Thursday, December 5, 2013

Music for Madame (1937)

Music for Madame is one of so many films where Hollywood was attempting to mix opera with comedy or drama. MGM made ten successful opera films with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddie of which I have seen two and I usually fast forward right through the musical numbers I like their acting more than their singing. With Music For Madame I did the same thing except with one of the numbers. I do not mind musicals at all I am just not too crazy about operas. I like bouncy, swing dance numbers with lots of things going on.
            An Italian opera singer named Nino is on a bus heading for Hollywood. Two guys in a car hear him singing and want him for a party. At a gas station they tell Nino they know producers and important people. The two men work for a gangster named Harding who has hands and influence in several places. He tells Nino he will be singing at a wedding reception for a famous producer.
            At the party a young woman named Jean Clemens (Joan Fontaine) crashes it. Jean is a young composer. She wants to meet the famous composer at the party. Harding has Nino dress up like a clown and tells Nino he is the surprise at the party. In reality Nino is a distraction for a crime Harding is planning on committing. Harding steals valuable pearls while Nino sings. After the robbery the entire house is in an uproar. Nino manages to get away before the police can question him. The composer at the party tells the police that if he were to hear the clown sing again he could identify him. The police find Jean who was not invited. The detective has her taken down to the police station. Harding threatens Nino not to squeal. He gets thrown out of the car and has to walk the two miles back to Hollywood. Once back in town Nino goes to the police.
            At the station Nino hears the police talking about how someone squealed on a gang and was killed. Nino walks out after he hears that conversation. Jean is let go. Nino and Jean walk out of the station together. She asks why he was there and he says he wanted to report his stolen car. Nino takes a look at Jean’s compositions and says they are not bad. He does not tell her he is a singer since the police would be looking for one after the robbery. He just tells her that he used to work for an opera in his country.
            Nino hears the District Attorney on the radio say that it is a shame that the tenor’s voice will not be heard the world over instead he used it for a crime.
            Jean gets Nino a job as an extra in a movie. The famous composer is at the studio working on the picture they will be in. When the set is cleared for lunch, Nino dreams of himself in the role of the prince and Jean as the princess. Nino wants to tell Jean who he is. He has her play one of her songs on the piano. He goes outside to sing. She is upset with Nino because she thinks he did not trust her to tell her he could sing.
            Nino decides to turn himself in for the $25,000. He has Jean’s roommate Nora say she got him so she can receive the reward money. The one detective went down to Tijuana for a tenor who is claiming he is the one that was at the party. The composer Rodowsky is out of town he cannot come to identify the singer. The police have Nino and the other tenor sing on the radio for Rodowsky. Harding hears the broadcast. He is worried that Nino will confess everything. Rodowsky does not want to identify Nino because his voice is so good.  
            Nino gets frustrated with the police because they will not arrest him so he hits one of the officers over the head. Rodowsky goes down to the police station to get Nino out of jail. He does not tell the police that Nino is the one from the party he just says he wants Nino for his show at the Hollywood Bowl. Harding sends Nino a letter not to sing. The detective sees the letter and wants to tell the DA but Nino will not let him. Harding sends his men after Nino. Nino convinces the DA to let him sing he knows the bad guys are after him. He tells the DA they can catch the bad guys as he is singing. During the concert Nino has Rodowsky play Jean’s song and he sings to it.
            The police get Harding. Harding becomes a coward and confesses to everything and clears Nino’s name.
            At the end of the concert Nino and Rodowsky have Jean come up on stage.
             This was one of Joan Fontaine’s early films she was twenty years old when she made it. I was dying at how ridiculously adorable she was. I liked her character she played Jean very well although it was odd seeing her play an aspiring composer for some reason (it was the same kind of oddness when I saw her sister Olivia de Havilland play a violinist in My Love Came Back). Nino Martini was really good. You can see he was definitely more comfortable singing than acting but his acting was decent. Martini was cute and him and Fontaine were cute together. Alan Hale plays the detective who goes looking in Tijuana. He was hysterical his character was absent minded and silly. I liked all his scenes.

            Music For Madame is one of the better opera style musicals. I guess that is because it was not made by MGM who did things too extravagantly most of the time and RKO probably could not afford the extravagance and kept things simple. The musical numbers were not long which was perfect for my short attention span. The songs were good even the ones that were not sung my Martini. Music For Madame is an underrated and much unseen musical and early film of Joan Fontaine. I suggest seeing it at least for Joan Fontaine but the rest of it was cute and enjoyable.