On the MGM Recording Stage with Nelson and Jeanette

It took some doing to get Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald out of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer vaults and into viewers’ homes. At this point, it should be said that both Naughty Marietta (1935), their first movie together, and Sweethearts (1938), their first in Technicolor, did have some deterioration in the film stock; not unusual for films that are over 70 years old.

Going in, it was known it was going to take a lot of work to get these classics cleaned up and ready for distribution. When film elements are problematic, they are usually rejected at the outset of the process. In the case of both of these classics, their source elements were newly manufactured, and there was no indication that there would be any hold-up in moving along.

As it turned out, both films had their own set of problems which required a great deal more work, and therefore more time, than originally anticipated. Teams of experts put hours and hours into this project, including night shifts and weekends, in order to get them ready for release. The finished product is actually available, and we are all optimistic that the extra efforts will yield impressive results for collectors.

Now that Eddy and MacDonald are finally making their debut on DVD, the team at Warner Home Video wanted to make these new releases unique, and one of the ways they have done so is to give fans an opportunity to experience these two legendary stars at work… making music as only they could.

As is generally well-known today, movie musicals have, with rare exception, all been created with songs pre-recorded prior to filming. This was done to insure greater excellence in the final performance, ease of editing, mixing, etc. Pre-recording of musical numbers was usually the very first phase of active production for these films, while other aspects of scenes or dances or routines were being rehearsed simultaneously. Most studios did not retain these pre-recordings in the ensuing years, considering them worthless. Thankfully MGM was one of the few studios that DID make an effort to keep their recording sessions, and in recent decades the Warner team has been fortunate enough to share those recordings with fans through dozens of never-before-released soundtrack album CDs, and/or as supplementary material first on laserdiscs, and later DVDs.

Virtually all of the MacDonald/Eddy pre-recording sessions have been locked firmly in the vault… until now, as Warner has decided to share some of these session recordings with fans by including them as AUDIO VAULT special features on the new DVD releases. For Naughty Marietta you will hear MacDonald’s attempt to sing “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” stop virtually before it starts, much to the laughter of her co-workers and of course, the lady herself. Then the listener can experience the kinship and warmth that was already evident between the two stars as they go through multiple versions and takes of what is arguably their most famous duet.

For Sweethearts, there are several songs presented, including some only partially heard in the finished film, such as “Mademoiselle”. The title song is presented in several different iterations, and there is an unused performance by Miss MacDonald singing “Angelus.” Exciting to hear?  You bet!  But these are more than just rare recordings.  That’s because most of these performances are heard in stereophonic sound. Not bogus stereophonic sound, but actual stereo mixes that have recently been created from the original 1938 pre-recordings which were made using four discrete channels of music. MGM began experimenting with multi-channel pre-recordings as early as 1929. Overall this kind of recording was done for no other purpose than to create a meticulously balanced monaural track, usually made with 2 or 3 channels at the most.

For the release of Sweethearts, (the studio’s first feature film in the then-new three-color Technicolor process), Metro seized on the opportunity to get even more aggressive with their use of multiple microphonic recording techniques, and their experimentation has led to Warner’s ability, decades later, to mix these recordings into a true stereophonic environment. As with Naughty Marietta, the listener will hear fascinating banter between Nelson and Jeanette, and experience the incredible amount of minute details all the performers had to attend to as part of such extravagantly produced motion pictures.

These added features are something unique that only the folks at Warner can offer us. So there you have it…beautiful new prints, far superior than what we’ve ever seen on TV — plus additional audio content that is sure to delight collectors. We’re hoping the wait is worth it and we’re confident viewers will be as excited as we are with these timeless classics.

  • http://davesclassicfilms.blogspot.com/ Dave DeSousa

    I was never really a big musical fan, except for Busby Berkeley, and I never really watched any MacDonald/Eddy films. But I watched a couple of films that MacDonald starred in with Maurice Chevalier and now I’m hooked … She was beautiful with a beautiful voice to match …

  • Noel Bjorndahl

    Jeanette MacDonald was a multi-talented star whose personality perfectly matched the cheeky grace and joie de vivre of early Lubitsch. Her saucy, sexy performances in a string of ruritanian musicals including The Love Parade, One Hour with You, The Merry Widow, and especially Monte Carlo indicated wonderful comic timing and poise: nobody could express haughtiness and truculence with such lightness and charm-she was the perfect screen princess both literally and temperamentally. Mamoulian’s stylistically daring Love Me Tonight showcased her in some great Rodgers and Hart songs and some of the funniest dialogue and situations in any 30s musical/comedy.

