CREDITS
BACKGROUND
PLOT
COMMENTARY
REVIEWS
RECORDINGS
MUSIC IN THE FILM
SCRIPT HISTORY
TRIVIA


MGM.
Released December 30, 1938.
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke II.
Retake Director: Robert Z. Leonard.
Produced by Hunt Stromberg.
114 minutes (originally 120 minutes).
Three-strip Technicolor.

Spanish title: Enamoradas (Lovers)
French title: Amants (Lovers)
Portuguese title: Cancão de Amor (Song of Love)

Based on the 1913 operetta Sweethearts, music by Victor Herbert, book and lyrics by Fred deGresac, Harry B. Smith, and Robert B. Smith. Screenplay: Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell. Cameramen: Oliver Marsh and Allen Davey. Music adaptation: Herbert Stothart. Costumes: Adrian. Special Lyrics: Bob Wright and Chet Forrest. Dances: Albertina Rasch. Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons. Editor: Robert J. Kern. Assistant Directors: Hugh Boswell, Charles O’Malley, Ted Stevens. Contributing Writers: S.J. and Laura Perelman. Montages: Slavko Vorkapich, John Hoffman. Art Associate: Joseph Wright. Technicolor Director: Natalie Kalmus. Set Decorations: Edwin B. Willis. Musical Presentations: Merrill Pye. Orchestrations: Paul Marquardt. Sound: Douglas Shearer.

The original stage production of Sweethearts opened on September 8, 1913 at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City, where it ran for 136 performances. It starred Christie MacDonald and Edwin Wilson. (It is obvious from the short New York runs of many world-famous hits that a show could recoup its investment quickly in the big city and then “hit the road,” occasionally for decades.)

Jeanette MacDonald (Gwen Marlowe)
Nelson Eddy (Ernest Lane)
Frank Morgan (Felix Lehman)
Ray Bolger (Hans, the dancer)
Florence Rice (Kay Jordan)
Mischa Auer (Leo Kronk, Sweethearts’ playwright)
Fay Holden (Hannah, the dresser)
Terry Kilburn (Junior Marlowe, Gwen’s brother)
Betty Jaynes (Una Wilson, Gwen’s understudy)
Douglas McPhail (Harvey Horton, Ernest’s understudy)
Reginald Gardiner (Norman Trumpett, Hollywood agent)
Herman Bing (Oscar Engel, Sweethearts’ composer)
Allyn Joslyn (Dink Rogers)
Raymond Walburn (Orlando Lane)
Lucile Watson (Mrs. Marlowe)
George Barbier (Benjamin Silver)
Kathleen Lockhart (Aunt Amelia Lane)
Gene Lockhart (Uncle Augustus Marlowe)
Berton Churchill (Sheridan Lane)
Olin Howland (Appleby, the box office man)
Gerald Hamer (Harry)
Marvin Jones (Boy in lobby)
Dorothy Gray (His girlfriend)
Emory Parnell (Fire inspector)
Maude Turner Gordon (Dowager)
Jac George (Violinist)
Roger Converse (Usher)
Reid Kilpatrick (Radio announcer)
Wilson Benge (Second valet to Ernest)
George Ernest (First callboy)
Billy McCullough (Second callboy)
Lee Phelps (Doorman at St. Regis)
Pat Gleason, Ralph Malone, David Kerman, Jack Gardner (Reporters)
Ralph W. and Rollin B. Berry, Chester and B. Berolund (Lawyer twins)
Mira McKinney, Grace Hayle (Telephone operators)
Hal K. Dawson (Morty, the stage manager)
Forrester Harvey (Tailor’s assistant)
Gayne Whitman (Commentator)
Margaret Irving (Vendeuse)
Irving Bacon (Assistant director)
Barbara Pepper, Marjorie “Babe” Kane (Telephone operators)
Jimmy Conlin (Property man)
Dick Rich (First stagehand)
Ralph Sanford (Second stagehand)
James Flavin (Theatre doorman)
Richard Tucker, Edwin Stanley, Edward Earle, Brent Sargent (Men in lobby)
Betty Ross Clarke, Dorothy Christy, Suzanne Kaaren [Mrs. Sidney Blackmer], Lulu May Bohrman (Women in lobby)
Hal Cooke, Jenifer Gray (Mr. Silver’s secretaries)
Fred Santley (Music vendor in lobby)
Don Barclay (Taxi driver from Bridgeport)
Arthur “Pop” Byron (Policeman)
James Farley (Carriage starter)
Bruce Mitchell (Stagehand)
George Cooper, Frank Mills (Electricians)
Mary Howard, Joan Barclay, Sharon Lewis, Vivian Reid, Lucille Brown, Valerie Day, Ethelreda Leopold (Chorus girls)
Lester Dorr (Dance director)
Anne Wigton (Saleswoman)
Dalies Frantz (Pianist playing “Badinage”)
Paul Marquardt (Conductor of Marine band)
Paul Kerby (Orchestra conductor)
Joe A. Devlin (Taxi driver)
Ralph Brooks, Brooks Benedict (Extras in radio audience)
Toby Wing (Telephone operator)
Cyril Ring (Waiter)
Philip Loeb (Samuel Silver)
Charles Sullivan (Tommy, a fighter)
Dick French, William Worthington (Men in theatre)
Estelle Etterre, Bess Flowers (Women in theatre)

