French title: Ma Femme est un Ange (My Wife is an Angel)
Portuguese title: Casei-me com um anjo (I Married an Angel)
From the Dwight Deere Wiman production of a Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Screenplay: Anita Loos. Some sequences directed by Roy Del Ruth. Assistant Director: Marvin Stuart. Director of Photography: Ray June with Leonard Smith and Harold Marzorati. Recording Director: Douglas Shearer. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Art Associates: John S. Detlie and Motley Associates. Set Decorations: Edwin B. Willis. Special Effects: Arnold Gillespie and Warren Newcombe. Dance Director: Ernst Matray. Costumes: Motley. Gowns: Kalloch. Hair Styles: Sydney Guilaroff. Makeup: Jack Dawn. Editor: Conrad A. Nervig.
I Married An Angel was based on Angyalt Vettem Feleségül (I Married an Angel), a 1932 Budapest hit by János Vaszary. After being adapted as a Rodgers and Hart musical for a proposed but never produced film at MGM, I Married An Angel debuted on Broadway on May 11, 1938 at the Shubert Theatre, starring Dennis King (The Vagabond King), Vivienne Segal (The Cat and the Fiddle), Audrey Christie, Walter Slezak, and the angel herself, ballerina Vera Zorina. It ran 338 performances.
Jeanette MacDonald (Anna Zador / Brigitta, the angel)
Nelson Eddy (Count Willie Palaffi)
Binnie Barnes (Peggy)
Edward Everett Horton (Peter)
Reginald Owen (Herman Rothbart, “Whiskers”)
Mona Maris (Marika Szabo)
Janice [later Janis] Carter (Sufi)
Inez Cooper (Iren)
Douglass Dumbrille (Baron Szigetti)
Leonid Kinsky (Zinski)
Marion Rosamond (Dolly)
Anne Jeffreys (Polly)
Marek Windheim (Marcel)
Georges Renavent (Pierre)
Max Willenz (Assistant manager)
Francine Bordeaux (First maid)
Mildred Shay (Second maid)
Odette Myrtil * (Modiste)
Tyler Brooke (Lucien)
Jacques Vanaire (Max)
Luis Alberni (Jean Frederique)
Micheline Cheirel (Annette)
Rafaela Ottiano (Madelon)
Margaret Moffat (Mother Zador)
Vaughan Glaser (Father Andreas)
Gino Corrado (Valet)
Sid D’Albrook, Mitchell Lewis (Porters)
Sig Arno (Waiter)
Jacqueline Dalya (Olga)
George Humbert (Taxi driver)
Ben Hall (Delivery boy)
Ferdinand Munier (Rich man)
George Davis (Pushcart vendor)
Jack Vlaskin (Milk wagon driver)
Veda Ann Borg, Carol Hughes (Willie’s morning ladies)
Ludwig Stössel (Janitor – also Customs Agent, cut from film)
Robert Greig (Major domo)
Maxine Leslie, Lillian Eggers (Willie’s evening ladies)
Maude Eburne (Juli)
Bodil Rosing (Customs Agent’s wife – cut from film)
Frederik Vogeding, Charles Judels (Customs officers)
Anthony Blair, Joel Friedkin, Maj, James McNamara, Earle S. Dewey, Bert Roach (Board members)
Suzanne Kaaren (Simone, a maid)
Lisl Valetti (Maid)
Leonard Carey, Guy Bellis (Servants)
Esther Dale (Mrs. Gherkin)
Grace Hayle (Mrs. Gabby)
Gertrude W. Hoffman (Lady Gimcrack)
Maude Allen, Eva Dennison, Winifred Harris (Women)
Florence Auer (Mrs. Roquefort)
Walter Soderling (Mr. Kipper)
Dick Elliott (Mr. Scallion)
Oliver B. Prickett [Blake] (Mr. Gherkin)
Almira Sessions (Mrs. Scallion)
Lon Poff (Mr. Dodder)
Charles Brabin (Mr. Fairmind)
Otto Hoffmann (Mr. Flit)
Beryl Wallace (Fifi)
Anita Bolster [Sharp-Bolster] (Mrs. Kipper)
Frank Reicher (Driver)
Rafael Storm (Berti)
Cecil Cunningham (Mrs. Fairmind)
Jack (Tiny) Lipson (Mr. Roquefort)
Harry Worth, James B. Carson (Waiters)
Alphonse Martell (Headwaiter)
Arthur Dulac, Harry Horwitz (French news vendors)
General Sam Savitsky (Doorman)
Evelyn Atchinson (Marie Antoinette)
Charles Bancroft (Chimney sweep)
Muriel Barr (Mermaid)
Edwina Coolidge (Queen Elizabeth)
Ruth Alder (Night #1)
Leda Nicova (Night #2)
Vivian DuBois (Night #3)
Betty Hayward (Night #4)
George Ford (Neptune)
Guy Gabriel, Dorothy Haas, Aileen Haley (Infantas)
Joe Harman (Marc Antony)
John Marlowe (Louis XIV)
Paul Power (Scottish highlander)
Robert Spencer (Peacock)
*Odette Myrtil played the “cat” in the original Broadway production of The Cat and the Fiddle.
I Married An Angel was presented on Screen Guild Theatre (radio), 6/1/42, with Jeanette and Nelson.
I Married An Angel was the last film Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy made together. In an interview done during shooting, Nelson was quoted as saying, “This is either going to be the best film we’ve ever made or the worst.”
