French title: La Belle Cabaretière (The Beautiful Saloon Keeper)
Danish title: Pigen frå det gyldne Vesten (Maiden from the Golden West)
Swedish title: Flickan från gyllene västern (Girl of the Golden West)
German title: Im Goldenen Westen (In the Golden West)
Portuguese title: A Princesa de Eldorado (The Princess of Eldorado)
Based on the 1905 play by David Belasco. Music: Sigmund Romberg. Lyrics: Gus Kahn. Screenplay: Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw. Musical Director: Herbert Stothart. Photography: Oliver Marsh. Gowns: Adrian. Dances: Albertina Rasch. Montage: Slavko Vorkapich. Editor: W. Donn Hayes. Asst. Directors: Robert A. Golden, George Yohalem. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Art Associates: Eddie Imazu, Edwin B. Willis. Music Presentations: Merrill Pye. Musical Director: Reginald LeBorg. Tinting and Toning: John M. Nickolaus. Orchestra and Vocal Arrangements: Leonid Raab, Léo Arnaud, Murray Cutter, Paul Marquardt. Sound: Douglas Shearer, James Brock. Music Recording: Mike McLaughlin. Translator and Instructor for Spanish Lyrics: Z. Yaconelli.
The stage play by California-born David Belasco opened in 1905 at the Belasco Theatre in New York City, starring Blanche Bates, Robert Hilliard and Frank Keenan (grandfather of Keenan Wynn). It ran 224 performances. An opera version, La Fanciulla del West by Giacomo Puccini, had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on December 10, 1910, with a cast headed by Emmy Destinn, Enrico Caruso, and Pasquale Amato. Belasco himself was stage director and Arturo Toscanini conducted.
The Girl of the Golden West was filmed in 1914 by Cecil B. DeMille, with Mabel Van Buren in the title role for Paramount. The 1923 film version, directed by Edwin Carewe for Associated-First National, starred Sylvia Breamer as the “Girl,” with J. Warren Kerrigan and Russell Simpson. In 1930, Warners remade the work as a talkie with Ann Harding and James Rennie, directed by John Francis Dillon.
Jeanette MacDonald (Mary Robbins)
Nelson Eddy (Ramerez / Lt. Dick Johnson)
Walter Pidgeon (Sheriff Jack Rance)
Buddy Ebsen (Alabama)
Leo Carrillo (Mosquito)
H.B. Warner (Father Sienna)
Cliff Edwards (Minstrel Joe)
Leonard Penn (Pedro)
Monty Woolley (Governor)
Priscilla Lawson (Nina Martinez)
Ynez Seabury (Wowkle)
Robert Murphy (Sonora Slim)
Olin Howland (Trinidad Joe)
Billy Bevan (Nick)
Victor Potel (Stagecoach driver)
Brandon Tynan (The Professor)
Nick Thompson (Billy Jackrabbit)
Tom Mahoney (Handsome Charlie)
Charley Grapewin (Uncle Davy)
Noah Beery Sr (General Ramerez)
Bill Cody Jr (“Gringo,” Dick as a child)
Jeanne Ellis (Mary as a child)
Phillip Armenta (Long Face)
Chief Big Tree (Indian chief)
Russell Simpson (Pioneer)
Armand “Curley” Wright (First renegade)
Pedro Regas (Second renegade)
Gene Coogan (Manuel)
Sergei Arabeloff (Jose)
Alberto Morin (Juan)
Joe Dominguez (Felipe)
Frank McGlynn (Pete, the gambler)
Cy Kendall (Hank, the gambler)
E. Alyn Warren (First miner)
Francis Ford (Second miner)
Hank Bell (Under-Sheriffr)
Dell Henderson, Frank O’Connor (Passengers in coach)
Ronnie Rondell, Joe Popkin, Bob Pierce (Members of Ramerez’s gang)
James Farley, Edward Peil Sr (Men in Sheriff’s office)
Forbes Murray (Man)
Hal LeSeuer (Adjutant)
Harry Semels (Peon Servant)
Walter Bonn (Lt. Johnson)
Richard Tucker (Colonel)
Virginia Howell (Governor’s wife)
Carlos Ruffino, Rodolfo Hoyos Sr (“Mariachie” soloists)
Donald Sadler (Dancer)
St. Luke’s Choristers (singing “Ave Maria”)
Father Lani’s Choir (acting “Ave Maria” choristers)
Cut from release print:
Carol Tevis (Trixie LaVerne)
Ray Bolger (Happy Moore)
One of seventeen top-grossing films of 1937-38.
“Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy are like tapioca,” wrote Frank Nugent in the New York Times. “Either you like them or you don’t.” He had just seen The Girl of the Golden West. With this film, the public began dividing into two camps: those who loved the splendid entertainment Jeanette and Nelson promised in a good film and the more devoted who would be content to watch them read (or sing) the proverbial phone book.
David Belasco’s theatrical potboiler had a long, happy history of profits for its author-producer when MGM decided it would be a fitting vehicle for its “team.” Belasco’s plays may not be considered literature today, but as the foremost stage director of his time, he knew how to create a series of hits.
MGM’s Girl wasn’t the first time the western epic had been set to music. No less a composer than Giacomo Puccini had been moved to write an opera based on the story of Minnie and Ramerez. When he visited New York in 1906 to supervise the first American performance of his Madame Butterfly (also a Belasco play), Puccini attended Belasco’s production of The Girl. Although he knew little or no English, Puccini knew a strong dramatic situation when he saw one. The scene in the girl’s cabin with the blood and the poker game seemed to him ideal as a second act curtain for an opera.
La Fanciulla del West premiered on December 10, 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera. Belasco was stage director, Arturo Toscanini conducted, and Enrico Caruso was in the cast. Sung in Italian, the opera featured hordes of cowboys singing “Doo-da, doo-da,” and heroine Minnie had an aria, “Benvenuta fra noi, Johnson de Sacramento” (Welcome among us, Johnson of Sacramento), all of which may have sounded odd to American ears. Nevertheless, the opera was a success and remained so as long as strong casts were available. However, it didn’t have any of the lush melodies for which Puccini was famous and fell from favor until recently. While it is unlikely that it will ever become a “standard,” the opera is enjoying new popularity, and a major critic, Robert Lawrence, considers it Puccini’s greatest masterpiece.
Musically, the 1938 film Girl abounds in some of the loveliest melodies Sigmund Romberg could write, and musical director Herbert Stothart outdid himself in vibrant orchestrations. Unfortunately, MGM also dramatized incidents only mentioned in the stage versions and made maximum use of soundstage exteriors. The phoniness of the plaster rocks and papier maché forests seems very jarring to the contemporary eye, but at the time it was regarded as the summit of film craft. Lighting and sound could be completely controlled on a set without the harsh inconveniences of dragging equipment, actors, and crew into the woods to obtain footage easily spoiled by weather, wind, and extraneous background noise. Also it was possible to do “pick-up shots” after a film was completed and the real location under a foot of snow. The advantages of set over nature were so many that it took the demise of the studios (and their vast soundstages) and the super-realism of television news coverage to end the practice.
Belasco had made the play and opera successful with his stagecraft wizardry. The audience forgot they were in a theatre watching a play. The blizzard became real. The 1938 film suffers greatly from being studio-bound, while the earlier film versions were shot outdoors and are infinitely more credible.
Because more than half of the MacDonald-Eddy Girl enacts events that occurred before the opening of the stage versions, the film consumes two hours, even after a subplot with Ray Bolger and Carol Tevis was cut. Also apparently trimmed was a song delivered by Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”) of radio and record fame. He is briefly glimpsed holding his uke, but no more.
The Girl herself, Minnie, was rechristened “Mary,” probably due to the popularity of two other Minnies, the mouse and the moocher. Miss MacDonald plays her with tomboyish strides and western drawl that are first affected, then affecting. The appeal of the Girl is the appeal of the child-woman, a girl raised from birth “without seeing another white woman,” completely unaware of her own femininity. Of course, the stage, opera, and film Girls all had an Indian companion, Wowkle, but in the sensibilities of those days she was a “native” and didn’t count. Fortunately, the MacDonald Girl is not required to brag repeatedly that she has never been kissed, as Doris Day was in the 1953 Calamity Jane.
