest stage triumphs. The Barrymore of Hamlet was not the Barrymore of Des Grieux, and many critics, fancying themselves arbiters of high culture, frequently expressed disappointment that America’s greatest actor had cheapened himself."
"While the New York Times called When a Man Loves “always entertaining,” others were less generous: Picture-Play Magazine’s Norbert Lusk complained that it was “stagy, artificial, implausible,” while Martin Dickstein of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle dismissed it as “twaddle and nincompooperie.” Oddly, Variety complained it lacked humor, especially off-the-mark as the film is peppered with amusement, starting with the delightful opening when Guillot de Morfontaine salaciously lifts the virginal Manon’s skirts in the name of helping her find her kitten. When a Man Loves is certainly melodrama, and it isn’t the book: hardly a scene remains of Prévost’s novel, and much is added, including scenes with Louis XV and an outrageously foppish Richelieu. However, it’s also grand spectacle, well-paced, and climaxes in a terrific mêlée aboard the ship taking Manon and Des Grieux to Louisiana (where, at odds with Prévost, the future looks bright for the star-crossed couple). Barrymore’s grand gestures are more theatrical than Douglas Fairbanks’ comfortably masculine bravado, though John’s athleticism, especially in the final sequences, has an infectiously energetic verve. Crosland unquestionably takes advantage far too often of “the Great Profile” (another source of complaint from critics), and it’s also true the star isn’t ideal in scenes of religious penitence. Yet he’s magnetic even when resorting to the mannered tics – a raised eyebrow, a slight cock of the head coupled with a non-derisive smirk – that endured throughout his career."
"Margot Peters, in her unforgiving book The House of Barrymore, reports that Ethel was perturbed to see her brother allow Dolores Costello to take the spotlight; the rising actress, daughter of matinee idol Maurice Costello, undeniably shines as Manon (Myrna Loy, an extra in the film and a near-conquest of Barrymore’s, said the ethereal Costello was “more like an orchid than a woman”). John had been having a romance with Mary Astor until he and Costello co-starred in The Sea Beast, when an affair blossomed; in August 1928 Barrymore’s second wife Blanche Oelrichs (aka Michael Strange) was granted a divorce, and in November he and Costello were married."
"Financially, this was John’s golden period. During the shooting of When a Man Loves he signed a short-term, two-picture contract with United Artists, at $100,000 per film and 50% of the profits (according to Variety), with an agreement to return to Warner Brothers on completion of the second movie. How he felt artistically is another matter. Many of his theatre friends weren’t happy: in 1926, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, the late 19th century’s leading Hamlet, was one of many urging him to return to the stage. He had offers for a 12-week season in London but declined, writing to Gerald Du Maurier, “I seem to have sold my kidneys for a mess of celluloid.” Proposals came and went, and Barrymore himself considered another Hamlet production in 1928, yet after six months of planning, he cancelled. Like much in his life, speculation as to “why” has overtaken his prodigious achievements, and the sniping continues, even to this day, for forsaking his position as America’s leading stage star. As acknowledged by Michael A. Morrison in his superb John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor, John’s tormented nature defies easy analysis, and the almost gleeful accounts of his alcoholism, personal hygiene, and general bad behavior all too easily overshadow both the individual and his achievements. For the latter, read Morrison; for the former, go to the friends – Mary Astor, Myrna Loy, Arthur Hopkins, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mercedes de Acosta – who write so movingly about this complicated, supremely gifted, and yes, tragic, man." – Jay Weissberg
AA: Worth experiencing thanks to Henry Hadley's marvellous score, an exciting display of a late silent symphonic music score. It is not Puccini, but effective in its own right. At the end we see the symphony orchestra bowing for applause.
The film: Manon Lescaut with a happy ending.
Starring John Barrymore and his wife-to-be Dolores Costello - their granddaughter is Drew Barrymore. The passion in the love story is real, and it is the greatest redeeming feature in this movie besides the Henry Hadley score.
Alan Crosland is a good but not an inspired professional. The huge production is effectively handled. There is a unique feeling of decadence in key sequences: the casino where des Grieux throws his gold coins on Manon, the court where both the King and des Grieux cheat at cards to secure the love of Manon, and the ship to Louisiana which negotiates the stormy Atlantic. The corrupt captain tries to have his way with Manon, but des Grieux incites a rebellion of his fellow prisoners: they break their chains and take over the ship. (Had the film-makers seen Battleship Potemkin?). Des Grieux and Manon hop into a lifeboat: yonder is America - land of freedom and everlasting love.
The toning and tinting is subtle in this print, and the restoration of the Vitaphone score is enjoyable.