For about twenty minutes, Angel does promise to be the most entrancing MacDonald-Eddy film ever made, with style and wit equal to that of the Dorothy Parker/Alan Campbell Sweethearts. Then the censors get out their shears, leaving an incoherent shambles, but one that still yields occasional moments of delight.
The score contains two hits that became standards, the title song and “Spring is Here.” Rodgers and Hart had originally written the musical as a follow-up to their 1932 Paramount film, Love Me Tonight, which starred MacDonald and Chevalier. Angel was proposed as Jeanette’s first film when she moved to MGM in 1933. However, the cyclical rise of Puritanism was just taking effect, and the story of an angel who loses her wings and her virginity simultaneously was considered too risqué.
Rodgers and Hart reclaimed their work and took it to Broadway, where, in 1938, it was a sensation. Jeanette’s Vagabond King costar, Dennis King, played Willie, and Vera Zorina was a dancing Angel.
Since contemporary critics were fond of proclaiming the superiority of the stage Angel over the film version, it is important to note that the brightness of the original was based more on style than substance. Once the concept of the angel who becomes charmingly and embarrassingly mortal after her wedding night is established, the story falls into more conventional musical comedy lines with a plot involving getting money for Willie’s bank from a wealthy widow.
The 1942 film made a number of changes. On Broadway, the Angel appeared after the hero denounced his wayward girlfriend and vowed to marry no one but an angel. His angel was a dancer (Zorina) who didn’t sing a note. MGM merged the two parts of Willie’s girlfriend, Anna Murphy, and his angel-wife, Brigitta, into a single singing rôle for Jeanette. The MGM Anna is demoted from girlfriend to secretary, while Willie’s sister, Peggy, a major stage rôle that starred Vivienne Segal, is transformed into his ex-girlfriend. (That, at least, is an innovation—usually Hollywood turned mistresses into sisters.) Willie’s valet, Peter, an important character in the stage version, becomes a glorified walk-on for Edward Everett Horton, probably due to censorship cuts. With Willie’s assertive sister gone, a new character is added to the film, that of an older man who berates Willie for his profligacy. Finally, to avoid religious and moral censure, the audience is continually reminded that the angel sequences are just a dream.
Ever since the success of Naughty Marietta, Jeanette had insisted that her character names begin with N or M, a good luck superstition. Therefore, it is intriguing that the script writers replaced the stage character’s name, Murphy, with Zador. Actually, it would have taken more than luck to save I Married An Angel, for almost no one involved seems to have cared terribly about it. Scriptwriter Anita Loos didn’t have time to be incensed at the revisions in her script. She was doing three films and a Broadway show simultaneously and mostly remembered long coast-to-coast flights. She recalled only that Jeanette and Nelson stopped speaking to each other for a time when not in front of the cameras. Rodgers and Hart were in Hollywood, but generally “unavailable.” (Hart died the following year.) Bob Wright and Chet Forrest were so incensed at having to do a wholesale rewrite of Hart’s classic lyrics that they quit MGM and went to New York, where they achieved fame with Song of Norway and Kismet. And obviously someone wasn’t listening to director W.S. Van Dyke. His efforts at screwball comedy were so thoroughly undermined that parts of the story are incomprehensible.
The film starts off as a tale of a mousy secretary unnoticed by her playboy boss, an old but serviceable plot device. However, footage of Jeanette in horn rim glasses and dowdy dress was scrapped, and now she first appears as a creature so ravishing that only a blind man could pass her by. Our wonder at the hero’s lack of perception is fleeting, for we are quickly whisked into the dream sequence. Since there are repeated shots of Eddy tossing in his sleep, any dramatic tension that the body of the picture might establish is lost. Whenever we are in danger of getting involved in the improbable events, a superimposed shot of Eddy on his couch reminds us that it is just a dream.
Behind the opening credits of the film, Jeanette is seen bicycling across the countryside, humming—not a Richard Rodgers tune but Fritz Kreisler’s “Caprice Viennois.” A title tells us we are in “Budapest in the gay days not so long ago,” a sad reminder that the Nazis had invaded Hungary. Anna Zador (Jeanette) arrives for work at the Palaffi Bank and formally greets the series of portraits of the founding fathers that line the oak-paneled hall: Great Great Grandpa Palaffi, Great Grandpa Palaffi, Grandpa Palaffi, Papa Palaffi. Finally, she pauses at the last painting. “Good morning, Count Palaffi,” she murmurs softly. She slips into the Count’s office to place her little bouquet of flowers in a vase on his desk. Marika Zabo (Mona Maris), the Count’s senior secretary, catches her. Marika belittles Anna’s “country posies,” but says it is all right to leave them. The Count never notices them anyway.
Eight AM. Anna is hard at work at her typewriter when Willie (Nelson) arrives in evening clothes, accompanied by two evening ladies (Veda Ann Borg and Carol Hughes). The final moments of the “Little Work-a-Day World” number, cut from the film, are visible just before he enters the bank. Willie effusively greets the staff, even Anna, and charges into his office to do his day’s work. Marika welcomes him with one of Anna’s flowers for his buttonhole. She has grown them just for him, she purrs.
Willie’s first task is to send a memo to the Chairman of the Board: “Dear Whiskers.” He respectfully informs the venerable old man that he has once again reached his desk on time in imitation of his ancestors. The depositors can relax.
