The Lottery Bride (1930)


CREDITS
BACKGROUND
PLOT
REVIEWS
MUSIC IN THE FILM
TRIVIA


United Artists.
Released October 25, 1930.
Produced by Arthur Hammerstein and presented by Joseph M. Schenck.
Directed by Paul L. Stein.
80 minutes.

Two-strip Technicolor finale.

Based on Herbert Stothart’s story, “Bride 66.” Adapted by Horace Jackson. Music by Rudolf Friml, lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan. Supervision: John W. Considine Jr. Continuity and dialogue: Howard Emmett Rogers. Editor: Robert J. Kern. Editorial Adviser, Hal C. Kern. Settings: William Cameron Menzies and Park French. Musical Arrangements: Hugo Riesenfeld. Photography: Ray June and Karl Freund. Sound: J.T. Reed and Frank Maher. Production Manager: O.O. Dull. Assistant directors: Lonnie D’Orsa and Walter Mayo. Costumes: Alice O’Neill. Movietone Recording.

Jeanette MacDonald (Jenny Trondson, Bride 66)
John Garrick (Chris Svenson)
Joe E. Brown (Hoke Curtis)
ZaSu Pitts (Hilda)
Robert Chisholm (Olaf Svenson)
Joseph Macaulay (Alberto)
Harry Gribbon (Battleaxe Boris)
Carroll Nye (Nels Trondson)
Max Davidson (Marriage Broker)
Frank Brownlee (Guard)
Paul Hurst (Lottery Agent)
Robert E. Homans (Miner)
Eugene Pallette (Miner)
Broderick O’Farrell (Bank Cashier)
Torben Meyer (Karl Olson, lottery winner)
Bobby Dunn (Olson’s friend)
Budd Fine (Radio Operator)
Chuck Hamilton (Radioman)
Charles K. French (Dirigible officer)
Clarence Geldert (Dirigible lieutenant)
Michael Visaroff (Official on dock)
Murdock MacQuarrie (Captain)

*Although many cast lists give Jeanette’s family name as “Swanson,” the original press sheets say “Trondson.” Her name is not mentioned during the film.


Background

The Lottery Bride rates a place in film history because it is certainly one of the pictures that contributed to the refusal of the American public to attend any film even sounding like a musical. Rudolf Friml’s name and that of noted set designer William Cameron Menzies are about the only things going for it. Both prove misleading.

Friml’s songs were apparently culled from the wastebasket, for they are not even bad enough (with one exception) to fall into that ap­palling category “camp.” Menzies’s Scandina­vian interiors lack only live trolls.

It was becoming nearly mandatory for operettas to be supervised by men who had made their name in silent German cinema, and so Dr. Paul L. Stein occupied the director’s chair. The Lottery Bride was his fourth sound film, so inexperience was no excuse. He did four more films in America, including A Woman Commands (1932), Pola Negri’s first American sound film, and then left for England.

Musicals had become a readily saleable product, and every hot market finds someone willing to supply it quickly and cheaply. Despite the big names and Technicolor finale, The Lottery Bride marries undistinguished music to a ludicrous plot and the resultant progeny is a misbegotten mess.

Leading man John Garrick was a blond young Britisher who had starred in a number of early musicals for Fox. He didn’t survive the first musical “cycle” and, surprisingly, neither did stage veteran Robert Chisholm, who pro­vides the bright moments of the film with his consis­tent refusal to overact. (Chisholm had just appeared in Friml’s Luana on Broadway, a show that survived seventeen performances.) Garrick returned to England, subsequently appearing in 28 more musicals including the lavish 1934 Chu Chin Chow, and, back in the U.S., The Great Victor Herbert in 1939. Silent star ZaSu Pitts, who had played Jeanette’s maid in Monte Carlo, was hitting her stride in sound films as a comedienne. She appeared in nine other films that year.