Oscar nomination for Best Sound Recording – Douglas Shearer
Oscar nomination for Best Score – Herbert Stothart
Special Oscar citation to Oliver Marsh and Allen Davey for Color Cinematography, a brand new field
Photoplay Gold Medal Award as best picture of the year

Sweethearts was presented on Screen Guild Theatre (radio), 3/25/46 and 12/15/47, with Jeanette and Nelson.


Background

Sweethearts is a happy, delicious bonbon of a musical, rich and utterly satisfying. If one’s diet has consisted entirely of “meaningful” films, then one may experience some pangs of guilt at so heartily enjoying its socially insignificant delights. MGM’s first feature-length three-strip Technicolor picture is a visual joy. Costumer Adrian threw aside all the “rules” for dressing redheads that made them the pariahs of the fashion world and costumed Jeanette in yellow, shell pink, and fire-engine red.

The story of a pair of Broadway stars—the Lunt and Fontanne of musical comedy—is bright, fast-moving, and liberally decorated with Dorothy Parker-Alan Campbell quips, under­scored by frequent sardonic bits of background music. More than a dozen of MGM’s best character actors strut their stuff, and the production numbers are glorious.

The original 1913 stage Sweethearts provided an improbable story of a foundling, raised by the proprietor of the Laundry of the White Geese, who discovers before the final curtain that she is really the Crown Princess of Zilania and therefore eligible to marry the prince whom she had earlier rejected because of her lowly station. Even true MacDonald-Eddy enthusiasts would have found this a little difficult to accept in 1938. Victor Herbert, however, had created one of his loveliest scores. The problem was solved brilliantly by the Parker-Campbell script, which permitted num­bers from Sweethearts to be performed without ever bothering about the plot of the show-within-a-show.


Plot

The film opens with the camera tracking over the Broadway rooftops where flashing marquees spell out the current successes: Lunt and Fontanne in Idiot’s Delight—third smash year; Helen Hayes as Victoria Regina—fourth year; five years for Tobacco Road; and finally Sweethearts starting its sixth year tonight! The comments of the enthusiastic ticket buyers in the lobby indicate that it has become an institution.

In the box office, happily surveying the evening’s receipts, are producer Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan) and his press agent, Dink (Allyn Joslyn). There hasn’t been an empty seat since opening night, comments Appleby, the cashier (Olin Howland). And it looks like it will run another six years, he says—if Felix can hang on to his stars, Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane.

Don’t worry, Felix assures him. His kiddies would never leave him. He knows just how to handle them. Why, he doesn’t even have a contract with them.

His confidence turns to horror when he spots Hollywood agent Norman Trumpett (Reginald Gardiner) slipping through the lobby. It is Trumpett’s annual attempt to sign Marlowe and Lane to a movie contract, and he’s not at all discouraged by Dink’s efforts to get rid of him. He strides into the theatre, all British accent and oily confidence.

Hot on his heels is another tall, dapper gentleman, Leo Kronk (Mischa Auer). In his fur-collared coat and monocle, the Sweethearts playwright sweeps grandly into the lobby, only to be stopped by a pudgy doorman from Brooklyn (James Flavin). Leo’s cries of outrage are overheard by Dink, who assures the doorman that this weird scarecrow is indeed the author of the show inside. Dink explains to Leo that this doorman is new, only there a year.

The composer of Sweethearts, Oscar Engel (Herman Bing), has beaten his collaborator to the theatre by an hour and is conducting the orchestra on this festive night. Oscar is as short, round, and ringleted as Leo is tall, slender, and sleek. The two old friends catch sight of each other and exchange grimaces as if they had bitten into an unripe kumquat. The houselights dim, Oscar raises his baton, and the stage comes to life.

A giant windmill dominates the action with pathways plunging down to the apron of the stage through brilliant beds of tulips. Twenty-four blue-and-white-clad Dutch girls burst happily onstage and skip down the paths in their wooden shoes. The lead dancer, Fred (Ray Bolger), sings “Wooden Shoes” with an updated lyric by Wright and Forrest:

Nanette and I have got a plan.
Here’s hoping nothing wrecks it.
While you make all the noise you can,
Nanette and I will exit.
(Copyright G. Schirmer, Inc.)