His second duty is to order some jewelry for his two female companions, and, just to be sure his secretary Marika isn’t jealous, she is added to the list. Whiskers, otherwise known as Mr. Rothbart (Reginald Owen), finds her thanking Willie with a kiss.
Whiskers brings bad news. Their biggest depositor, the Baron Szigetti, is threatening to remove his account unless Willie stops neglecting business. If the Baron goes, there will be a run on the bank. But, Willie counters, why should he stop having fun with a great man like Whiskers in charge? His work completed, Willie retraces his steps through the outer office at precisely 8:05.
Whiskers asks Marika about several matters, including Willie’s birthday, and learns that she has planned an elaborate costume party. She will be taking the afternoon off to have her costume fitted, she tells him imperiously. Whiskers reasons that if the Count can invite one secretary, he should be thoughtful enough to invite the other one. “Anna?” Marika asks incredulously. Why, Willie doesn’t even know her! “It might be very good for him if he did,” Whiskers declares.
Marika delivers the invitation to Anna as if she herself had thought of it. Dear Anna must come dressed as something very good, someone very angelic. Marika will help her.
We dissolve in a roar of music to the wildest costume party since DeMille’s Madame Satan (1930). Each guest is more exquisitely costumed than the last, and the sets are lavishly complex, no doubt to make up for the film not being in Technicolor. Each lady greets Willie with a kiss that indicates he is not a casual acquaintance. Peter (Edward Everett Horton) stands at Willie’s elbow with a handkerchief to remove the lipstick from each encounter.
Miss Peggy (Binnie Barnes) is announced as “Mimi from Montmartre.” The elegant lady pauses at the top of the stairs, then races raucously into Willie’s arms. They are hugging and reminiscing as the liveried major domo (Robert Greig of Love Me Tonight and Rose Marie) announces, “Miss Anna Zador as an angel.” The doorway remains empty. Anna lingers in the hall, debating whether to go in. Does everyone have to kiss the Count? she asks Peter. “Yes. Now take off!” His shove sends her into view and the whole room bursts into laughter as one of her cardboard wings falls off.
Her costume is a bed sheet, and her halo hits Willie in the nose when she tries to kiss him. In one of Miss MacDonald’s funniest visual sequences, she must make three passes before she connects with his cheek. The guests are convulsed. To save the party, Peter leaps forward and announces the purpose of the occasion in a charming evocation of the sung dialogue of the early 1930s, pioneered by Rodgers and Hart, but composed here by Stothart with lyrics by Wright and Forrest. Peter tells the crowd that it is time for the Count to select a wife, and some unattached ladies are about to present themselves.
To the melody of “At the Roxy Music Hall,” the girls (Mona Maris, Janice Carter, Inez Cooper, Marion Rosamond, and Anne Jeffreys) parade in white “wedding gowns” of beads and feathers and sing of their qualifications in a delightful number dubbed “Tira Lira La.” The girls’ ideas of marriage are as exotic as their costumes, and Willie rejects their offers, also in song. They are all beautiful and charming, but the girl he marries would have to be—he spies Anna—“an angel!”
Anna is mortified and flees. Willie rushes after her to apologize as his friends roar with laughter. To evade the “brides,” Willie asks Anna to dance. So she works in his bank? he inquires politely. He doesn’t know the new employees very well. “I’ve been there six years,” she tells him. Their conversation exhausted, he fetches her some birthday cake and slips off upstairs.
Whiskers follows him and scolds him for his rudeness. Willie must settle down. No Palaffi has ever passed his thirty-fifth birthday without marrying. Willie must marry a good woman, virtuous and loyal. “Virtuous and loyal,” scoffs Willie as he stretches out on a couch. Well, Whiskers can just reach up to heaven and pull one down for him. There are angels, Whiskers replies, but they aren’t found in nightclubs. Willie doesn’t hear him. He is asleep.
Into his dream comes the voice of an angel. In an exquisite bit of film magic, the Angel, with dazzling wings, floats into his room as she sings to him. “Don’t be frightened,” she tells him. “I’m an angel.” He is skeptical. “That’s what they all say.”
It is at this point that an incredibly light hand is needed, but is sadly lacking. As the angel moves about the room, the flowers and statues bow to her. Speaking in an elaborate monotone, the angel Brigitta (also played by Jeanette) tells Willie that she has come to be his wife and give him children. (Their offspring were excised from an early script when church censors protested they were “sacrilegious.”)
Willie is intrigued, but tells her that marriage is an earthly as well as a spiritual institution. She replies that she will be a woman if he will teach her how. She loves him and knows all about him. “You do?” Willie chokes. Only the nice things, she assures him. In heaven they only hear the nice things like “little children’s laughter and their prayers.” Willie tries to embrace her, but an invisible wall is between them. She steps through it and kisses him. “So that’s what kisses are like?” she murmurs. “Only mine,” he tells her quickly.
The guests burst through the bedroom door, and Brigitta hides Willie by stepping in front of him. To Willie’s astonishment, his friends find a note on his desk saying that he has run away to marry Brigitta. “A fly-by-night!” wails Peter. They decide it is a joke and go back downstairs to search for him. Willie and Brigitta make their escape by running out the window into the night sky. A flurry of accordions indicates that their destination is the city of love, Paris.