Plot

Strolling couples in simple peasant garb of satin and velvet are seen entering a Norse sailing ship, now a landlocked café christened The Jazzy Viking. Inside, the students sing a rousing drinking song, “Come Drink to the Girl that You Love,” with much banging of cups on the trestle tables. Bandleader Hoke Curtis (Joe E. Brown) introduces himself to the café proprietress, Hilda (ZaSu Pitts). He has brought his (all black) jazz band from America to fill an engagement at The Jazzy Viking. Just in time, he figures. The number they’re doing in the next room isn’t so hot. “Oh, they don’t work here,” Hilda explains. “Just university boys and their girlfriends having a party.”

Jenny (Jeanette) appears for her only solo in the film, dancing with a concertina chorus to “Yubla.” Hoke admires the collection of pretty girls’ pictures being thumbed by a bearded old man in the corner (Max Davidson). The codger, however, is only a marriage broker who arranges to send brides to the men up north.

Jenny and her boyfriend, Chris (John Garrick), start into the garden when they run into Alberto (Joseph Macaulay), an unctuous Italian aviator, and Jenny’s brother, Nels (Carroll Nye), who looks worried. Alberto assures Jenny that Nels is all right, just working hard at the bank. Jenny and Chris depart, and we learn that Nels is worried. He has embezzled money from the bank to pay his gambling debts to Alberto.

In the moonlit garden, Chris tells Jenny that it is natural to worry about brothers. He himself often worries about his big brother, Olaf, who is up north in the mining camp. He soothes her with the film’s love song, “My Northern Light,” in which he compares the girl’s eyes to the arctic phenomenon.

During the next few days, Hoke takes over more than the bandstand at the café. Soon he is asserting his male prerogative over Hilda, suggesting several changes in business procedures. One is to hold a marathon dance. Jenny thinks it might be fun to enter, but Chris says no. “I think too much of you to let those pretty eyes and little feet of yours get all tired out in such a crazy affair.” Nels arrives and privately begs Jenny to enter with him. He is in serious financial trouble and must win the prize. “Chris, I’m entering the contest with Nels. I’ll explain later,” cries Jenny as she is dragged onto the dance floor. Alberto smirks, enjoying Chris’s anger.

The dance begins with a low, sensuous beat, rising steadily in a wall of oboes and saxophones. Hours go by. Only two couples left. Jenny is prostrate during the rest period. “Nels, I can’t dance any more!” Nels begs her to continue. Otherwise, he’ll go to jail. Alberto comes to tell them the dance is starting again. “The strain of the dance has not taken any of the beauty from your face,” he leeringly tells Jenny.

Nels begs Alberto to lend him enough money to cover the shortage. Alberto agrees…if Jenny will ask him, he replies suggestively. Shuddering, Jenny drags Nels toward the dance floor, but they are met by the police. Jenny helps Nels escape, then faints in Alberto’s arms, where Chris finds her.

Operetta tenors are a uniformly doltish lot, only slightly above the Australian tree toad in perception, so Chris chooses to misunderstand the tableau. He storms off, leaving forever, and Jenny is arrested for helping Nels escape. Alberto chuckles with glee as the lights fade on our “first act curtain.”

Two months later, Jenny is released from prison. She is met in the waiting room by Hoke and by Hilda, who has lost her café. The police closed it because of the marathon dance. Hoke tells the women that everything will be all right. “We still have my brains…and they’re good.” “Good as new,” Hilda mutters, “they’ve never been used.”

Jenny decides she must follow Chris’s example: leave Oslo and start all over again. The jailer (Frank Brownlee) announces a visitor, and Jenny’s heart leaps. It is not Chris, but the marriage broker, offering Jenny a chance to be a picture bride. “Can you imagine Jenny doing a thing like that?” scoffs Hilda. “I’ll go!” cries Jenny.

In the far north, a snowbound tavern. The brides are being allotted by spins of a roulette wheel as the miners chant, “Round She Whirls.” Chris has joined his brother, Olaf (Robert Chisholm), a bearded, gentle bear of a man, and they are watching the revelry of their drinking companions. The brothers sing of their friendship in sturdy march rhythm: “Shoulder to Shoulder.” In a quick piece of plot development, Chris wins a bride and then turns her over to Olaf without glancing at her picture. It is, of course, Jenny’s picture that Olaf holds.