(The original lyric referred to “Jeanette” and was changed to avoid confusion.) A runway juts out into the audience, so Fred leaps over Leo’s tousled head and does a merry tap dance the length of the mirrored span in his own wooden shoes. He returns to the stage in a staccato of clicks, just in time to join the chorus as they turn expectantly toward the windmill door.

The orchestra exhales a few excited chords, and a lovely voice joins them. Its owner, Gwen Marlowe (Jeanette), sweeps into view in the doorway, a breathtaking vision of red hair and green eyes. She follows this magnificent en­trance with a musical account of another eloping couple and then does a jaunty clog dance with Fred that ends with his carting her piggy-back off stage. The number uses the basic staginess of Albertina Rasch’s choreography to superb advantage.

The vigilant Felix spots an usher bearing a message from Hollywood agent Trumpett to Gwen and Ernest. He wrests it from the startled usher’s hand. Inside the envelope is a note chiding Felix for being so nosy.

On stage, the “Angelus” sequence (cut from the film) begins and ends within seconds. There is a quick glimpse of a roadside chapel set, and then the curtain revolves again to reveal a massive staircase, lined with forty soldiers holding glittering spears. Our hero, Ernest Lane (Nelson), is at the top of the stairs in a blue and silver uniform, singing the dramatic “Every Lover Must Meet His Fate.” Entranced, Dutch-girl Gwen starts up the stairs as officer Ernest descends to meet her. Just as the two are about to meet, a discordant note from the orchestra arouses the soldiers who leap between them in a bristle of spears. Still singing, the lovers are forced apart for a grandly melodramatic curtain. This gentle spoofing of the old-time operetta lets the filmgoer fully enjoy the fine old tunes without fretting about the plot they originally decorated.

The camaraderie backstage is revealed in several incidents. Gwen and the chorus girls excitedly open a telegram announcing that a baby girl has been born to one of the dancers on leave. Gwen instructs the dour stage manager (Hal K. Dawson) that the quota of dancers will be increased to twenty-five when the girl returns in the spring—“and the baby can have my part any time she wants it.” Ernest, striding skillfully between the shifting scenery, is intercepted by the prop man (Jimmy Conlin), who shows him six kittens just born to the theatre cat. Six kittens on the sixth anniversary. Press agent Dink will get the story in every paper in town. Ernest strokes one of the tiny creatures and shakes his head. “Aw, let the lady have her privacy,” he urges.

In her realistically cramped and grimy dressing room, Gwen is confronted by her businesslike secretary, Kay Jordan (Florence Rice), who is rattling off a pile of important invitations for parties after the show. Gwen instructs Kay to decline them all. Gwen Marlowe has a very important date. Next door, Ernest Lane also tells Kay he “regrets.” He has a previous engagement that he wouldn’t break for anything in the world. Fortunately Kay has foreseen this development and has already refused the invitations.

The shrill ring of the telephone brings the nightly call from Ernest’s regal Aunt Amelia (Kathleen Lockhart) and Uncle Sheridan (Berton Churchill). Aunt Amelia congratulates Ernest on the anniversary. Of course, she sang Iolanthe two thousand times—and has told him about it two million times, Ernest mutters.

The phone in Gwen’s dressing room is also ringing. It is her mother (Lucile Watson) and Uncle Augustus (Gene Lockhart, husband of Kathleen), with similar felicitations and stories of past glories of their theatrical family. Gwen and Ernest barely make it on stage for the big “Sweethearts” number.

Gwen, in shell-pink tulle, and Ernest, in Dutch jacket and pants, are discovered at the top of a forty-foot “wedding cake” mountain. The entire cast surges onstage to sing the gloriously schmaltzy finale of the operetta—everyone, that is, except understudies Harvey Horton (Douglas McPhail) and Una Wilson (his real-life wife, Betty Jaynes). We know they are the understud­ies because they are wearing duplicates of the stars’ costumes, a simple visual expedient for the film, but utterly unlikely. They stand disconsolately in the wings. In six years they have never had a chance to go on. (Normally understudies are regular cast members in smaller roles.)

The cheering audience demands a curtain speech. Gwen and Ernest look at each other expectantly, then launch into separate speeches ending in unison with “thank you” and a burst of laughter. They are not very good at speeches, Ernest tells the audience. Maybe they’d better just sing. Swaying to the “Sweethearts Waltz,” they move out along the runway, shaking hands and gesturing to the audience to join them. “If you don’t know the words, sing anyway!’’ calls Gwen. All over the theatre people take up the song—a pair of teenagers in the orchestra, an elderly couple in the balcony, then the entire audience. The orchestra switches to “Auld Lang Syne” and another piece of genuine if manufactured nostalgia has occurred.