Spotlights pick out individual singers in a black void as tinkers, tailors, and sailors herald Willie’s news: “I Married an Angel.” Then the lights come up on a crowded Paris street scene. Willie’s favorite hotel is in a fever of preparation as the angel’s shadow is seen approaching along the hall. Champagne is brought by a hissing waiter, one of many unexplained sequences. Night falls, and Brigitta prepares to return to her fleecy cloud. Willie, however, has other ideas. He asks for a good-night kiss. With the bed prominently in the background, she obliges. Fade out.
Fade in on the bed, where a wingless, smiling Brigitta is still sleeping. She awakes with consternation, but Willie assures her it is all for the best. Now he can put his arms all the way around her. He prepares to finish dressing, but Brigitta sits and pouts. She hasn’t anything to wear. That is an old, familiar phrase, Willie says, but they are in the right city to remedy it.
They go on a whirlwind shopping tour in which the best of Paris fashion is paraded before her. Brigitta gets off on the wrong foot by refusing to wear the feathers and furs of dead animals. “That’s a Schiaparelli!” cries a horrified vendeur (Luis Alberni). “Poor little Schiaparelli!” she moans, stroking the fur trim on the dress. The couturiers of Paris threaten to revolt, but Willie challenges them. His wife needs angelic clothes and they have failed. They rush off to try again.
Suitably costumed in an outfit with flowered peplum and muff, Brigitta joins Willie in one of the most lilting songs ever written, “Spring is Here.” At precisely the moment when the screen should open up and show us the lovers touring Paris or the nearby countryside in a hymn to spring and love, they are confined to a hotel terrace. Brigitta beckons to a bush that bursts into flower, and a songbird alights on her outstretched finger. Willie repeats her gestures, but no flowers and no bird.
Willie wants to take his wife to the races (stills exist of a race sequence), but she prefers a harp concert at the Académie de Musique. Under a fantastic cut-glass dome, she joins the harpists in song. Back on his dream couch, the sleeping Willie begins tossing fretfully.
Brigitta is such a success that she is invited to sing with the group during their two-week engagement. She agrees happily, much to Willie’s dismay. He faints and is caught by Peter, who has just arrived to fetch him back to Budapest. The bank is being investigated, and Willie must present his new bride as evidence of his stability. Quickly, Peter checks Brigitta’s teeth and tongue, feels her muscles, and whips out a stethoscope to listen to her heart. Yes, she will do. Willie reports by phone to Whiskers and his board of directors, all bearded, that he is bringing home an angel.
Peter is nervously setting out place cards for the party to introduce Willie’s bride to the society of Budapest. Seating is of the utmost importance, since nearly everybody hates nearly everybody else. Of course, the Baron Szigetti, the bank’s chief depositor, will sit next to Countess Palaffi. There is only one major problem: the Count’s five house guests. It seems that Marika has tried to make trouble by telling Brigitta of Willie’s affection for the ladies. Brigitta, of course, has invited them to move in. The five “house cats…er…house guests” must not be seated next to married men.
Peggy, who has politely refused Brigitta’s invitation to move in, has come to help her prepare and put on makeup for the big occasion. She is baffled that Brigitta doesn’t seem to need any. Feeling very protective toward this innocent surrounded by scheming felines, Peggy cautions Willie on the propriety of the arrangement. Willie thinks it is just fine. They wanted him to marry innocence, didn’t they? Well, he has.
Peter introduces Brigitta in a musical monologue, and then Brigitta makes a spectacular entrance, singing while sliding down the banister. She greets each guest with a perfectly true remark that insults them terribly. She tells one dowager that her gown doesn’t make her look fat as the lady’s husband claims. She is fat. She disputes the musical ability of the leading music critic, who is wearing opaque glasses. Willie lounges uneasily against a dress dummy that turns into the Baron Szigetti (Douglass Dumbrille). Brigitta greets an elderly gentleman and his youthful companion, begging the girl to bring her father more often. Willie grows frantic. He explains that in society one doesn’t tell the truth. So Brigitta greets the next pretty girl by telling her she is old and ugly. The party begins to pall.
A footman blows the racing call to colors on a trumpet, and the major domo, standing on a chair, announces dinner. Peter discovers a wooden leg under the table and begins checking each lady present for its owner. Brigitta decides that the guests are unhappy because they are not sitting next to the person they are fond of and begins rearranging them. Baron Szigetti thinks this is a delightful idea and urges her on. Brandishing a giant monkey wrench, Brigitta unites each elderly gentleman with his young mistress in an elaborate game of musical chairs, accompanied by “Turkey in the Straw.” A servant is seen vacuuming up the straw on the floor. The wives finally rebel and drag their errant spouses away. Peggy and Willie rush off to apologize to everyone while the Baron consoles Brigitta.
He thinks the whole thing is tremendously funny. Why didn’t he see her before Willie did, he wonders. “What difference does that make?” asks Brigitta innocently. He assumes she is flirting with him and kisses her just as Willie and the entire party return. Willie furiously takes a punch at the Baron in slow motion. The Baron storms off, threatening to close Willie’s bank. Willie rages at Brigitta with Peggy echoing his every word, making mechanical doll motions. This sequence makes no sense whatsoever and may be explained in some of the missing footage.