Nelson Eddy is delightful when leading his troop of bandits or courting the Girl in quiet conversation, but he is clearly uncomfortable in the heavier, more melodramatic sequences, and his makeup is singularly unattractive. MGM was so sure of the appeal of their property that they no longer were careful to work around his deficiencies.
Walter Pidgeon, too, has problems. The script never decides whether Jack Rance is villain, protagonist, or kindly “other man,” and Pidgeon plays each scene tentatively, as if he is not sure what the next day’s shooting will require him to do.
In a wagon heading west, we meet little Mary (Jeanne Ellis), who has been brought along by her Uncle Davy (Charley Grapewin) after the death of her gambler pa in Kentucky. She is a chip off the family tree, betting her Uncle a dollar that the Indian tom-toms in the distance don’t scare her a bit. That night, the little band huddles around a campfire, and Uncle Davy tries to cheer Mary, blowing a tune on a convenient jug. She joins him in the lovely “Shadows on the Moon.”
A tall figure steps suddenly out of the darkness into the firelight. It is Father Sienna (H.B. Warner), come to welcome them and give them a map of the trail through the mountains. Hiding in the darkness, watching the scene, are the fierce bandit Ramerez (Noah Beery Sr) and his little Gringo (Bill Cody Jr).
The bandits seize the mission for a hideout. There, Ramerez teases his adopted son for mooning over the blonde little señorita. We learn that the boy was stolen from his parents by Indians and later found by Ramerez’s soldiers. Now he and Ramerez are both “Soldiers of Fortune.” When a terrified servant protests that there is no more food, little Gringo shoots one of the mission sheep with a bow and arrow. The beast falls dead at the feet of Father Sienna.
Ramerez happily rewards the boy with a medal from his own highly decorated chest. But Father Sienna speaks so movingly of the rights of others and of the settlers that have come in peace that Gringo is ashamed. Ramerez snatches back his medal, explaining to Father Sienna that if he does not reclaim them when Gringo is bad, he would have none to give him when he is good. Father Sienna gives Gringo a different kind of medal, a religious one.
At the Padre’s urging, the local Indians decide to ride down and make peace with the wagon camp. Ramerez follows them at Gringo’s insistence. The settlers see Indians coming and fire blindly. Ramerez falls. He is carried back to his own camp where he begs Gringo to sing “Soldiers of Fortune” once more. As the boy sings, Ramerez dies and a new Ramerez is born.
In a Slavko Vorkapich montage, we see the progress of his “career” as WANTED posters offer higher and higher bounties for him, dead or alive. The adult Ramerez (Nelson) appears at the top of the canyon concealing his camp. Leading his band back from a successful expedition, he steers his horse down the twisting path, singing a full-throated version of “Soldiers of Fortune.”
His comic sidekick, Mosquito (Leo Carrillo), is quickly surrounded by señoritas seeking presents. Ramerez tells him that bandits have no time for love, but then gives some trinkets to Nina (Priscilla Lawson, Princess Aura in the Flash Gordon serials), oblivious to her obvious adoration and jealousy. He is glad to be back in camp with food, wine, and the trees talking to each other overhead. Idly, he begins to sing the song he heard so long ago: “Shadows on the Moon.”
Far away through the pines, another voice is singing the same song. Mary (Jeanette) stands on the porch of her cabin, rocking a baby and crooning the haunting lullaby:
Shadows on the moon are saying summer’s on the wane.
The sun will soon give way to autumn rain.
(Copyright 1938, Renewed 1965 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Rights controlled by Leo Feist, Inc. Used by permission.)
The baby belongs to Mary’s Indian companion, Wowkle (Ynez Seabury), who is helping Mary pack for her yearly trip to Monterey. Their conversation reveals that the Girl now owns the Polka Saloon, inherited from her Uncle Davy—“The only saloon in Cloudy, run by the only woman in town.”
Alabama (Buddy Ebsen) serenades the Girl.
A whistle outside announces the arrival of Alabama (Buddy Ebsen) on a mule. His piping flute and her coloratura combine in the delightful “Wind in the Trees.” Alabama has come to fetch Mary to the Polka where the Sheriff is waiting eagerly with a surprise. (“Cloudy Street,” on which the Polka is situated, was also used for Anna Karenina and Balalaika. In 1943 it was bombed for Song of Russia, and what was left was used in the Technicolor remake of Rose Marie.)
