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Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament,
June 5, 2018 in MAD ABOUT MUSICALS: THE HISTORY OF THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS
Q1) I would say there is a definite attraction between the two, but as a good girl, Jeanette MacDonald has be coy and a little cagey about her attraction. Good girls can't just go throwing themselves at men. I loved how as he sang his love song to her she swayed along and gave him shy looks over her shoulder. Then at the end of the clip she was definitely trying to get his goat by telling him she knew he used this song trick with all the ladies.
Q2) I remember seeing Jeanette MacDonald in Three Daring Daughters. I enjoyed the movie so much as I really like Jane Powell and I believe this movie was to highlight Jane more than anything. I so wished they had given Jeanette more to do though her role as mother to these girls was quite believable it was more of an acting role versus a singing role. I don't remember seeing Nelson Eddy in other movies, but I do know my mother loved the movies they both were in together. She always said it was so sad that they were never allowed to marry as you could tell they were attracted to each other beyond the screen.
Q3) Attraction was okay, but acting upon it in an obvious way was not okay. Women were supposed to be sweet, shy, and little retiring while men were allowed to be virile, manly, and their knight in shining armor. These views for the Hollywood film code also extended to the personal lives of these stars. While MacDonald and Eddy were in love, Eddy wanted her to quite being in movies, but MacDonald wanted a career. In turn this led them to marry others and carry on their affair behind the backs of the public. The rumor was put about that they hated each other. Louis B. Mayer didn't want a divorce (which would be frowned upon) or any bad publicity to mar his talent.
Two things I noticed from the clips.
The subtle punch that was the line "nothing fit with Maude". Maybe I am reading into it but it seemed highly suggestive to me. Especially given the look on MacDonald's face when he said it. I loved Eddy's delivery though, there wasn't a hint of salaciousness in it and he wasn't trying to make Rose Marie blush, it was just very matter-of-fact in a way I found hilarious.
The second thing I noticed was how tight the singer's dress was and how sexual, so to speak, her movements were. I think they wanted her to look more suggestive next to MacDondald's more uptight virtuous Rose Marie.
My two quick observations:
1. What do you notice about the interaction between the characters in these two scenes? Please give specific examples. In the first scene, there is a very comfortable, almost playful banter between Eddy and MacDonald. They were romantically involved at one time and their chemistry is palpable here. In the second scene, they are definitely attracted to each other but they seem to want to resist getting involved. It’s a subtle dance.
2. If you have seen either or both of these actors in other films or television shows, please share your perceptions about them. They always seemed to bring at least part of their relationship to the screen whether or not they meant to do it. Their scenes are always relaxed and intimate, regardless of the scenario. It never feels like they are acting.
3. What do these clips tell you about the male/female relationships as they are depicted in the films during this era? What norms might you expect are supported under the Hollywood Film Code? Their relationships are depicted in a chaste way in all of their films. With the Production Code in full swing, one would think folks never had sex! The courtships are pure and non-physical beyond some kissing and hand-holding. It’s a very idealized and romantic view of relationships. In these musicals, real-world worries are rarely shown. Boy meets girl. Girl resists. Boy wins her over. They live happily ever after.
1. In the first clip, it's obvious that they are attracted to each other, although they try to hide it at first. MacDonald's character seems honored that he made up a song about her (then hurt when he admits he could have used any name to fit the girl he was with at the time.
In the second clip, she seems embarrassed that he has seen her singing in such an establishment, and he is embarrassed also. It is clear that they care very much for each other.
2. I have not seen any other films with MacDonald or Eddy.
3. Male/female relationships in films of the era adhere to the strict moral code. There is no physical contact between the main characters.)
Males are depicted as strong and brave (It is Eddy, not MacDonald, rowing the boat in the first clip.) Females, on the other hand, are seen as the "weaker" characters, those that need to be "rescued".
It is interesting to watch the attraction between the two main characters being mild and very restrained. McDonald tries her best not to look at Eddy as he is singing to her in the first clip and just watching her perform in the second.