Willie is through. He is sick of the truth. He wants nothing but lies. He leaves Brigitta, and Peggy tries to help her. First she suggests that Brigitta go home to mother, but Brigitta tells her she can’t do that until Judgment Day. In the meantime, Brigitta will do anything to save Willie’s bank. If she really means that, Peggy replies, she may notget home on Judgment Day. Of course, if Brigitta is really willing to sacrifice herself for Willie, then she only needs “A Twinkle in Your Eye.” Brigitta joins Peggy in the song and a jitterbug. (“Burn the air, Jeanette,” director Van Dyke shouted to her as she writhed to the prerecorded number.)
Willie finds his lies and consolation in the company of his lady friends in the nightclubs of Budapest. One night, to his astonishment, Brigitta sweeps in, swathed in a fabulous zebra coat and black sequined gown. By coincidence, the people she insulted are also present, and she manages to apologize musically with untruthful appeals to their vanity.
She is soon joined by the Baron Szigetti, who obviously has been seeing quite a bit of her. Now Willie understands why his bank hasn’t been closed. Brigitta tells him she is the Baron’s “business advisor.” She is a “working girl” now, just like Marika. Willie can’t stand to see his Angel like this. She replies that she isn’t his angel anymore. He didn’t take up her option. She slinks off on the Baron’s arm to see the world, and Willie rushes after her.
He chases their car on a fantasy street reminiscent of the geometrics of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Back on the bedroom couch, the dreaming Willie is kicking violently. Brigitta is first discovered singing Carmen to the Baron in a smoky Spanish café. Willie pursues her, and she appears on an opera stage singing in the final trio from Faust with a spaniel puppy in her arms. The curtain falls, revolves, and we are on the beach at Waikiki with the surf rolling on a rear projection screen. Brigitta, in a black cellophane skirt, is doing a hula to “Aloha Oe” as the Baron leers approvingly. One of her fellow dancers rips off the skirt and whirls her into the Baron’s arms. He kisses her, and the film “revolves” to Brigitta and the Baron on water skis coming straight at Willie. This is done via rear projection with Willie swaying in front of it, his back to the camera. A giant wave hits Willie, and he wakes up.
He is back in his own bedroom at his own birthday party. Rushing downstairs to Anna Zador, he tells her he is in love. He wants to be like his ancestors, and he proposes to the astonished secretary. He mustn’t lose her again. “But you don’t know me,” she gasps. “Oh, yes, I do,” he answers. “You’re crazy about harp concerts.” They will go to the next one and hold hands. The lady happily joins him in a final chorus of “I Married an Angel.”
As the last “team” film, Angel is frequently cited as the cause of their demise as major film stars, just as Two Faced Woman is blamed for Garbo’s exit. On re-viewing, one finds Two Faced Woman is a delightful if minor George Cukor comedy, far from Garbo’s worst. Likewise, if I Married An Angel is a weak film, its flaws would have passed unnoticed if other factors hadn’t entered in.
The film is torn internally between conflicting points of view. It is neither a sophisticated sex romp nor a “kiddie” film, and lovers of either operetta or swing could not have found it their kind of picture. Van Dyke, with his hearty good humor, may have been the wrong director, but given a free hand he might have reshaped it into a new and consistent entity if he had not been ill. Obviously a lot of behind-the-scene changes went on, for Edward Everett Horton appears out of nowhere, and Binnie Barnes’s echo scene exists like a dinosaur footprint. The static “Spring Is Here” number may have been filmed inexpensively after the picture was finished to replace footage containing the deleted children. In any event, we can only regret that the film wasn’t made in 1934 with a young MacDonald and Eddy plus a Lubitsch or a Mamoulian at the helm!
I Married An Angel bombed, and the critics, glorying in their new power, were quick in getting out their most acid quips. The musical film was entering a new phase and Angel had tried—disastrously—to meet the change.
Memories of an enchanting evening at the Broadway show four years earlier loomed large in most New York City reviews. Variety said: “The click Broadway musical emerges on the screen as a slow moving, poorly acted, expensive production.” Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote, “A more painful and clumsy desecration of a lovely fiction has not been perpetrated in years.” Time magazine thought that it “vigorously rubs the bloom from the wings of the brisk, fresh, imaginative musical that ran on Broadway.”
Archer Winsten began his New York Post review: “Fortunately this reviewer did not see the stage production of I Married An Angel, so you will be spared odious comparisons…” His newspaper rated it fair on its movie dial.
The stars took the brunt of the attack from the ladies and gentlemen of the press, although Variety also blasted the producer and director. The New York Times’ comments are perhaps the most typical, if not as sarcastic as some: “Mr. Eddy and Miss MacDonald are just not geared to toss a gossamer fable like this one about in the air. Granted they can sing—and they do so in voices loud enough to wake the dead. Their heavy and unaesthetic mooning is just too much for the sensibilities to take.” MacDonald and Eddy, having reached the status of a national institution, were now considered fair game for the wittiest abuse the media could muster.
Eddy recorded the following:
“I Married an Angel”
“I’ll Tell the Man in the Street”
“Little Work-a-Day World” (cut from film)
“Spring is Here”
All music is by Richard Rodgers and all lyrics by Lorenz Hart unless otherwise indicated. (Bob Wright and Chet Forrest were dismayed at being asked to rewrite lyrics by the master, Lorenz Hart, and said later that this was the reason they left MGM after completing this film.) In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.