Exhausted and happy, Gwen returns to her dressing room for another nightly ritual. A folded note comes sliding under her door. She opens it and reads: “Six years with you are like six minutes. Six minutes without you are like six years.” She places it in a wall safe filled with hundreds of similar notes. Pausing sentimen­tally, she reads two others in the pile: “If you want the moon, my darling, let me fetch it for you” and “All the world’s asleep, but we’re the ones who are dreaming.”

Gwen’s special date, of course, is Ernest. It is six years since the show opened—and since their elopement. Wearing the clothes they were married in (although Jeanette’s navy suit is absolutely 1938 with padded shoulders), they prepare to slip off to their favorite little honeymoon restaurant.

Their happy nuzzling is interrupted by bellows of rage outside the dressing room door. Leo and Oscar are being separated by Dink and Felix. “His music is killing my lines,” screeches Leo. “It’s a mercy killing, toots,” consoles Dink. Leo denounces the mundane world of musical comedy. After all, he is the author of the world’s greatest play! Felix, who has read the opus, winces at the memory, then spies Gwen and Ernest going out the back way. He sprints after them. Aren’t they coming to his little party? No, they cheerfully inform him, they have other plans. Felix sags against the stairs, doing a splendid performance of a crushed old man abandoned by his friends. Skeptical at first, Gwen and Ernest are finally won over. They insist on going to Felix’s little party—a party at which they find several hundred people, an orchestra and chorus, and “just a little coast-to-coast radio hookup.”

Gwen and Ernest resign themselves to singing for their supper. Ernest seats himself at a small upright piano in the center of the glistening dance floor, Gwen beside him in a clinging pink gown. They sing “Pretty as a Picture” while the chorus promenades down a little impromptu runway (“Must have taken two weeks to build,” mutters Ernest).

During the number, Miss MacDonald pays homage to the new musical form of the late 1930s by “swinging” the song—very successfully. Then she and Eddy waltz around the room as the chorus takes up the song, the hundreds of tiny Fortuny pleats in her skirt opening to swirling fullness. (Studio publicity hailed this as Eddy’s first film dancing, conveniently forgetting his minuet in Naughty Marietta and his far more vigorous waltz in Maytime.)

In his hotel room, Norman Trumpett is listening to their song on the radio when his call to studio boss Benjamin Silver comes through. Silver (George Barbier) recounts the disasters at the studio—bad weather, illness, and exhaustion. Trumpett must sign Marlowe and Lane. “It’s a fait accompli,” Trumpett assures him. When Gwen and Ernest emerge from their “quiet little party,” Trumpett is waiting for them in his limousine.

On their way home, he tells them of the leisure and rest that would be theirs in Hollywood. They are half persuaded. Gwen has always wanted a garden. “Yes,” Ernest murmurs happily, “to put on overalls and get out and chop down your own fruit trees…” They reach home just as the rear-window projection screen shows them passing through Times Square.

Their home turns out to be not a Broadway hotel, but an incredibly spacious East Side townhouse with an equally incredible assortment of relatives. We again meet Gwen’s mother and uncle and Ernest’s uncle and aunt, plus Gwen’s appalling little brother, Junior (Terry Kilburn). They are in the midst of further reminiscences about their stage successes and insist the exhausted pair join them.

Gwen and Ernest sit numbly over glasses of “lemon juice for the voice” until Uncle Augustus begins playing a beautiful old waltz from The Prince of Pilsen, “My Heart’s True Blue.” They join in and then the entire family does a spontaneous cakewalk to “Keep it Dark.” Gwen is balancing precariously on Ernest’s knee in a “finale” pose when secretary Kay Jordan enters. Her bathrobe indicates she has been aroused from her bed, and she wonders why Gwen and Ernest aren’t in bed too, considering their heavy schedule the next day.

What schedule? they ask. In a flurry of explanations, they learn that their families have committed them to such a variety of guest appearances during the coming week that they must record and broadcast almost simultane­ously the following afternoon. No attempt to rearrange the schedule will leave them a minute to themselves. The exhausted pair starts up the stairs to bed, but they are stopped again.

Cousin Orlando Lane (Raymond Walburn) bursts through the door, followed by the entire cast of his touring Pirates of Penzance company. They have run out of money and come to stay until they can get backing to continue on tour. Grimly, Kay pays the cabdrivers who have brought them from Bridgeport, Connecticut. It is too much! Ernest runs upstairs to write Orlando a check.

Gwen’s mother is upset that Ernest is willing to back Orlando. Why not send her out in a revival of Dolly Varden? Amelia pooh-poohs her. Orlando is a member of the first family of the musical stage. The two families wrangle until Gwen explodes. She has to have quiet and a life of her own, and she and Ernest know where they can get it! They are going to Hollywood! She runs upstairs to tell Ernest and finds him just hanging up the phone. He’s arranged everything with Trumpett. They are going to Hollywood!