Chris (John Garrick) comforts Jenny during the marathon dance contest she has been forced to enter because her brother (Carroll Nye, second from left) has embezzled money from the bank to pay his gambling debts to the Italian aviator (Joseph Macaulay, left.)

The bride boat is pulling out, and Hilda runs to join Jenny, wanting to get away from Hoke. But Hoke follows her and so the three are headed for the Arctic Circle. They reach their destination and find the whole town turned out, but not for them. An Italian dirigible is due to land on its route over the North Pole. (Until the Hindenburg disaster, dirigibles were a popular subject for adven­ture films, e.g. Dirigible, The Lost Zeppe­lin.) Hilda accidentally gets a bride number pinned on the back of her coat, and mountainous miner Battleaxe Boris (Harry Gribbon) claims her, much to her delight and Hoke’s dismay.

Olaf arrives to claim his bride, and Chris and Jenny confront each other. They pretend not to know each other, and their icy greetings are cut short by the arrival of the Italian dirigible. Olaf rushes off to direct the mooring, leaving Chris to care for Jenny. Chris refuses a reconciliation and Jenny resolves to be faithful to the good-hearted Olaf.

The crowd welcomes the airship musically with “High and Low.” From the comically minute cabin of the dirigible, steps—you guessed it—Alberto! In the necessary recognition scene that follows, all the interrelationships are cited (except that of Chris and Jenny) and Alberto intones: “Strange that we should all meet here.” Olaf cheerfully invites Alberto to live at his house during the air ship’s stopover.

Hoke and Battleaxe resolve their rivalry over Hilda. To her disgust, they go off arm in arm to have a drink. The ménage à quatre has its problems too. Jenny is flirting with Alberto to spite Chris. “Alberto, do you remember the song I liked so well?” “Of course,” he replies and sings eight bars of “Napoli,” certainly the shortest tenor aria on record.

Robert Chisholm as Chris’s brother provides the only believable moments in the film. Both he and Joseph Macaulay had just appeared in Friml’s short-lived Broadway musical Luana. In 1934, Chisholm played “Macheath” in the first American production of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera.

Back at the tavern, Hoke and Battleaxe are deep in the bottle, singing an incredibly tedious ballad of snakes and sotted illusions: “Two Strong Men.”

Olaf is oblivious to the tensions in his little household. He tells Jenny how much he loves her: “You’re an Angel.” He casually exits the fantastically paneled room on his high note and Chris bitterly reprises the song.

The dirigible at long last is taking off for the North Pole. Chris has secretly joined the crew to get away. He tells Olaf he wishes him and Jenny all the happiness in the world and boards the cabin. Jenny arrives just in time to see Chris waving from the rising dirigible. As the miners chant “High and Low,” Jenny runs after the departing airship, with an effective point-of-view shot of her falling farther and farther behind as the diri­gible picks up speed. The scene is strongly reminiscent of Renée Adorée’s pursuit of John Gilbert in The Big Parade (1925). At last, Jenny falls weeping and exhausted into a snow bank. Her hand dislodges some loose snow which plops on the miniature houses, supposedly in the valley below.

Olaf is finally catching on. He wanders disconsolately about his cabin, finding a photo of Chris and Jenny under the pillow in her room. Naturally, he sings of his sorrow: “I’ll Follow the Trail.”

The dirigible isn’t doing too well, either. It ices over and crashes. This scene is intercut with another tedious comedy sequence in which Hoke tries to promote Battleaxe as a prize fighter, only to have him licked by the smallest man in town.

With the dirigible down, Olaf tries to commandeer an icebreaker to get to Chris. Its captain tells him, “There’s nothing out there but death.” “My brother’s out there!” intones Olaf. He sets out with a dog sled, refusing to take Jenny. Soon he too is lost. Meanwhile, Chris and Alberto leave the crash scene to go for help.