Overture: “I Married an Angel” (with female chorus); “Angel without Wings”; “Caprice
Viennois” by Fritz Kreisler (MacDonald humming and singing into opening of film)
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” fragment (orchestra)
Talk Song: “There comes a time…” (Edward Everett Horton) – music by Herbert Stothart, lyrics
by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest
“Tira Lira La” (Dubbing for some brides were Marjorie Briggs, Betty Noyes, and Dorothy
Compton; Burgren Sisters Children’s Quartet dubbing three black children) – based on “At the Roxy Music Hall” from the stage version, with new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“I Married an Angel” (Eddy and chorus)
“I’ll Tell the Man in the Street” (Eddy), INTO:
“I Married an Angel” reprise (Eddy, four speaking parts, MacDonald), with “Hey, Butcher”
bridge interpolation (Eddy) – music by Stothart, lyrics by Wright and Forrest *
“Spring is Here” (MacDonald and Eddy)
Talk Song: “To Count Palaffi…” (Horton) – music by Stothart, lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Hey, Butcher” reprise
“I Married an Angel” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy)
Harp concert: “Villanelle” (MacDonald vocalizing) – by Eva dell’Acqua
“May I Present the Girl” (Horton) – music by Stothart, lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Now You’ve Met the Angel” (Eddy) – music by Stothart, lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“May I Present the Girl” reprise (Eddy), INTO:
“Tira Lira La” reprise (five girls, chorus), sung contrapuntally with:
“I Married an Angel” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy)
“But What of Truth” (MacDonald) – two-line fragment, music by Stothart, lyrics by Wright and
“A Twinkle in Your Eye” (Binnie Barnes and MacDonald)
“A Twinkle in Your Eye” reprise (MacDonald with Grace Hayle, Charles Brabin) – additional
lyrics by Wright and Forrest
DREAM MONTAGE: (Eddy sings comments throughout the number)
“Chanson Bohème” from Carmen by Georges Bizet (MacDonald with Eddy) – additional
English lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“I Married an Angel” reprise fragment (MacDonald and Eddy)
“Anges Purs” (MacDonald, tenor, bass) final trio from Faust by Charles Gounod
“Aloha Oe” (MacDonald and male chorus) – music by Princess Liliuokalani
“I’ll Tell the Man in the Street” reprise (Eddy), INTO:
“I Married an Angel” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy)
Orchestral finale: “Spring is Here,” “I Married an Angel”
Singers who recorded small bits throughout the film were Elinore Davenport, Muriel Good- speed, Pamela Randall, Patti Brilhante, Virginia Rees, Sally Mueller, Georgia Stark, Robert Bradford, Gene Ramey, Earl Covert, Abe Dinovitch, J. Delos Jewkes, Tudor Williams, Betty Rome, Clarence Badger Jr, Austin Grout, Margot Morgan, and Marshall Sohl.
Original stage songs used in the film were the lovely “Angel without Wings” (used without words behind credits), “I Married an Angel,” “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street,” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” The melody of “At the Roxy Music Hall” became “Tira Lira La.” “Did You Ever Get Stung” was reworked as “Little Work-a-Day World,” but then was cut from the film.
* For his biography of Jeanette, Hollywood Diva, M.I.T. professor Edward Baron Turk asked lyricists Bob Wright and Chet Forrest about a hard-to-understand line sung by a woman brandishing a wrench during the first rendition of “I Married an Angel.” The woman asks Eddy: “Can she run a range?” MacDonald replies in song, “When I cook an omelet, I’ll cook it like an ange-el.”
Contributed by Ginny Sayre
The files of the Motion Picture Academy Library have more than a dozen scripts and treatments for a film version, starting in 1931.
An initial 7/11/32 treatment by Alexander G. Kenedi starts with Willie trying to propose to the wealthy and socially prominent Anna as he flies her about in his plane. He can’t bring himself to do so, perhaps because singing angels appear in the sky and follow the plane. Back on the ground, he must justify his failure to his godmother, the redoubtable Countess. We have flashbacks of Willy’s childhood showing why he distrusts women. Then Anna is revealed to be definitely unangelic, and the rest of the script unfolds more or less as in final version.
In a 1933 treatment by Moss Hart, Larry Hart, and Richard Rodgers, a young man swears he will only marry an angel. He then marries a young aviatrix who has parachuted into his garden. Her deviltry wins back his ancestral estate and convinces him that she’s an angel. Following the Rodgers and Hart custom of the time, much of the film was to be in charming sung dialogue.
Another 1933 treatment was by Vicki Baum (Grand Hotel). She has Willie eager to become a diplomat, but he’s told he must first give up chasing women and settle down. He then gets drunk and marries the Angel, with the rest of the plot following the final version.
Lenore Coffee, in an August 14, 1935 treatment, sets the story in the Swiss Alps. The hero is appearing in an operetta called I Dream of an Angel. His best friend’s wife, Anna, is in love with him. He, in turn, falls for a girl at the local orphanage. She wants to be a dancer. After some very bizarre plot twists, an angel arrives to save the hero’s new show, now called I Married an Angel, and to sort out the tangled marriages.
Vienna is the scene of Walter Wise’s 1935 screenplay. Willie is a Viennese playwright, engaged to Anna, but he dumps her in search of a pure woman. He meets up with Louise (the Angel of the story), an impoverished but honest young lady who has found and returned a large sum of money. He sees her as “an angel of the slums,” falls in love with her, and proposes a marriage in name only so he can care for her two young brothers. Louise accepts and they marry secretly.
