Sweethearts, released by MGM in 1938, is one of the eight Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy musicals. This is the first of their musicals that I’ve seen, and I’m hooked.
Like so many 1930s musicals this is a backstage musical. Husband and wife team Ernest Lane and Gwen Marlowe have been appearing together for six years in the smash hit broadway musical Sweethearts. Their marriage is a happy one and it’s a happy production. There are no clouds on the horizon. At least there are no clouds on the horizon for Gwen and Ernest. There is a very big cloud on the horizon for the show’s producer, Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan). That cloud is Hollywood. A major studio is trying to lure Gwen and Ernest to Hollywood. This would be a disaster for Lehman. It would also be a disaster for everyone at the theatre, and for composer Oscar Engel (Herman Bing) and for playwright Leo Kronk (Mischa Auer). Something must be done to keep Gwen and Ernest in New York and to keep the show running.
That’s all there is to the plot. That’s all the plot the film needs. The plot is just an excuse for some great musical numbers and for some light romantic comedy. The screenplay (co-written by Dorothy Parker) provides plenty of wit and amusement and the fine cast makes the most of it.
The production in which the two stars are supposed to be appearing is actually Victor Herbert’s 1913 operetta Sweethearts.
I’m not sure that anyone would rate Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy among the acting greats but they’re more than adequate for this sort of vehicle. They’re both likeable and charming and they handle the comedy with complete assurance. Frank Morgan and Herman Bing are funny, and Mischa Auer is very funny as the egotistical, scheming but not overly talented Leo Kronk.
It’s one of the oddities of Hollywood that a Hollywood musical like this relies on the idea that Broadway is the home of true artistry while Hollywood is crass and vulgar and commercial and we’re supposed to hope that Ernest and Gwen keep out of the clutches of those wicked Hollywood moguls!
Sweethearts is all froth and bubbles but delightfully so. A well-crafted film with wonderful performances, excellent music, plenty of humour and romance and sparkling dialogue plus lush Technicolor cinematography. Pure lightweight entertainment but utterly captivating. Highly recommended.