The next morning in Felix’s office, Dink is answering a forest of telephones, denying the silly rumor. Leo, Oscar, and Appleby sit disconsolately. Felix fights his way through the reporters to the inner office. No one can change Gwen and Ernest’s minds, he tells them. His kiddies are leaving. Dink and Appleby shove him toward the door to try again. Didn’t he tell them he was a lonely old man? Didn’t he tell them how he was a father to them? What did they say? “They said they were going shopping,” Felix replies.

We are next treated to a delightful “fashion show” sequence in which Gwen tries on a dozen Adrian outfits in colors never before dared by redheads. One plaid suit especially catches her fancy, and she orders a matching suit made up for Ernest. She slinks and clowns her way through the costume changes until she realizes that Kay should be ordering things for Hollywood too.

Kay breaks the news that she and the Statue of Liberty don’t go west of Hoboken. Gwen is thunderstruck. What will she and Ernest do without Kay after all these years? A phone call from Ernest sends Kay off to rescue him. He is caught without taxi fare in the midst of his hectic schedule.

Gwen holds the fort for him at Radio City, opening the “Sweethearts Hour” with “Summer Serenade” (based on Herbert’s piano piece, “Badinage”). She is now wearing a brown crêpe dress and turban trimmed in orange monkey fur (not PC!), with a matching fur muff. At RCA, Ernest is recording “On Parade,” a stirring martial tune. The band is dressed in bright red uniforms for an exciting visual-aural combina­tion. In the control room, we get a fascinating glimpse of contempo­rary recording equipment.

A heart-stopping ride up Park Avenue follows, with Kay and Ernest urging the taxi driver on while police sirens wail behind them. The police are not an escort, however. They pursue Ernest into Radio City, and he races onstage singing the first note of “Every Lover Must Meet His Fate.” Gwen sings with him, shaking her head chidingly and straightening his tie. As the chorus joins them in “Sweethearts,” the New York constabulary battle determined ushers for admittance a few yards away, and Kay sinks wearily onto a step, burying her head in her hands.

Despair reigns in Felix’s office. Leo and Oscar may even have to go to work! But the crafty Leo formulates a plan to keep Gwen and Ernest on stage in Sweethearts. Together, they are dynamite, but separately—separately would Hollywood want them? Trumpett phones to gloat a bit and ask Felix if he wants to sell the movie rights to Sweethearts. “Doucement, doucement,” he croons over Felix’s splutters of rage. Felix is now mad enough to agree to Leo’s plan. They will separate Gwen and Ernest.

The pair are preparing for their departure amidst dog kennels, trunks, and family chaos. The dogs, Brunhilde and Falstaff, are reluctant to travel, and Gwen’s mother sits tearfully surveying the activities. Gwen is carefully packing everything Ernest is trying to put on. He just as carefully unpacks it, undoing all her work. As they circle each other, they merrily join in a tune Junior is playing downstairs, “Little Grey Home in the West.” Ernest sings the last bars of the song as he starts downstairs to meet Kay for some last-minute errands. In a charming mock-dramatic moment, Nelson and Jeanette repeat the staircase sequence from the end of Naughty Marietta.

Gwen’s packing is interrupted by Leo Kronk, who has come to read her his latest play. Gwen couldn’t be less interested, but Leo insists. The action takes place in the drawing room of a country house on Long Island. “One of those, is it?” sighs Gwen. She putters about with her packing until she is struck by the dialogue. Exact quotes from her love letters!

Leo explains that he has gotten the charming epigrams from a lady who receives them in notes every day—from her married lover. He only knows the lady in the case, of course, but he understands the wife knows nothing about it. In torment, Gwen sends Leo away and goes looking for Ernest. The background music growls “The William Tell Overture” as she storms through the house.

Ernest is not back, but his pipe is in Kay’s room—the room next to theirs. On Kay’s dresser is a picture of the smiling threesome, Kay with her arm around Ernest. Gwen is interrupted in her detective work by the tailor’s assistant (Forrester Harvey) delivering Ernest’s new suit. Not the loud plaid one Gwen ordered. Kay has changed the order to a more conservative one. Furiously, Gwen hurls the suit into the fireplace, where it burns fiercely.

Gwen is in a most peculiar mood when Ernest returns with good news: Kay is going to Hollywood with them. To his astonishment, Gwen rushes out of the room. She retreats to Kay’s office, where a note comes sliding under the door in Ernest’s handwriting. With shaking fingers she opens it. “When you look in the mirror, you will see my favorite person.” Her suspicions are confirmed. She runs out of the office, fighting her tears.