Then Willie loses his money through bad business decisions. He alienates Louise, and at first she seeks revenge by insulting his party guests. Then she repents and works behind the scenes to make him successful again. His mother reveals the source of his success and all ends happily.
Starting in 1940, Anita Loos became the principal writer. Her 7/31/40 version, with changes dated 8/26/40, opens with taxi drivers speculating about the ennui of the world-weary Budapest playboy, Prince Palaffi, and also about the brilliant showers of golden shooting stars which always coincide with his appearance. On this night, one of the meteorites swoops right past Willie and falls with a sizzle into the Danube. Unperturbed, Willie tosses the carnation from his buttonhole after it and continues on his way, singing a melancholy song of spring: “Spring is Here.”
Back at his palace, all is dark. He stumbles about, taking off his clothes. Suddenly the lights go on. It’s a big surprise party, and he is in his B.V.D.s. He withdraws and Peggy, an old flame, follows. She urges him to consider marriage as a cure for his depression, perhaps with the virtuous Lola. He glances out the window and sees Lola misbehaving. All women are alike!
Peggy leaves and Brigitta flies in the window. Brigitta and Willy soon go off to be married, her wings only partially covered by a coat. On their honeymoon trip, Brigitta gets Willie in trouble with a customs agent, but they are soon having an idyllic time in a picturesque village, singing and dancing. (Willie must teach the Angel how to dance.)
When they return to Budapest, they find there is a run on Willie’s bank. Willie throws a party to head off trouble, but Brigitta’s truth-telling soon infuriates the guests. Heartbroken, Brigitta calls upon her angel sisters to take her back to heaven, but they can’t. She has become mortal. They sing the beautiful “Angel without Wings,” used only as background music in the release print.
Peggy then teaches Brigitta how to avoid lying by insinuation: “A Twinkle in Your Eye.” Brigitta persuades Baron Szigetti to save Willie’s bank, but Willie tears up the check and punches the Baron in the nose. Somehow Willy will pay off his creditors and live an angelic life with Brigitta. As the two walk home together, they cross a bridge over the Danube. A golden glow comes from the riverbed. It is one of the golden stars that Brigitta had tossed down to Willie before they met, worth at least ten million pengoes. Willie’s bank is saved!
A year later, 10/10/41 through 12/20/41, the Loos script had undergone some major changes. The film now opens with Anna praying at a country shrine outside Budapest. She happily departs for her bank job in the city, carrying a bouquet of fresh flowers. Her mother senses a secret and confides her concern to a visiting priest.
At the bank, Anna is arranging the flowers when she hears a noise outside the window. She smiles as Willie arrives amidst much commotion, having commandeered a milk wagon after a night of dissipation. He is causing a traffic jam, thus beginning the sung dialogue of the “Little Work-a-Day World” number, cut from the finished film:
MAN: (angrily) Come on, Mister! Move that crate!
I’m already minutes late!
Later, when Willie takes the Angel to Paris for clothes, she also refuses to wear snake-skin gloves and a pearl necklace stolen from poor little oysters.
The harp concert scene is much longer, with the Angel singing “Clair de Lune” using lyrics by Hart. She promises the conductor she will attend his next concert, but Willie lies, saying they must go to his aunt’s funeral. Instead, he sweeps her off to Venice. On the train, he reveals his lie. Brigitta is horrified at his deception, but eventually accepts his kisses and then happily tells the customs agent about the cigarettes Willie is trying to smuggle.
A major scene at the customs house follows, where their midnight arrival awakens the customs agent’s wife (Bodil Rosing), children, and dog. All are astonished that someone wants to pay duty. During the hubbub, the train leaves without the honeymooners, and they are forced to spend the night bunking with the children. Willie sits up reading a newspaper and learns that all Budapest thinks he has eloped with a chorus girl. He immediately phones Whiskers and learns there is a run on his bank.
When Willie eventually awakens from his dream, Whiskers says the Baron Szigetti has just called an emergency meeting of the bank’s Board of Directors after seeing the bill for the party still in progress downstairs. However, Willie seems confident that his marriage to the angelic Anna will mollify everyone and save the day.
The files are full of lengthy memos demanding censorship cuts from the Breen Office. These include deleting all references to oysters, naming a dog “Fifi,” and the line “I’ve lost my wings!”
During the chaotic production of I Married An Angel, censorship was a constant issue. Variety soon reported that many changes were being made in the script of the U.S. version and also that a separate version was being prepared for distribution in Great Britain which had quite different censorship requirements. (For example, nudity, sexual situations, and rough language were not entirely frowned on in the U.K.; however, children were not allowed to witness violence or death of any kind—thus, the usual Saturday matinee westerns, so popular here, were forbidden in Britain.)
In preparation for viewing the British-censored print at the British Film Institute, the author “logged” the American version scene by scene. One of my greatest hopes was that, somehow, the British version might still contain Nelson’s lavish “Work-a-Day World” production number, which originally opened the film. The scene was cut from the American release version, though the conclusion with its dozens of extras can still be seen just before Nelson runs into the bank with his two pretty friends.
Sadly, “Work-a-Day World” is not in the U.K. version. The British film goes along identically to the U.S. version, and I was beginning to think Variety’s report about censorship was just another example of the MGM publicity department’s constant efforts to keep the names of its films and stars in the press. (About a third of the “information” sent out in studio press releases to newspapers and fan magazines was speculation or pure fantasy, churned out by the stables of on-staff, $25-a week writers whose mandate was to supply the studio with free publicity via newspaper space and to stimulate the insatiable American public with endless “news.”)