At the Polka, Mary checks on the customers, including a gentlemanly old drunk, the “Professor” (Brandon Tynan). A miner deposits his gold with her for safekeeping and she adds it to the already overflowing safe. If Wells Fargo doesn’t get through soon to pick it up, Ramerez may hear of it. Sheriff Jack Rance (Walter Pidgeon) assures her the money is safe as long as he is on the job. He saunters out, and the grinning miners crowd around Mary. The surprise is revealed to be a white piano. “Sure has got pretty teeth,” cries a grizzled codger.
Mary rushes out to thank Jack. “Only cost five thousand dollars,” he demurs. He asks Mary if she will be ashamed of running the Polka when she gets to Monterey and meets all those fancy people. Mary is startled. Is he ashamed? “With you in it, the Polka’s a church!” he replies. Mary can’t imagine Jack Rance in church. Unless, he tells her ardently, it’s to marry her. He wants to take her back East and stake her as a singer. Mary lightly refuses. She loves Cloudy too much to leave.
Inside, the boys are banging away on the poor piano. With great dignity, the “Professor” rises and staggers to the keyboard. The rowdy laughter subsides as his aimless passes at the keys turn into “Liebestraum.” The Girl sings as the camera shows an assortment of Cloudy citizens held in rapt attention by the music. In a voice choked with emotion, the “Professor” announces that the last time he played this song was in London before an audience of two thousand people—and the King.
The bandit Ramerez (Nelson) holds up the stage, but the Girl (Jeanette) manages to retain her most precious possession. (Frank O’Connor, center; Ynez Seabury as Wowkle, right.)
Mary departs for Monterey with a bodyguard of Rance’s best men. They are good men, but not good enough for Ramerez, who, with bandanna and Mexicano accent concealing his true origin, robs the coach and woos the lady. The lady’s fiery resistance spurs Ramerez’s interest. When she slaps his face, his fate is sealed.
He sends his men back to camp while he and Mosquito follow Mary to Monterey. Is it safe for bandits in Monterey? Mosquito asks. They’ll go as honest men, Ramerez replies. But what, asks Mosquito, if honest men like them meet some bandits?
In Monterey, Mary happily presents Father Sienna with the gold she has brought to the mission, hidden with the papoose during the robbery. He thanks her. If it weren’t for her and the mysterious stranger who drops a large bag of gold in the poor box each month, he doesn’t know what the Indians would do. Always the mystery gold is wrapped in bark with a message scratched on it: “Return this to your Indians. After all, it rightfully belongs to them.”
Father Sienna turns to the organ to rehearse Mary in the song she will sing at mass tomorrow morning. The Governor is coming down for the fiesta and will be in attendance. The Governor! Mary is nervous, but begins singing “Ave Maria.”
The scene dissolves to the choir loft of the old Spanish church where she is singing, accompanied by a boys’ choir. The Governor (Monty Woolley in one of his earliest film roles) is delighted with her voice and sends word, asking her to sing for him at the Mariachie.
The big night arrives, and Mary is scared stiff. As the merrymakers whirl past her window, she practices curtsying for the momentous meeting. It’s just no good, she decides. She’ll bungle it. Couldn’t Father Sienna tell them she doesn’t feel very well? “Do you want me to lie, Mary?” He cheers her up, and, when her escort is announced, she steadies her bobbling hoopskirt and marches to her fate.
The bandit Ramerez pursues Mary, disguised as Lt. Dick Johnson. Mary doesn’t recognize him.
Her fate is a handsome officer, “Lt. Dick Johnson,” whom she doesn’t recognize without a mask. Ramerez has borrowed a uniform, leaving its occupant in his underwear. With Mosquito as coachman, he drives Mary through the festive streets, joining the throng in singing the romantic “Señorita.” On such a night there is plenty of time to get to the Governor’s rancho. The horse stops to rest beside the moonlit ocean, giving Dick a chance to reprise “Señorita.”
Pity me, señorita.
I was free, señorita.