A few more bars of “William Tell,” and Kay enters to find the note on the floor. Ernest comes in, not for a big love scene, but to be sure that Kay got the inscription for his anniversary present to Gwen, a vanity case. He pauses sniffing. Is something on fire? We see the remnants of the suit smoldering in the fireplace. “Something in this house is certainly burning up…”

A billow of smoke seems to confirm his statement, but it is only Gwen in a storm of talcum powder. She has locked herself in her dressing room, refusing to see Ernest or accept his love notes. When Trumpett arrives with the lawyers (two sets of twins) to sign the contract, she tells him archly that Ernest can go to Hollywood alone. She is staying in New York.

Ernest takes advantage of the open door to confront her. He is astonished at her decision. In the hallway, the conspirators watch the departure of Trumpett and the lawyers with glee. Felix, however, has some second thoughts. Oscar and Leo have to restrain him bodily.

The callboy announces “two minutes” as Gwen and Ernest square off. She should have known about Kay all along. Earnest has never heard of anything so ridiculous. The orchestra is playing their cue for the second time when Kay rushes in. Ernest won’t let Gwen leave the room until she apologizes to Kay. Very well, Gwen replies, and flops down on the floor in her hoop skirt. She will sit there all night if necessary. Then Ernest isn’t leaving either. There they sit until they recognize their cue music in its fifth repeat. They scramble for the door in a tangle of tulle and stage managers, as Kay again sinks wearily into a chair, shaking her head.

Leo and Oscar are now the best of friends. Their brilliant plan has resulted in the cancellation of the Hollywood contract. It only remains for Felix to use his two gold mines in separate touring companies. Harvey Horton and Una Wilson, the understudies, are ushered in, not to be fired as they expect, but to be offered the leads opposite Gwen and Ernest on the road.

In a Slavko Vorkapich montage, we see the Sweethearts poster depicting Ernest and Gwen torn in half. Then each star in turn appears on a split screen that rolls back to show that their actual partner is Una or Harvey. In between stage sequences, we see the couple staring desolately out of train windows at the grim outskirts of small towns. A few scattered bars of “St. Louis Blues” and “Missouri Waltz” indicate their routes. The montage closes with a shot of a shabby hotel, late at night. One window still has a light on.

Ernest is saying goodnight to his valet, Harry (Gerald Hamer), who has brought him the latest Variety. Far away, Gwen is also poring over a copy of the show business paper, obtained by flagging down the mail train. She just wants to see what the other company is doing, she tells her mother. “Yes, where is Ernest?” asks her mother. Outside their window the whole town is asleep. “So unresourceful of them,” mutters Mrs. Marlowe. She picks up Variety and clucks over the scathing review of Leo’s new play. In Variety-ese, it describes the plot about a dopey wife who believes her husband is two-timing her because someone has stolen her love letters. “Believe it or not, wife is crazy enough to fall for this tripe. Audience is not, however…”

Gwen gives a cry and dives for the phone, just as Ernest, far away, is making the same discovery. For a few agonizing minutes they cannot get through to each other because each line is busy. Then, as they give up, the phones ring and they are connected. “Oh, sweetheart…”

Another surge of “The William Tell Overture” accompanies their march on Felix Lehman’s office, Gwen in a bright blue suit with red trim. They storm in, brandishing their Hollywood contract. Porters bearing their luggage troop along behind them. They’re not even waiting for a train. They’re going to fly!

Felix does what any Broadway producer would do. He collapses in tears. As the orchestra sobs “Hearts and Flowers,” he reworks all the old stories until Gwen and Ernest are sitting beside him on the couch with their arms around him. “You awful old crook, you!” scolds Gwen, and they laughingly resign themselves to another six years of Sweethearts. Kay walks in, and they are all reconciled. There is nothing left but to show their gala return to Broadway, singing “Sweethearts” with full chorus as their audience cheers.


Commentary

Sweethearts was a superb maiden effort in three-strip Technicolor on the part of the studio whose name would become almost synonymous with color musicals. The film plays on our emotions with color as carefully as it does with music, tastefully blending neutral tones and bright highlights. Photographer Oliver Marsh won a special Academy Award for his work in the new category of color photography.

MGM was the last major studio to “go Technicolor” in the new three-strip process. Previously, they had used it only for inserts such as the finale of The Cat and the FiddleBecky Sharp (RKO-Radio, 1935) qualifies as the first three-strip Technicolor feature. In 1936, Walter Wanger produced Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the first outdoor color film, Twentieth Century- Fox issued Ramona, and Selznick International did The Garden of Allah. In 1937, Paramount debuted with Ebb Tide, Disney did Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the British filmed Wings of the Morning, released through Twentieth Century-Fox. Even Warner Bros. beat MGM with three films, including their 1938 version of The Adventures of Robin Hood. In the fifties and sixties, Technicolor was slowly supplanted by more economical if less aesthetic one-negative processes—which proved to have a life expectancy of only ten years. Since Technicolor uses separate black and white negatives for each color, it is possible to reprint them indefinitely in their original splendor.