    For her legions of fans, MacDonald’s teaming with the robust baritone Nelson Eddy from Naughty Marietta (1935) through seven more lavishly produced teamings (ending with the disappointing I Married an Angel) resulted in surprising screen chemistry bringing her and Eddy phenomenal popularity. So it’s great to see Warner Archive (finally!!) bringing these films to DVD in the best available prints although I would love to see them carefully restored and remastered in the manner of Warners’ best box sets over the last few years. The audio extras are insightful.

    Judging by the comments among friends here in Australia, they are still fondly remembered by those who love the Hollywood musical in its many guises, and some of us are particularly hanging out for a decent restoration of Maytime, a magnificently mounted melodrama with jaw-dropping montages by the great Slavko Vorkapich, an outstanding Sigmund Romberg score and an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony in the staging of the central operatic scenes. John Barrymore as MacDonald’s manager/husband gives an obsessive and intense performance and even Eddy, more noted for his ringing voice than for thespian skills, delivers a more lively, animated reading of his role than usual. La MacDonald is stupendous in her period costumes and expressive range here. Bring on all of them, please.

  • William Sommerwerck

    Is “Sweethearts” transferred from the original three strips?

  • David Ecklein

    I am also looking forward to a restoration of the other Eddy-MacDonald classics soon. Our favorite is “New Moon”, and our vhs tapes are wearing out.

    Some films with Nelson Eddy alone should also receive DVD restorations, particularly “Let Freedom Ring” and “Chocolate Soldier”, both big favorites of ours.

  • Ben J. Bostelman

    At age 77, I am in my twilight years. Thanking Mother Nature, my hearing and vision are still good. I truly hope to live long enough to see the rest of the McDonald/Eddy films remastered and made available to their many fans. It was a spiritual pleasure to enjoy these movies again!!

  • Mireille Rouleau

    Having purchased both these new releases, I can assure everyone that they are excellent. I agree with the gentleman from Australia and await the release of their other films. It is great to be able to enjoy them again.

  • Editrix

    There’s an nteresting story in Harpo Marx’s autobiography. Apparently Nelson Eddy had a voice double for his high note.

  • Steve Harris

    Jeanette MacDonald, one of Hollywood’s great beauties, was also one of the screen’s great musical talents, with a silvery soprano that was perfect for operettas by Herbert, Friml, and Romberg. As she demonstrated in the many operatic scenes she also filmed, her voice was perfect for such roles as Marguerite in “Faust” and other lyric roles of French opera.

    “Maytime” (1937) was La MacDonald’s favorite film, probably because it showcased her as an operatic prima donna more effectively than any other movie. It was also 1937′s largest grossing film worldwide–and her best film with Nelson Eddy. From today’s perspective, it’s amazing that a movie featuring extensive excerpts from opera and the concert stage (her singing of Delibes’ “Les Filles de Cadiz” is superb) was also a box-office success. What did audiences have in 1937 that they seem to lack in 2011?

    Releasing a CD of “Maytime” will be a great service to popular culture.

    And hats off to the perceptive folks who have ignited a MacDonald-Eddy (she always received top billing) revival bring creating the CDs of “Naughty Marietta” and “Sweethearts.” May they be richly rewarded.

    Steve

  • Jorja Curtis

    As a child I loved all these movies and I think I saw them all. Movies such as these helped contribute to my love and appreciation of classical music. (Not to mention Bugs Bunny cartoons.) We heard good music at the movies whether we knew it or not.

  • Pat

    I think “Maytime” was my favorite MacDonald/Eddy film, but my all time favorite is “The Firefly” which she did with Allen Jones. I just loved “The Donkey Seranade” and Allen Jones was so handsome.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Frankly I do not know much of the technical answers to Sweethearts’ pre-print material but it is safe to say that what was available before restoration had deteriorated to the point of Nelson Eddy’s skin actually appearing as bright orange. What the Warner Archive team is presenting on DVD is probably pretty close to what audiences saw in 1938, maybe even better.

  • Esther Cook

    As a teen in the 1930′s I had a big crush on Nelson Eddy. I thought the Nelson Eddy, Jeannette MacDonald movies were the greatest. I saw them all. I liked Rose Marie the best. I have it in VHS. Glad they are coming out in DVD.

  • Nancy Wischnowski

    Waiting for a boxed set of Jeanette and Nelson’s films together. Hopefully, then to be followed by boxed sets of Nelson’s films with other leading ladies…and a boxed set of the best of Jeanette’s films with other leading men. But, first, just the two of them in their wonderful movies!