Then you happened along
With your smile and your song
And I knew…
That as long as there was love in my heart
I would love only you.
(Copyright 1938, Renewed 1965 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Rights Controlled by Leo Feist Inc. Used by Permission.)
The Girl happily listens to his song and his compliments (that her eyes are like “two spoonfuls of blue Pacific”), but when he tries to steal a kiss, he gets another slap in the face. She commandeers Mosquito’s carriage and arrives at the Governor’s rancho just in time to sing “Mariachie.”
In an Albertina Rasch dance spectacle fraught with unintentional symbolism, galloping horses circle a cluster of writhing female dancers, who are then snared by enormous bullwhips wrapped around their waists. Despite enough Freudian overtones to keep three Busby Berkeley numbers going, the dancing gets pretty dull and is brightened only when the police discover Dick, who has followed Mary. He has time for only one chorus before he must depart with the irate constabulary in hot pursuit. Puzzled, Mary returns to Cloudy. We are now more than halfway through the film and have just reached the point where the stage version begins.
Ramerez also travels to Cloudy to hold up the saloon safe. He doesn’t suspect that Mary is the Polka’s owner and guardian. As part of the bandits’ strategy, Mosquito interrupts a tedious song assigned to Alabama (“The West Ain’t Wild Anymore”) and implies that he is Ramerez.
The real Ramerez is at the Polka asking for whiskey and water. “I’m sorry, sir,” answers the bartender (Billy Bevan). “We don’t serve no fancy drinks.” Ramerez arouses Jack Rance’s suspicion, but Mary appears just in time to vouch for him. Jack doesn’t like anyone trying to jump another man’s claim and figures Dick can see all he wants of Cloudy in an hour.
Meanwhile, Mosquito’s ruse has worked. Alabama rushes into the Polka gasping that the bandit is up at his blacksmith shop. With a $10,000 reward on the culprit’s head, the saloon is emptied in no time. Mary is concerned about the gold she is guarding for the hardworking prospectors and asks Dick to help her lock up. The gold may not be hers, but bandits would have to take her before they could take it. She tells Dick of finding a dying prospector and promising to send his stake to his family back East. (The basically touching story is couched in such euphemistic terms for death and told with so much eye-batting that it becomes maudlin.)
Mary goes to close the shutters, the signal for Ramerez’s men to ride down from the hills. He stops her. “Don’t do that! If you do…”—he catches himself—“You’ll shut out the moon.” He abandons his plan to rob the Polka and, like Dante, asks for one hour with his Beatrice. Unlike Dante he gets it, serenading Mary with “Who Are We to Say?” beside a mountain stream.
The hour is up, and Dick must leave. Of course, Mary tells him, if he is not too far away tomorrow night, she’ll be fixing supper in her cabin up the hill. “All tonight I’ll be saying ‘tomorrow,’” he says. “And all tomorrow I’ll be saying ‘tonight,’” Mary replies.
Back in the bandits’ camp, Ramerez is oblivious to the hostility around him. His men are furious because his lovemaking has cost them their prize. Nina is also furious and slips away to have her revenge.
A snowstorm is just beginning the next evening, but nothing could keep Dick away. Wowkle is putting the finishing touches on the stew when he arrives. She and Dick exchange pleasantries in Indian dialect. Mary wants to know what was said. “Him say get out now so he can be alone with you,” Wowkle says, pulling on her blanket. Dick looks sheepish. “I tell him you say same thing before he come,” Wowkle continues. Dick grins.
With the wind howling outside, Ramerez discovers that Mary is the girl he has always remembered from his childhood, and they declare their love. Suddenly, Jack Rance and the boys from the saloon are heard shouting outside. Dick panics and hides. Mary covers for him, thinking he fears Jack’s jealousy. But Jack makes it clear that the fancy gentleman at the saloon was really a bandit. Ramerez’s girlfriend is waiting at the Sheriff’s office to collect the reward. Mary is stunned at this news, but recovers herself and mocks Jack for having the bandit right in front of him and not recognizing him.
Jack strides out to his horse, but Alabama lingers behind. He asks if there is anything he can do. In his hand is the smoldering cigar Ramerez left on the mantelpiece. The Girl thanks him and he quietly leaves.