Back at the mining camp, Jenny leaps on a table and begs for volunteers to man the icebreaker. Hoke says he has a reputation for following women, so he might as well live up to it. “I’ll go,” cries a miner. “Let’s all go,” shouts another. They surge off in perfect operetta chorus fashion.

In the cardboard wasteland, Olaf happens upon Chris and Alberto, and amidst much panting, Jenny’s innocence is revealed. Behind the papier-maché ice blocks upon which our heroes are reclining, we see a miniature icebreaker, a trickle of smoke coming from its smokestack. It trembles across the tiny paper icebergs, but our heroes are too far gone to see it. The camera cuts back and forth between the oncoming icebreaker and the fading adventurers, slowly at first, then faster and faster. The music grows louder and louder.

From the deck of the full-sized ice­breaker, Jenny spots Chris. “Chris!” she cries. “Jenny!” he answers. The screen bursts into a Technicolor blaze of northern lights as the lovers wave to each other and the strains of “My Northern Light” rise in a grand climax.


Reviews

“Arthur Hammerstein’s first talking and singing musical movie is pretty good as to score, but so altogether bereft is it of imagi­nation in libretto, mounting, or approach, that it must take its place along toward the end of the class,” reported the New York Herald Tribune.

Variety said “there isn’t a worthwhile performance in the entire cast,” and noted that “only don’t-care theatres can safely venture this one in their bookings.” The New York Times was becoming more respectful in reviewing the theatrical stepchild, cinema, and Mordaunt Hall was polite: “Rudolf Friml’s musical composi­tions in The Lottery Bride…are thoroughly en­joyable, but, like most film operettas, the story, the dialogue and, to some extent, the acting, are quite another matter. It is a pictorial contribution that causes one to wish that the performers would sing more and talk considerably less.”


Music in the Film

Music by Rudolf Friml and lyrics by J. Keirn Brennan except as noted. In listing performers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.

Overture: “You’re an Angel,” “My Northern Light”
“Come Drink to the Girl that You Love” (chorus)
“Yubla” (MacDonald)
“My Northern Light” (Garrick, MacDonald)
Marathon music (orchestral) authorship uncertain
“Round She Whirls” (male chorus)
“Shoulder to Shoulder” (Garrick and Chisholm with male chorus)
“High and Low” (chorus)
“Napoli” (Macaulay)
“Two Strong Men” (Gribbon and Brown)
“You’re an Angel” (Chisholm)
“High and Low” reprise (chorus)
“I’ll Follow the Trail” (Chisholm)
Finale: “My Northern Light”


Trivia

The studios created “pressbooks” to help theatre owners publicize each film. Besides special promotion ideas (like building fake igloos in the lobby or sending a knight in armour galloping around town), these large magazines contained ads that could be reproduced and news releases that the local press could print verbatim. A combination of facts, fantasy, and purple prose, they were sometimes issued before the film was completed and so described scenes that were never filmed or cut or cast members who ended up on the cutting room floor.

From The Lottery Bride pressbook:

“As many as nine exposures were made on a single film for the Technicolor sequence in order to present visions as they might appear in the minds of men.…The colorful scenes, set to music by Rudolph Frimil, foremost living composer, represent the vision of three men lost in the arctic ice fields after a dirigible crash and who are resigning themselves to an icy death.

“John Garrick sings a love song, and the ice fields dissolve into the scenes of his native Oslo, where he sees himself being wedded to Jeanette MacDonald while beautiful little girls strew flowers and peasants turn out in holiday attire.

“Then Robert Chisholm joins in the singing and the vision changes to their earlier life—a great ice carnival, a great army of skaters, ski jumpers leaping from the heavens and disappearing over the horizons.

“Joseph Macaulay portraying an aviator, sings of his native Rome. An extravagant vision of the city appears in the sky; there is music of a three-day Lenten carnival, the music of Holy Week, and processions merging into one that vanishes over a distant hill. The magnifi­cence of these blurring, dissolving, intermingling scenes is the result of experts.” 

Little of any of this press book description this is visible in the final film, of course.

Reportedly, producer Arthur Hammerstein set up his own sound camera and simultaneously filmed his own personal copy of the picture.