Editor’s Note: A pair of four-film collections, available exclusively at Movies Unlimited in conjunction with The Warner Archive Collection, starring the dynamic musical team of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy have just been released on DVD. With that in mind, we’d like to offer this article, originally published in July of 2012.
Of the eight films that MGM’s Screen Singing Sweethearts, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, made together between 1935 and 1942, two of the most interesting are 1938’s The Girl of the Golden West and New Moon from 1940, with each marking reunions for the duo after movies with other co-stars.
Before their release of Maytime in 1937, Jeanette had co-starred with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy in the legendary San Francisco, but Nelson had not yet appeared in a movie without MacDonald since their teaming became such an established success. After Maytime hit theaters in early 1937, the studio starred Eddy along with Eleanor Powell in Rosalie, also co-starring Ray Bolger — and The Firefly, teaming MacDonald with Allan Jones, which were both released in late 1937. Jones’ rendition of “Donkey Serenade” became an International hit song and while both films were successful, the studio was bombarded with requests for more of the team singing together, and Metro responded with The Girl Of The Golden West in early 1938.
So while the team had not been absent from the screen very long, fans were clear in their demand for more of them together. Of course, this meant finding the right vehicles for them. Because the team’s initial films were all adaptations from stage operettas, many assume the same about The Girl of the Golden West, due to its score with music written by operetta king Sigmund Romberg, and lyrics by Gus Kahn. Actually the preceding iterations of this piece began with a dramatic play by David Belasco that first hit Broadway in 1905, and was later turned into an opera entitled La Fanciulla Del West by none other than Giacomo Puccini.
The first film version of Belasco’s story was made by Cecil B. DeMille in 1915, another silent followed in 1925, and then a (now-lost) sound remake starring Ann Harding emerged from Warner Bros. in 1930. MGM’s film united the Belasco story with the kind of music that suited the team well, and in fact, this was the fourth of their eight films, but the first to have an original score commissioned for their work directly.
Taking the helm was Robert Z. Leonard, who had done such an outstanding job with the team on Maytime. The story line concerns dashing bandit Nelson Eddy, who doesn’t count on having his heart stolen by saloon keeper Jeanette MacDonald when he holds up her stagecoach. The sprightly MGM musical co-stars Buddy Ebsen, Leo Carrillo, Monty Wooley and includes Jeanette’s singing of “Ave Maria.”
Once The Girl of the Golden West was in the can, the next planned project for the team was the lavish classic Sweethearts, their first in Technicolor, which finished out the year of 1938 with great success. However, it would be almost two years before the team reunited on screen again. 1939 would see them on the screen with different co-stars; with Nelson Eddy cast as leading man in Balalaika and Jeanette MacDonald taking center stage in Broadway Serenade. Fans let MGM know that they wanted another MacDonald/Eddy film, and the studio reacted by dusting off a well-respected property they had made years before.
New Moon was an enormous stage hit for Romberg and his then-lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II in the late 1920s, but its 1930 MGM film version starring Lawrence Tibbett and Grace Moore did not fare particularly well with moviegoers, and only a few tidbits from the original stage score remained intact. The MacDonald/Eddy remake would be far more faithful to the Romberg/Hammerstein II score that had become so popular, and was given appropriately lavish treatment as only MGM could. New Moon is the setting for adventure, romance and song in this, the duo’s sixth pairing. The backdrop is colorful 1700s New Orleans and plantation heiress Jeanette discovers that slave laborer Nelson is actually a rebellious nobleman out to offer escape to the region’s bond servants.
The production was initially to be titled “Lover, Come Back to Me,” after the most famous song from the operetta’s score, however MGM wisely changed its mind about such a curious move, and under the firm hand of Robert Z. Leonard’s elegant direction, New Moon went on to achieve great success when released in July of 1940, owing to Jeanette’s and Nelson’s infectuous interpretations of “Stout-Hearted Men,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Wanting You,” and more.
After all, how could New Moon go wrong with an advertising campaign like this, “The King and Queen of Song…gloriously together again…in a red-blooded romance…of moonlight and music…love and danger…buccaneers and beauties!”
And now, take a step back in time and enjoy some scenes in the theatrical trailer from The Girl of the Golden West: