Monday, August 23, 2010


                             Irene as Hilda Bouverie                           

Release date 05.25.1934

"Even a bandit must respect English womanhood! Why, the very foundation of empire is virginity!"
"Chastity, Madame, chastity! No empire would get very far with virginity!"

Good news for Mrs. Clarkson (Mary Boland): the famous composer Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle) from London is going to arrive soon at her Australian home. Convinced that she is an opera singer disguised as the wife of a rich sheep farmer, the only thing she got to do now is to prevent that her maid Hilda Bouverie (Irene) gets the chance to audition too, because Hilda is the real opera singer in disguise. Slightly disturbing all those plans is the highway gentleman bandit Stingaree (Richard Dix) who kidnaps Sir Julian planning to pose for him and so getting entrance to the wealthy Clarkson's house. When Stingaree shows up there, the only person around is Hilda practicing her singing. Stingaree instantly falls for the girl's beautiful voice, promises her to help her with a musical career and fittingly has a song at hand. The bandit posing as composer is indeed a composer!

Tonight is mine...

Soon after the return of the Clarksons Stingaree's real identity is revealed and he has to leave in a hurry but not without grabbing Hilda. On horseback they disappear into the bushes - literally.

  Hi-Ho...there we go!

Dammit! Sir Julian managed to escape Stingaree's valet Howie (Andy Devine) thus raining on Stingaree's parade who had a nice, very private audition for Hilda in mind.
Well, Stingaree will find another chance for her to sing for Sir Julian but not before he has shown Hilda that her voice is not his only interest in her…

 learning to love you, learning all about you!
The great day is here: Mrs. Clarkson performs for Sir Julian but soon he and the other guests are rescued by Stingaree forcing them at gunpoint to listen to Hilda instead. At gunpoint or not, Hilda sings beautifully “Tonight Is Mine” and Sir Julian impressed by her voice promises to take her to London to train her. Exit Stingaree, but this time his luck is against him and he is shot and imprisoned. Hilda is reluctant to leave but Stingaree insists on her putting her career first and “taking everything in her stride".

 Success, flowers and Hilda...

In the following years Hilda achieves indeed everything an opera singer can dream about - the public at La Scala and Covent Garden at her feet, fame, wealth and last not least the heart of her mentor Sir Julian. Nevertheless, Hilda can't forget Stingaree and she turns back for a gala performance in Melbourne. Will Stingaree show up there - conveniently he just escaped -  and will it be into the bush again  for Hilda??

real luck is on a horse's back

This film is an oddity, though a very entertaining one. While re-watching it I laughed a lot wondering if this isn't Irene's first comedy - in disguise of course. If I ought to take this plot seriously I just don't know what there is left to laugh about!
Mary Boland gives an over the top performance as wannabe opera singer and her audition for Sir Julian is hilarious, furnishing proof why singers have to practice in front of a mirror from time to time. Something Miss Dunne obviously did.

Don't forget the mirror!

In an interview in the 70s Irene remembered “Stingaree” mainly because of the opera singing she did in it and because she liked the torch song “Tonight Is Mine”- exactly the things I would remember about this film maybe with the addition that I always have a special liking for Irene's looks in period costumes. That lady certainly had a well-educated and trained voice and gets the chance to sing two arias. One is a part of the “jewel song” from Gounod's opera “Faust”, which Irene surprisingly sings a halftone flat than the original score. I really don’t know why - Irene's high notes don't sound like the limit of her voice to me here, but maybe she simply felt more comfortable singing it a little bit lower. Anyway, in the final analysis, we are in Hollywood and not on the stage of the Met or La Scala. 

Sir Julian, Annie and Hilda (Irene dressed in my favorite costume from this film)

The other one is an excerpt from Flotow's opera “Martha” and an original Irish song at the same time. Maybe Irene - mentioning her Irish origins frequently and obviously liking them - picked this one, but that's something we don't know. If I ramble on about Irene as singer and not so much about her as an actress, that's due to the fact that the outstanding part of this film for me is simply her excursion into opera. Beautiful enough - but Miss Dunne was where she belonged: in Hollywood. But of course I'm once again grateful that I decided on reviewing the films of an actress who offers me such diverse movies as “This Man Is Mine” and “Stingaree” in a row.
About Mr. Dix performance I want to quote the New York Post: “It is a preposterous tale, with Mr. Dix doing his best to prevent it from being even faintly credible.” (May 18. 1934) Couldn't have said it better - once again Miss Dunne is abandoned by her leading man. In the end,  Mr. Dix isn't much around anyway, only showing up in the beginning and the end of the film and in between pining away in some prison, unobserved by us though. To understand how the statuses of the two leads changed from their first enterprise together “Cimarron” (1931) to “Stingaree” one just has to look at the billing and how they are treated by the camera in their scenes together. Irene got first billing and a lot more attention from the photographer.

 Irene and the back of Mr. Dix's head

Don't ask me how director William Wellman - certainly worthwhile to know because of such films as “Public Enemy”, “Night Nurse” or “So Big” for instance - got involved in this project. But here he is, offering solid direction but having to handle an utterly unbelievable script. The funny moments are not unintentional -  just look what perspective Wellman selected for Mrs. Clarkson's audition for Sir Julian and you know that he wanted us to laugh. Similar are the performances of the supporting actors from the slightly drunk Inspector (George Barraud) till Hilda's maid Annie (Una O´Connor) prattling in a Cockney accent and Andy Devine in one of his typical sidekick roles.

once again  - tonight is mine....

“Stingaree” grew on me while re-watching it for this review, simply because I had so much fun - and I always
love when Irene sings. Additionally, I like the score from the “hi-ho we are riding bandit theme” to Mrs. Clarkson's ballad “The Fisherman” - with mermaids of course!

Here is the music!  


  1. I watched Stingaree not long ago and I liked it, mainly for the things you mention here...I loved the songs and Irene looked beautiful...the story is not the best one but it has "something"'s definitely entertaining =)I love your reviews as always =)

  2. It's such an amazing review again, Susanne. You always put into words how I feel about the films. I was thrilled with your little remark about my beloved "The last rose of summer". I can hardly breath when Irene sings it. Yes, I want to believe that Irene picked the song by herself due to her Irish heritage. And how interesting what you said about the "jewel song" though I could never tell the difference. Thank you for everything. I enjoyed your review as always.

  3. Thank you, Renata and Janine! Another scene I liked is the one of Irene imitating Mary Boland´s singing.That´s too funny and Irene gives a pretty good imitation of Boland´s voice!
    I assume that Irene picked this opera excerpts. At least they had to discuss this with Irene because as a singer you just can´t sing everything properly. The scenes which illustrate her opera career in "Stingaree" are implying other roles. She is announced as singing "Lucia Di Lammermoor" which would be a classical role for a coloratura soprano and then we hear a little something in the background score from Wagner´s Lohengrin which would be "Elsa" - another voice type than Lucia. Normally singers can´t sing both roles: you are either a Lucia or a Elsa. By all means, "The Last Rose Of Summer" was a beautiful and clever choice and perfectly fitting for Irene´s voice. Susanne