I had just about decided that the report of a different U.K. version was erroneous. Then suddenly I shouted, “Whoa!” and backed up the film. In the U.S. version, Jeanette’s rival, Mona Maris, deceitfully offers to help her create a costume for Nelson’s birthday party, an elaborate costume ball. Jeanette arrives wearing a simple but fetching bed-sheet gown and foil-covered cardboard wings. A tinsel-wire halo bobs about over her head. The major domo announces her entrance to the assembled crowd: “Miss Anna Zador as an angel.”
Yet, in the U.K. version—obviously shot simultaneously because MGM couldn’t or wouldn’t have gone back to recreate and reshoot the crowds of elaborately costumed extras on lavish sets—Jeanette comes down the stair wearing only the sheet. The humorous bits of her halo bobbing about and hitting Nelson in the face throughout the scene are thus missing. Yet, vestiges remain of the winged version. We still see “Cleopatra” in the crowd laughing uproariously as she mimes the bobbing halo encircling Jeanette’s head. In the U.S. version, one of the angel’s cardboard wings falls off on the stair, and an extra cries, “The angel’s molting.” The line is cut, of course, but when Edward Everett Horton begins his song, he is still holding the lost wing!
In the U.S. version, Jeanette is unaware that her bobbling halo bumps Nelson in the face several times while they are waltzing. With no halo, it is just a dance, and his sudden breaking off of the dance is less motivated and more brusque. And when the Angel blocks Nelson from the view of his friends, her attempt to hide the six-foot Nelson without the aid of wings seems rather odd.
The changes for the U.K. market go beyond shooting some scenes twice, with and without wings and halo. When Nelson falls asleep and dreams an angel flies in the window, and later when they run out the window together, separate special effects had to be created showing an angel without wings. Then, when Willie and Brigitta arrive in Paris, another special U.S. effect of the angel’s winged shadow coming down a hotel hallway changes in the U.K. version to a shadow of a lady in a long dress—no wings—yet everyone is still astonished.
The wedding night is entirely reshot with a wingless Jeanette. When she awakes the next morning, wingless, and stretches happily in bed, the identical U.S. footage is used. However, it is cut as her fingers give the little twitch when she realizes her wings are gone. We hear her anguished cry of “Willie!” as we watch Nelson in dressing gown in next room. Subsequent dialogue—about what happened to her wings and how he can now put his arms all the way around his wife and she can’t fly away—is all cut. He embraces her as in the U.S. version, and the remainder of the U.K. film is identical. Amusingly, this includes a long shot of the angel removing her halo as Willie, awakened from his dream, returns to the ballroom at the end of the film!
Great Britain at that time had no standard censorship codes as Hollywood did. Decisions were made on a totally subjective and apparently capricious basis by whoever was doing the censoring. This led to rebellion in many parts of the U.K. Local jurisdictions set up their own censorship authorities and ignored the dictates of London.
The most common censorship targets of the London office were anything that might inspire rebellion against the established political order. It was, after all, a time of great social and political unrest. Communism and Fascism were fighting for supremacy in much of Europe. Britain was also sensitive about presenting anything that might offend either Catholics or the various Protestant sects. (Several now-classic films that looked at religious issues were banned from being shown in the U.K.) BFI library files cite many examples of British censorship during this time, but the only officially stated religious restriction I could find was against mentioning birth control. Nothing about feathers—or birth control with feathers. Deleting wings and halos was an astounding and utterly incomprehensible example of censorship gone mad, probably on the say-so of one overly nervous bureaucrat. (Considering the slang meaning of “Willie” in U.K. culture, it is amazing this overly sensitive censor didn’t also require Nelson’s character to change his name!)
Three contemporary newspaper reviews of the film were equally amusing. Today’s Cinema, 8/14/42, and Motion Picture Herald, 5/23/42, both state that the Angel loses her wings on her wedding night, indicating the reviewers saw the Hollywood version. However, the third reviewer, reporting in , Kinematograph Weekly, 8/20/42, obviously saw the British-censored version. He reports that the Angel sacrifices her innocence to aid her husband’s failing bank and thus is corrupted by modern business practices!
Sadly, we may never know the full story of this eccentric exercise in censorship. The London censors’ office was bombed the year following Angel’s release, and all related correspondence is presumed lost.
A final ironic note: the music played behind the film credits is a haunting song from the stage version that is never sung in the film—”Angel without Wings.”
What would the team do next? A Louella Parsons column, 5/22/42, says that Nelson would next play dual roles in an untitled film about a man pretending to be a famous baritone. The plot would have young Kathryn Grayson as a small-town girl who competes with other town ladies to play hostess to a visiting singer, actually the imposter. Robert Z. Leonard and O. O. Dull would co-produce and Eddie Buzzell was to direct. Perhaps proposals for such trite programmers as this speeded Nelson in his decision to buy out his contract and leave MGM.
Nelson enters the Palaffi Bank (one “l”) at the opening of the film, but the birthday party invitation reads Pallaffi (two “l’s”). (John Cocchi)
When viewing a 35mm print, it is possible to see the tiny thread that guides the bird to Jeanette’s finger in the “Spring is Here” number. (Author)