Dick is shot as he tries to escape. Mary must pay a terrible price for his life.
Mary orders Ramerez to come out and account for himself. She could forgive him his profession, but not his girlfriend. Hysterically, she orders him out of the cabin. He is gone only a few moments when shots are heard. He staggers back in and the Girl relents. She hides him in the loft as Jack pounds on the bolted door. He is sure he saw Ramerez enter the cabin, but Mary convinces him he was wrong. “If you say he didn’t, Girl, that’s good enough for me,” he says. A trickle of blood falls on their clasped hands.
Jack Rance hauls Ramerez out of hiding and is ready to turn him over to a lynching party. He’d have gambled his life that Mary was the last person in the world to help a rat like that.
The Girl challenges him to a bet. She’ll play him three hands of poker. If he wins two out of three, he gets Ramerez—and her too. If he loses, he doesn’t get either. Jack Rance’s character and the nature of his interest in the Girl have been so tenuously established that it seems mere plot convenience when he consents to the game.
Each wins a hand. Then Mary cheats and wins the third game. Jack concedes like a gentleman, then notices that she has thumbnailed the cards. In a fury, he tells her that he’d kill her if she were a man. Tearfully Mary asks him to let Ramerez go and keep her. The scene has now changed focus so many times that we are not astonished when Jack says yes. “I don’t cheat, Girl, and I never lie,” he tells the Girl proudly. The lengthy cabin sequence that should have been the dramatic high point of the film ends, not with a bang but a whimper and a few bars of “Liebestraum.”
Mary is seen bidding the boys at the Polka goodbye. She and Jack are off to Monterey to be wed. The boys beg for a farewell song. She tries to sing “Who Are We to Say?” but chokes on her tears.
In Monterey, Father Sienna is anxiously awaiting the bridal couple when a “man” is announced. It is Ramerez, come to ask the Padre’s help in returning to the ways of the boy, Gringo, whom the Padre knew so long ago. The priest happily consents, but first he must perform a wedding. He leaves Ramerez in the garden and goes to greet Mary and Jack. Jack is escorted to the office to sign the register, and Mary wanders into the garden. Jack sees her and Ramerez together from the window and makes a graceful, if utterly illogical, exit, leaving them to sing a final reprise of “Señorita.”
The Girl of the Golden West was the first weak MacDonald-Eddy vehicle and didn’t bring much glory to anyone. While it was one of the top moneymakers of the year, the split between the general public and the “fans” was beginning. The uncritical enthusiasm of the latter only served to reinforce the opinion of the former that all MacDonald-Eddy films were “silly.” On top of the cool critical reception of The Firefly and Rosalie, their previous solo films, Girl represented a distinct minus for their careers.
The film was one of five that Walter Pidgeon walked through at MGM that year. Pidgeon was a silent film actor whose rich baritone made him the leading man in a number of early musicals: Kiss Me Again with Bernice Claire, Viennese Nights, Rodgers and Hart’s The Hot Heiress, and Sweet Kitty Bellairs with Claudia Dell. After the first musical cycle he returned as a “straight” actor, but didn’t attain star status until he scored in How Green Was My Valley in 1941.
Buddy Ebsen had earned a warm response in Broadway Melody of 1936 with his hominy-grits drawl and white-tie-and-tails tap dancing. He was cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, but was poisoned by the aluminum makeup and replaced by Jack Haley after shooting had begun. Twenty-five years later, The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones on television would make his face known in every corner of the “civilized” world.
Another Girl performer, Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”) was also lost in the shuffle. He is best remembered today as the voice of “Jiminy Cricket” in Pinocchio. Although he was a well-known singer and recording star, his footage was snipped and he ended up as an “extra” in the final release version of Girl.
Now that Jeanette and Nelson were established at the box office, a newer set of names began to sparkle on the marquees. MGM had bright newcomers Judy Garland and Eleanor Powell, as well as Allan Jones and Ilona Massey. Deanna Durbin was musical queen at Universal, and Betty Grable, who had been in films since 1930, was finally getting the attention she deserved, as were Sonja Henie and young Alice Faye. As a possible Eddy backup, MGM signed nineteen-year-old Douglas McPhail, a handsome baritone with boyish charm who, ironically, would play Eddy’s understudy in his next film, Sweethearts.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown!