  • Di Taylor

    Fantastic that at last the ball is rolling. May we please have not too long a wait before more of this beloved duo’s work is made available to us.

  • Karen May

    I believe there will never be another Janette and Nelson. Simply magic. Thank you for all your work on restoring these wonderful films.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kenneth.m.henderson Kenneth Henderson

    Where do I start? I have some answers to this interesting post from Jerry F. Firstly, I got these two discs from TCM/MU this week and ran parts of them including the Audio Vault material. Last week, I got a copy of Maytime from my city library in Australia on DVD. This was from Brazil(many films not otherwise or never available in the English speaking world have been available in places like Spain, Portugal & Italy and thus the Marketplace people latch on to these and offer for often unrealistic prices). Of interest this DVD had a pix of the pair on the cover with a large green border identical with that of the PAL VHS release issued in the 1980s in Australia. I don’t believe this cover design was used in USA in VHS for the MGM/UA releases. I believe Maytime was started in color but I don’t know what happened to that footage.

    Now to the titles at hand. Sweethearts was on Laserdisc and looked pretty good but this might have been well into the 1990s. I had a trailer in 16mm color of their only other color film, Bittersweet, which I have not seen as far as I can remember as a full film. This being a remake of the 1933 British version of this Noel Coward musical, sort of, starring Anna Neagle. The LD I have and is very good but I cannot currently use those as my equipment is hard to get set up currently and the machine is buried. Other reviews on the web say the LD is better than the muddy DVD. I would like to watch side by side but I found the DVD great and the sound excellent and rather silent background. I thought the dances that I saw were photographed similar to those 2-strip MGM scenes from the 1929-30 which is fine by me. Now this is where it gets tricky.

    Richard May who worked for MGM/Turner for many years in restoration tells us that the original camera negatives of this film were lost in a 1978 fire. What fire, I asked? Then it was revealed that it was the fire at George Eastman House in Rochester/NY, the home of Eastman Kodak who own the GEH. Initially, it was announced that about 150 MGM films were destroyed that had been give to them as original nitrate camera originals or dupes sometime before. Then it was said it was only 150 reels but what ever the correct loss is it is sure material was lost in original form which some companies go back to, if possible for better looking discs and archives often now save good nitrate in a separate vault for as long as possible after a restoration has been done(they now do this in Australia, apparently & at the NF&TVA in UK). Richard says many James A Fitzpatrick original traveltalk negs were lost in that fire. This series is scheduled for DVD at WAC in a set, several I already have in disc form. The laserdisc of Showboat set was restored from reels 2-on from the nitrate negatives but the first reel was restored from acetate material held in Culver City or wherever made before the negs went to GEH and that reel was lost in that fire. The special box set of all the Showboat material(3 films plus with many of the discs now found for the 1929 Universal first film version of that story) was due for the anniversary of the original Broadway opening in 1927 & I believe it is still hot for Blu Ray & DVD as a set which I want. I do have the LDs of this material as it was restored then.

    So where did the better Sweethearts from the 1990s come from if the nitrate was lost in 1978.

    MGM had a fire in a vault that destroyed a lot of material in the 1950s. This as picture negs and the audio was in another vault. Lost was said to be outtakes(many chopped songs appear as audio only on MGM VHS, LD & DVDs)& as I have never seen any MGM tests of possible performers or for specific films maybe they were here too.

    In 1967 there was a major vault fire there which lost all their original nitrate uncut cartoons including Tom & Jerry but safeties had been done. A lot of silent material was lost here so what went to GEH and when I don’t know. Another fire has been mentioned at Culver City but it might be this one.

    MGM did have the audio material as used in the new discs copied to tape but at the time someone dubbed it batch by batch with little care. They used either 3.75ips or 7.50ips and not the correct quality speeds of 15ips or 30ips. They also neglected to include the necessary balance pulse track.

    Stereo type tracks were also done by Fox in the 1940s and a little has been used on DVD. In LP days when Fox had a record label(Barry White was contracted to them) and they issued stereo material with Tommy Dorsey & Glenn Miller. This is all very interesting as stereo as a magnetic stripe on Cinemascope films was the rage and many studios destroyed these using the mono tracks for their VHS or DVDs often taking the track off a release/positive copy. Cinerama used many tracks as did Fantasia.

    Not relevant to this post is that an executive at Orion had a vault destroyed that contained stereo tape tracks, outtakes, European longer versions of films etc as the company was being absorbed int MGM/UA. Very short sighted of who ever this was.

