The Toast of New Orleans
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After their success together in That Midnight Kiss (1949), MGM hoped to make Philadelphia-born opera virtuoso Mario Lanza and Anchors Away (1945) star Kathryn Grayson into a new Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy duo, quickly putting them together again in this Cajun-spiced musical about the bon temps that rouler between a visiting opera diva (Grayson) and the crass yet alluring local Pepe (Lanza). Of course, everyone in this small fishing hamlet is a gifted singer and/or dancer, including Rita Moreno in an early role she later joked was one of many for which she employed her "universal ethnic accent". Lanza's once-in-a-lifetime voice is on exquisite display in the film's many songs, but off-screen he was already showing the signs of a destructive self-indulgence: long Chivas Regal-quaffing sessions with co-star David Niven, devouring entire pizzas by himself and alienating Grayson with his garlic breath, and, after one series of takes, grabbing Grayson's arms so forcefully the scripted slap she was supposed to bestow upon him turned into a closed-fist punch. Lanza made several more films before his demons overran him, but here he is young and powerful, with talent in full flower.
By Violet LeVoit