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teaser Sweethearts (1938)

Accomplished color cinematography was rare enough in 1938 that Oliver Marsh and Allen Davey were awarded special Oscars® for their work on the MGM musical Sweethearts, starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. By the following year, with the arrival of Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Drums Along the Mohawk and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, color had come into its own and the awards for Best Cinematography were broken into two categories, Color and Black and White. Marsh and Davey were later nominated for Best Color Cinematography for another Eddy-MacDonald vehicle, Bitter Sweet (1940).

Sweethearts was Eddy and MacDonald's - and MGM's - first all-color movie. The studio had been slow to follow the expensive trend toward color, trying to get by with devices such as "Sepia Platinum," a brown-toned film stock, or inserting color sequences in otherwise black and white films such as MacDonald's The Cat and the Fiddle (1934). Sweethearts broke with the tradition and set the standard for the many Technicolor musicals to come. In dressing MacDonald, costumer Adrian fearlessly threw aside the fashion rule that redheads should wear only browns, greens and blues. To vivid and flattering effect, he put his star in pinks, yellows and fire-engine red.

Of Nelson and Eddy's eight co-starring vehicles, Sweethearts is also the first to be set in contemporary times. Many mistakenly believe the film to be a version of the Victor Herbert operetta of the same name, but it's actually a Dorothy Parker-Alan Campbell confection about a popular singing duo appearing in a long-running Broadway version of Sweethearts. The movies' Singing Sweethearts do, therefore, get a crack at the Herbert songs. But the real plot concerns the couple's attempt to sidestep their stage chores, and assorted hangers-on, by fleeing to Hollywood.

MacDonald, who had established herself as an outstanding player of light comedy in such films as Ernest Lubitsch's Love Me Tonight (1932), signed with MGM for two films in the early 1930s. Among the studio's first ideas: to co-star her with new star Nelson Eddy in a straight adventure story, The Prisoner of Zenda. Meanwhile, a proposed film version of Naughty Marietta was languishing because the studio couldn't find a suitable leading man for MacDonald. When Zenda failed to materialize, it finally dawned on producer Hunt Stromberg that Eddy and MacDonald were the perfect team for period operettas such as Naughty Marietta (1935), which, when released, put the seal of success on the new singing team. Their other hits included Rose Marie (1936), Maytime (1937) and The Girl of the Golden West (1938). Although MGM purchased the rights to both Show Boat and The Vagabond King as costarring vehicles for the pair, the partnership ended before these proposed films were made. Their final film as a team was MGM's I Married an Angel (1942).

Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Director: W. S. Van Dyke
Screenplay: Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, Fred De Gresac, Harry B. Smith, Robert B. Smith Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Joseph C. Wright (associate)
Cinematography: Allen M. Davey, Oliver T. Marsh
Costume Design: Adrian
Editing: Robert Kern
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Non-Original Music: Victor Herbert
Cast: Jeanette MacDonald (Gwen Marlowe), Nelson Eddy (Ernest Lane), Frank Morgan (Felix Lehman), Ray Bolger (Hans), Florence Rice (Kay Jordan), Mischa Auer (Leo Kronk), Herman Bing (Oscar Engel), Reginald Gardiner (Norman Trumpett)
C-115m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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