Monday, April 12, 2010

The Great Lover

                                          with Adolphe Menjou

Release date July 18.  1931

"What I wanted was a chance to work with you. To study three or four hours a day! I'd give my soul for that..."

Larger than life Hollywood meets larger than life opera - supported by an elegant MGM production.

On the cruise to New York where he is going to sing the title role in Mozart's "Don Giovanni", Jean Paurel (Adolphe Menjou) meets Diana Page (Irene) an at least in looks promising young opera singer. Not only being a great baritone but also a great womanizer - like his stage character - he invites her to an audition at the opera house and a little luncheon.
That he already heard her singing voice through an adjoining stateroom door is something we know but not Jean Paurel.  Diana joins his vocalizing of the beginning of the famous duet "La ci darem la mano"  - neat way to invent Irene's character.

                            Irene singing to/for a door....

At the opera we make the acquaintance of the other surrounding personnel. The background for the on and off stage great lover Jean Paurel:
La Savarova (Olga Baclonova) the embodiment of a prima donna, former lover and protégé of Paurel, and Carlo (Neil Hamilton) Paurel's understudy and fellow student and love interest of Diana. At least he was until they stopped talking to each other two years ago because he wanted her to give up any kind of opera career.

Naturally Paurel has something else in mind for Diana than really being helpful with her career, but he is soon
touched by the sincerity of her zeal, her talent, youth and underlying innocence. At last it seems he found true love, marriage plans are made and Diana is being prepared for her debut as Donna Elvira - a part initially planned for Savarova. And soon Diana is twisted between her gratitude for Paurel, the ambitions for her career and her love for Carlo...and don't forget jealous Savarova!

Green-eyed Savarova (Olga Baclanova)                    

As so often in those old Hollywood films I have to sing (!) the anthem of the supporting cast. The scenes in the office of the director where all singers at once try to state their wishes are wonderfully cast and played.Picking up all those cliché opera characters - the sensitive tenor, the literally larger than life walkyrie, the temperamental Italians - this is sheer fun to watch. All of this is summed up in a dialogue between the tenor and the trying-to-make-it-right-for-everyone press agent:
"Is this an animal act or an opera rehearsal?"
"Ha - you got me there!"
Got me too, folks!

                                          Office hours....
Rehearsal or animal act?

This is the first time that we hear Irene sing on screen - a least till the dusty reels of "Leathernecking" surface somewhere - and fitting to her part she sings classical music, which is enjoyable to listen to, but clearly shows why her voice ultimately wasn't an opera voice. We are told that she debuts as Donna Elvira, but we hear once again the duet between Don Giovanni and Zerlina, the only imaginable role for real life Irene in Mozart's Don Giovanni. But anyway it's our first chance to meet Irene the singer - an important Dunne moment!

Irene the actress - this time well dressed and looking attractive - has to face some minor script flaws especially concerning her love affair with young Carlo. That they fell for each other to start with is believable enough but after two years without contact Carlo's proposal after a reunion of about one and a half minute: "What about a little matrimony?" didn't really convince me. Diana's interactions with Carlo are consequently kept on the droll side and a little more sincerity would have made their relationship and Diana's being torn between the two men a lot more convincing. But after all we are on the large, comedy side of life!

Breathing lessons with Carlo (Neil Hamilton)-but that guy just won't stop talking!

The most intense scenes are between Irene and Adolphe Menjou who does a great job switching between his oversized baritone ego and generating some thruthful tender feelings for young Diana. Especially when she throws herself  - almost! - at his feet and in his bed, desperately wanting to work with him and searching for artistic enlightening...yes, still a pre-code!

     Irene going pre-code....

To sum it up: me having quite a weakness for Miss Dunne and the opera was rather helpful for my reception of that film, just couldn't help it...but I still wonder about the guy Diana kisses so heartily at the harbor,he never turns up again!

                                 Who is that man??                                                                        


  1. I haven't watched it either but I can't wait =)

  2. I just watched it for the first time and I really liked it but yes, you're absolutely right about the unknown man! I hadn't thought about it until I read your post!!!