There is one tragic footnote to Sweethearts. Young baritone Douglas McPhail had sung in the choruses of San Francisco and Maytime when Jeanette met him and took an interest in his career. He plays Nelson Eddy’s understudy in Sweethearts and in real life he married singer Betty Jaynes, who plays Jeanette’s understudy. Miss Jaynes had made a successful appearance in 1936 as Mimi in La Bohème with the Chicago Civic Opera opposite Giovanni Martinelli. It was the only opera the fifteen-year-old high school junior knew!

McPhail’s good looks and big baritone brought him leading rôles in Babes in Arms, with Judy Garland and Miss Jaynes, and in Broadway Melody of 1940, but demand for his kind of singing dwindled. His career slipped, and he began drinking. In 1944, after an earlier unsuccessful suicide attempt, he died of poison.

A happier Sweethearts story concerns a columnist who visited the set and found the two stars screaming abuse at each other. The item was quickly circulated that the screen lovers were off-screen enemies. Not at all, Eddy telegraphed the man, they had merely been rehearsing a scene. He invited the columnist to see the film as proof. When the picture was released, Eddy learned to his dismay that the scene had been left on the cutting-room floor.


Reviews

The primary critical complaint, that the film was too long, was resolved with some judicious cuts before the film went into general release. Variety had said, “It will disappoint because of length—two hours flat—and general lethargy.” This sentiment was echoed by the New York World-Telegram and by Archer Winsten in the New York Post. Therefore, it’s fascinating that cutting just six minutes, probably the complete “Angelus” number, at an early point in the film, makes the currently available version of Sweethearts move rapidly and seem considerably shorter than it is.

Time magazine, a forerunner in the “clever dismissal” style of reviewing, gave Sweethearts a one line comment: “Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy unchanged by modern clothes and Technicolor.”

Mitch Woodbury wrote in On the Movies: “Sweethearts, the latest in the series of Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald screen operettas, is a “sweetheart” of a picture…the production cost a pretty penny (yeah, even the pennies come that way in H-wood). The gold has been wisely spent, however, for the finished product pos­sesses everything movie audiences delight in.”

The vast majority of the nation’s newspapers found Sweethearts good entertainment. How­ever, the more sophisticated seemed a bit embarrassed at enjoying such a lighthearted film and tried to qualify their comments. B.K. Crisler in the New York Times wrote, “Sweethearts is such a dream of ribbons, tinsel, Technicolor, and sweet theatrical sentiment, that it suggests a collaboration of all the leading steamer-basket architects between Fifth and Lexington Avenues. Although in the long run Sweethearts must be classified as a superlatively elaborate example of cinematic pastry-cookery, the MacDonald-Eddy bloc—the only one left in the metropolitan area which bursts into applause at the mere sound of a beloved voice—must likewise be conciliated with the admission that Jeanette and Nelson have never sung or acted with more fire or abandon.”


Recordings

Eddy recorded nothing from Sweethearts. Ten years later. Miss MacDonald recorded “Sweethearts Waltz” (“Sweethearts”) and “Summer Serenade” (“Badinage”).


Music in the Film 

All music is by Victor Herbert unless otherwise indicated. In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.

Overture: “Sweethearts,” “Wooden Shoes,” “On Parade”
“Wooden Shoes” (song and dance, Ray Bolger and MacDonald) [originally “Jeanette and her Wooden Shoes” in stage version, lyric changed to “Nanette and her Wooden Shoes”] – new lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest
“Wooden Shoes” reprise (MacDonald)
“Angelus” (MacDonald) [cut from general release print] – Stage lyrics by Robert B. Smith
“Every Lover Must Meet His Fate” (Eddy, male chorus, and MacDonald) – new lyrics by Wright and Forrest.
“Happy Day” (chorus) – bridge by Stothart, Wright and Forrest
“Sweethearts” (MacDonald and Eddy with chorus) – new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Sweethearts” reprise with “Auld Lang Syne” (MacDonald and Eddy with chorus)
“Pretty as a Picture” (MacDonald and Eddy with girls’ chorus) – new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Mademoiselle” fragment heard over radio (MacDonald and Eddy) – source uncertain. Introduced by radio commentator as “Game of Love,” but not the song of that title in stage version. New melody copyrighted as “Mademoiselle” in 1938 with music by Herbert, lyrics by Wright and Forrest.
“Sweethearts” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy)
“The Message of the Violets” [“My Heart’s True Blue”] (Gene Lockhart, MacDonald, and Eddy) – from The Prince of Pilsen, music by Gustav Luders, lyrics by Frank Pixley
“Keep it Dark” (Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Lucile Watson, Berton Churchill, MacDonald, andEddy) – also from The Prince of Pilsen, credits as above
“Badinage” [“Summer Serenade”] (MacDonald, Dalies Frantz on piano) – based on a Herbert piano piece with new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“On Parade” (Eddy and male chorus) – with new lyrics by Wright and Forrest
“Every Lover Must Meet His Fate” reprise (Eddy, MacDonald)
“Sweethearts” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy with chorus)
“Little Grey Home in the West” (MacDonald and Eddy) – music by Hermann Lohr, lyrics by D. Eardley-Wilmot