The foremost criticism of Girl was the length combined with the weak plot. Variety thought it was twenty minutes too long, the New York Post said thirty minutes, and the New York World-Telegram acknowledged that there may have been longer films, but “few others have seemed as long.” The World-Telegram continued, “the story is neither distinctive nor sturdy, and hasn’t been helped much by the diffused direction.”
The New Yorker saw no reason why the Girl plot “should have to be hauled out.” The New York Times felt it was “dated as a tin bathtub, but redeemed by the singing of its stars.” The New York Herald Tribune suggested the original plot offered “rich material for a farce or a satire,” and thought “the [film] version at the Capitol [Theatre] comes perilously close to being funny now and then.”
About the performances, the press was equally divided. Generally, like the New York Post, they thought Eddy’s casting as a dashing bandit “a bit too thick,” but that “his rich and glorious baritone almost saves the situation for him.” Jeanette’s singing also drew uniform raves, but opinions on her characterization were divided: “excellent” said the New York Post; “a little bit embarrassing” said the New York World-Telegram.
The World-Telegram summed up the film: “If you are one of those fans who simply cannot get enough of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, then this film will be right up your alley.”
Jeanette MacDonald recorded nothing from the film, but Nelson Eddy did a 78 RPM album with four songs:
“Soldiers of Fortune”
“Sun-up to Sundown”
“Who Are We to Say?” [“Obey Your Heart”]
All music is by Sigmund Romberg, with lyrics by Gus Kahn unless otherwise noted. In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.
Overture: “Sun-up to Sundown,” Indian theme, “Señorita,” “Camptown Races” by Stephen Foster, EVOLVES INTO:
“Sun-up to Sundown” (Chorus, Jeanne Ellis)
“Shadows on the Moon” (Ellis)
“Soldiers of Fortune” (Noah Beery, Bill Cody Jr dubbed by Raymond Chace, male chorus)
“Soldiers of Fortune” reprise (Cody, Eddy, male chorus)
“Shadows on the Moon” reprise (Eddy, MacDonald)
“The Wind in the Trees” (MacDonald, flute)
“Liebestraum” [“Dream of Love”] (MacDonald) – music by Franz Liszt, English lyrics by Gus Kahn, arrangement by Herbert Stothart
“Ave Maria” (MacDonald, sung by St. Luke’s Choristers, acted by Father Lani’s Choir) – music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Charles Gounod, traditional Latin lyrics
“Señorita” (Eddy, chorus)
“Mariachie” (MacDonald, Eddy, chorus) – additional lyrics by Carlos Ruffino
“The West Ain’t Wild Anymore” (Buddy Ebsen)
“Who Are We to Say?” [“Obey Your Heart”] (Eddy)
“Who Are We to Say?” reprise (MacDonald)
Finale: “Señorita” reprise (MacDonald and Eddy)
“There’s a Brand New Song in Town,” sung by Ray Bolger and Carol Tevis, was cut from the film. The song “Girl of the Golden West” was copyrighted and issued as sheet music, but used only as background music in the film.
From a monograph by Mary Truesdell
“The original Belasco theme of redemption almost gets lost in a welter of comic and melodramatic additions to this film version. With all the money MGM was spending on research, you’d have thought they’d first get the script set. But no—they apparently preferred a pattern of ‘many writers, many revisions,’ to their detriment, a good deal of the time.
When the film was being planned as a Technicolor production, an opening scene was written that has Mary’s stagecoach returning from Sacramento when it is stopped by a Wells Fargo representative. Surrounded by the beauty of the Sierras, she descends and wanders joyfully into a field of radiant spring poppies and lupines. Dick Johnson (actually the bandit Ramerez) gallops up, having just robbed another stagecoach down the road. They engage in their typical flirtatious quips and he stoops to pick her a bouquet before riding off.
Thus we quickly establish the lead characters and introduce the conflict, avoiding the long prologue about their meeting as children, which mainly sought to justify Dick’s life of crime.
Joan Crawford reportedly campaigned to show off her singing skills opposite Eddy in Girl.