A few weeks ago Jeanette MacDonald was featured as one of the stars in TCM’s Summer Under the Stars program. Could not have been better timing for me since I just started to like her. I was looking around for what other films MacDonald had made besides her films with Nelson Eddy and The Firefly came up. I tried looking for it online but no such luck. My luck changed when TCM aired the film as part of her day of films. I did not have any expectations for the film so nothing was too high or low for it. MacDonald was very good but the film was about an hour way too long.
MacDonald plays a Spanish singer and spy named Nina Maria during the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century. She is hired by the government to seduce young French soldiers into telling her what Napoleon’s plans are. One night at the bar where she sings a young French soldier named Dubois that she went out with previously is dying to see her. He can sense that Nina has been seeing someone else since then and demands to know who his successor is so he can kill them. Her date that night is with the marquis the person who gives her her orders. The marquis cannot be killed so Nina comes up with the idea that she will make Dubois think the man is someone in the audience.
As she performs she finds a guy and kisses him. The man sings to her after the kiss and meets her in her dressing room. Nina is now afraid this handsome man with a beautiful voice is going to be killed because of her. She tries to sneak him out but he is caught by some French soldiers who say to arrive at a time and place with his weapon of choice for a duel.
The marquis give Nina orders to report to Paris to gain more information by getting closer to the soldiers who are in Napoleon’s confidences. She goes under the guise that she is performing in the city. While traveling out in the desert the driver of the carriage spots a man on a hill. The diver says the man is probably with a group of bandits and drives faster. Eventually the man catches up and Nina realizes he is the man from the bar the night before. His name is Don Diego (Allan Jones) and he wants to go with her and protect the coach. When they stop at an inn in a town they fall in love.
In Paris Nina meets Colonel de Rouchemont (Warren William) whom she is supposed to get the secrets from. The night they meet Diego keeps sending her flowers and a note telling her to meet him somewhere later on. When de Rouchemont is walking out of his room he bumps into Diego with a large vase of flowers in his hands.
Nina goes to the market the following day to meet a contact. The man sells her two birds that are carrier birds. Whatever information she finds she is to write it down and send the pigeons. Nina notices that Diego has followed her. Now she just sees him as a love sick little boy who will not stop following her. They walk around town together where they stop by a small river and kiss.
De Rouchemont receives orders that he is to go to Spain for a few weeks. He writes a letter to Nina that he cannot meet her that night but she ignores it and goes anyway. Nina has gone to his house at the right time, he receives orders to have King Ferdinand killed in forest at a rendezvous. She leaves the house to get the message out as fast as she can but she notices the pigeons have been changed. Nina comes to the realization that Diego is a counter spy. She goes to his place saying she has a message she needs him to take back to Spain. She writes the letter as a trap she knows Diego’s French superiors are in the next room. Nina wrote nothing of importance it was a letter just to Diego. The superiors have nothing on her to arrest her but they tell Nina to get out of the country.
Eventually the French invade Spain and Napoleon puts his brother Joseph on the throne. No one is happy the country is miserable and the natives begin to fight back. Nina is next seen dancing with a group of gypsies. She sees de Rouchemont who has been promoted to general. Nina catches his eye so he will take her with him. She gives de Rouchemont the story that the government thought her a French sympathizer and let her go. While with him she takes a note out of her jacket. De Rouchmont demands to see the letter which she says she has no idea what is in it she is always holding letters for soldiers. The piece of paper has the movement plans for the French army with some kind of code on it. He immediately orders Nina to be arrested for treason and has the plans for battle remade.
Nina’s seeing de Rouchemont again and being caught was all part of a plan. She still works for the government and was given the stolen plans. The French are defeated in their battle.
Like all MGM musical films the ending is very happy with Diego and Nina ending up together traveling down an old dusty road.
Jeanette MacDonald I like as an actress. As a singer she is very good but I was so not in the mood to hear her operatic voice so I skipped over the musical numbers. MacDonald looked stunning in a white dress at the beginning of the film but she looked even more stunning in the gypsy camp scene. I do not think I will ever see her as pretty as that scene in any of her other films. MacDonald looked amazing in the costume especially when she has the bandana on her head. She looked like she could be a gypsy with her long face and wide eyes. If this film had been in color MacDonald in the gypsy costume would not have worked with her flaming red hair and bright blue eyes.
Allan Jones I have never even heard of before this film. I liked him a lot he was a good actor a wonderful singer and a very handsome man. I am going to try to track down some of his other films I am intrigue by him now.
The Firefly is a very drawn out tiresome film. It is an hour way too long. There seemed to me more footage of fighting between the Spaniards and the French than there was of actual acting by the cast. The musical scenes bored me to death and I can only take so much of Jeanette MacDonald singing so I skipped through those parts. The Firefly is available on DVD but I suggest just waiting to see it if TCM ever airs the film again.