ON TOUR MONTAGE, fragments of:

“Give My Regards to Broadway” (orchestral) – George M. Cohan
“Sidewalks of New York” (orchestral) – Charles B. Lawlor
“Sweethearts” reprise (MacDonald, Eddy, Douglas McPhail, Betty Jaynes
“Angelus” (MacDonald)
“Wooden Shoes” reprise (MacDonald, Jaynes)
“St. Louis Blues” orchestral – W.C. Handy
“Pretty as a Picture” reprise (McPhail, Eddy)
“Sweethearts” reprise (MacDonald, McPhail, Eddy, Jaynes)
“In the Convent They Never Taught Me That” (Jaynes, MacDonald) – stage lyrics by Robert B. Smith
“On Parade” reprise (Eddy)
“Mademoiselle” (MacDonald, Eddy, McPhail, Jaynes, chorus)
“Missouri Waltz” (orchestral) – by Frederick Knight Logan and James Royce Shannon

“Sweethearts” (MacDonald and Eddy with chorus) with fragment inserted of “Home, Sweet Home” (chorus) – by Sir Henry Bishop and John Howard Payne, INTO:

“On Parade” (orchestral)

Songs from the stage production featured in the film were “Sweethearts,” “Wooden Shoes” (originally “Jeanette and Her Wooden Shoes”), “Every Lover Must Meet His Fate,” “Pretty as a Picture,” and “On Parade,” all with new lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest. In addition, fragments of “Angelus” and “In the Convent They Never Taught Me That” were heard, and Herbert’s piano piece “Badinage” became “Summer Serenade.” Variety praised the production values on “There Is Magic in a Smile,” a song from the stage score, but either the number was cut from the final release prints, or, more likely, the reviewer was confused. The source of “Mademoiselle” has eluded me.


Script History

Contributed by Mary Truesdell

An earlier script (1/6/38) by the famous humorist S.J. Perelman, reports researcher Mary Truesdell, presented almost the same plot and characters as in the final Parker/Campbell script, except that Kay was not the cause of stars’ separation. Instead, they quarreled over the adulation of their respective fans, a theme that would later be used in The Chocolate Soldier.

Perelman’s draft used real names—Nelson and Jeanette, Jake Shubert (Felix Lehman), Sam Goldwyn (Mr. Silverman), and Arthur Hornblow (Trumpet). He also had a packing-to-move scene, although it occurred in the couple’s Long Island mansion, and he made it hilariously clear that their desire for the “simple life” was never more than a dream, given their retinue of maids, footmen, family, dogs, and trunks. The scene as written is even more hilarious than that in the final screen version.

It is also obvious that Perelman adored Jeanette and Nelson, describing their screen characters thus: “generosity & charm being their virtues and their bêtes noir.” Parker and Campbell did the final script, but Perelman was the uncredited architect.


Trivia

Child actor Terry Kilburn, who plays Jeanette’s little brother, also appeared as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, which opened the same week.


Movie Goofs

Movie magic sometimes comes about because scenes are routinely shot out of sequence and then rearranged in the editing process or parts of the same scene are shot on different days. Costumes may change within the same scene, props appear and disappear. The continuity person (called a “script girl” in the old days) tried desperately to prevent these mistakes, but sometimes they slipped in. Here are some favorites spotted by sharp-eyed fans.

When Jeanette leaves her dressing room wearing the navy suit, she is carrying nothing. Outside, she has gloves and a purse in her hand. (Joan Woolley)

During “Little Grey Home in the West,” Nelson’s suit jacket magically buttons itself as he steps from bedroom to hall. (Stephanie Loyd and Joan Woolley)

Nelson is portrayed as a true New Yorker, yet no self-respecting native would ever take a cab from 56th & Madison (the recording studio) to 50th between Fifth and Sixth Avenues (the radio station), a ten-minute walk tops, much less if he was in a hurry and forgot money and had to wait for someone to arrive with cab fare. This is a surprising error, considering Dorothy Parker was a New Yorker. Then, to top it off, when Nelson and Florence Rice are racing in that cab, it is shown driving north on Park Avenue in the 1940s, toward the recording studio, not away from it. No wonder Nelson was so late! (Tricia Lutz)