    I welcome any replies to this post and corrections to the information.

  • ED

    I hope the future holds MAYTIME, ROSEMARIE, AND NEW MOON!!!! I always liked Musical films. I enjoyed their teaming up and the duets. Also would like to see more DVD’s of Jeannettes films. I was also a fan of Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson and their singing voices. I loved the MGM, WARNER BROTHER, & 20TH CENTURY FOX Musicals. I was sadden to see them “fade” out to all the current type of miscellaneous type movies that are now featured.

  • Muriel Parsons

    I am 76 years old and am reliving my youth. I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon with a quarter clutched securely in my hand. I saw every one of Nelson Eddy and Jennette MacDonald’s movies. I now have two DVD’s of them and am enjoying them once again. Their voices were wonderful and i still get a tingling in my spine when i hear them. I am now going to watch Naughty Marietta for the second time in two days.

  • ian bailey

    them 2 dvds are fantastic…….please release all the films that jeanette appeared in and as much of the recording sessions you can as all us fans love to hear the outtakes, cuts and laughter……….can you please let me loose in the archives

  • Barbara

    Thank you for giving me the joys of my youth, I was probably about 5 years old when my uncle and I sang all the songs that Jeanette and Nelson sang.I am going to be 73 years old and I hope as the younger generations see and hear what real music was like that the will keep the renewed interest in these quality fun musicals going.

  • Roger Phillips

    Maybe my favorite Jeannette/Nelson movie is “Rose Marie”. It has the famous song “Indian Love Call” (Is this possible for a phone ring tone?) Also of course Nelson sings “Rose Marie”. Jimmy Stewart has a small part as Jeannette’s brother who is a murderer! He flees to Canada and Nelson is a Royal Canadian Mountie. Of course both Nelson and Jeannette are out to get their man–for different reasons.

    I bought a three CD set of Jeannette/Nelson songs. one disc duets, one disc her, and one disc him. It is the Dynamic Nostalgia label; I bought from Good Old Days magazine but maybe you can google and find it.

    • MR.G.MILLS

      I AM NOW IN MY EARLY EIGHTIES, I HAVE BEEN A LIFELONG DEVOTEE OF THE FILMS OF JEANETTE MACDONALD/NELSON EDDY.MY MOTHER TOOK ME TO THE FIRST FILM STARRING THE MAGICAL TWOSOME. THAT NWAS NEARLY 70 YEARS AGO,AND I HAVE BEEN HOOKED EVERSINCE.I HAVE FILM PROJECTOR, COMPLETE WITH 5,16MM,COPIES OF THERE FILMS TOGETHER,I TO AM AVIDLEY AWAITING A FULL BOX SET OF THEIR MOVIES.

  • Vivienne

    Please release boxed sets of the films Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald made together.
    They are still wonderful and I never tire of listening to them. I just adore Nelson and with jeanette he sparkles. The most beautiful voices that blend perfectly. More please! I love the audio vaults.

  • Martin Stumacher

    What a joy it is to see Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy singing together. Whenever TCM has a film festival, I make it my business to see them. What beautiful voices and the chemistry between them is so vivid. They are part of the wonderful Age of Golden Films.

  • NameFrank DeCavalcante

    I am thrilled that the MacDonald and Eddy movies are finally on dvd. As much as I love their collaborations, I think MacDonald’s most worthy partner was Alan Jones. Their version of “The Firely” shows more chemistry than the Eddy films. Jones was a better actor, better singer and definitely projected a more virile presence than Nelson Eddy. As much as I like the Eddy films, viewers have to admit that Eddy is wooden. MacDonald always projected a sexier, more flamboyant image from those earlier naughty musicals through San Francisco. Plus, her gypsy dance in “The Firefly” reveals a more wanton side. I eagerly await the release of “The Firefly” on the Warners Archives collection.

  • JIM RICK

    JUST SAW “SWEETHEARTS” AGAIN ON TCM AND YES IT IS BADLY IN NEED OF RESTORATION….DOES ANY ONE KNOW WHERE I CAN GET A COPY OF THIS FILM AFTER RESTORATION…APPARENTLY TCM NEEDS TO GET A CCOPY ALSO…..

  • Pingback: Smilin’ Through to be Released on DVD

  • Dgfinney

    Any chance of seeing “The Firefly” on DVD soon? And how about “The Boys from Syracuse”, another Alan Jones classic?

  • Pingback: Jeanette MacDonald: The Girl of the Golden Voice