There is no physical touching between the two in the canoe scene, however he is happily shaking hands and linking arms with all the other characters in the saloon. Is it permissible to touch 'loose women' but not 'good girls' in these post-code movies?
I have not seen any of the McDonald - Eddy movies but have seen many stills and short clips from their films. It was very rare to see them looking at each other, even during love songs. Again, is this post-code conduct that was expected in films?
1. The characters have innocent interactions. Though there are romantic undertones, nothing is overtly sexual. Each scene contains comedic moments to undercut the potentially sad situations of each character.
2. I haven’t seen another movie with either of these two actors, so I can’t speak to the second question.
3. Male/female relationships are the only ones that are acceptable, and the man is more welcome to be romantically adventurous with the opposite sex than their female counterparts. Women who wear more revealing clothing are loose, as eluded to by the female singer who outshines Marie in the second scene. Sergeant Bruce comes into that scene cuddled up to two women, and for some reason that feels okay. Obviously the norms in this time would be heterosexual relationships are the only acceptable relationships, sex is a no-go for the screen, and women should remain pure and innocent, and if they aren’t, a man can come and fix that. Also, men are not expected to maintain their sexual or romantic innocence.
1) The interaction is an example of magnetic poles. Mating dance of will they/won't they. Having said that, they could have been played by mannequins. There is no spark in either performer.
2) Have seen this film and others of theirs. Light operatic singing being a "thing" could only be a result of the forced cultural programming put forth by the primarily Jewish emigre moguls. This high art is but one example of the loftier musical and literary forms presented in the era. The new Americans attempt to assimilate hidden inside an attempt to force feed "culture" to the masses. Radio of the time did a better job than the Studios in presenting both high art and low. (Toscanini and The Guiding Light both presented on NBC Radio for instance)
3) The male/female relationships in the era are antiseptic, pure and hold up an ideal that doesn't exist but are messaged as something to strive for. Tame sexual attraction notwithstanding, Madonna/**** lesson is the underlining message.
I have not seen this movie or these actors before, but what I notice most in the two scenes are the portrayals and reinforcement of gender roles in courtship. The man pursues the female, while the female is coy and acts uninterested in him, although she is interested, which is shown by her expressions when he is in the saloon. In the saloon scene it continues to reinforce how innocent and chaste she is because she can't look/act/sing like the other singer. Meanwhile, the man walks in with two women on his arms. It's acceptable for the man to sow his wild oats, but of course in the end he really wants to settle down with the demure woman portrayed by the actress.
The scene opens with the two in a canoe, traveling across a lake. They obviously know each other, but Marie seems to not care for Sgt. Bruce. They are getting her across so she can “meet another man”, and Bruce guesses what his occupation might be. Marie seems to get even more upset and anxious about being with him. Marie finally tells him “Italian Tenor”. Bruce then begins to sing, Marie's attitude quickly changes. She smiles, and rubs her fingers together, not looking at him, her eyes looking to left, thinking and smile getting bigger. Finally, she tells him, “You have a lovely voice”.
This will also lead to their going back to the beginning attitude. They start being jocular at putting in different names than Marie. Joking about it, then he said, “It doesn’t work with Maud” and looking forlorn says “Nothing worked with Maud”. Marie then gives him a look, turns from him angry again and he quickly paddles off. That line just works in the Production Code because it is Nelson and MacDonald.
Another area that works only because of MacDonald is the saloon scene when the manager sends one of the other girls to “pep up” Marie’s audition. She is running her hands all over her body, and the dress she wears is extremely tight. (As I understand they had to make special costumes for Jean Harlow since she had a similar problem). It only works because MacDonald in trying to copy her comes across comically, and so it probably passed the censors for that reason.
I have avoided Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, I am familiar with them, especially because of the Indian Love Song from Rose-Marie:
Perhaps is just reminds me too much of “high school drama”.
Obviously the norms have now changed. Everything needs to be much more innocent seeming. Ladies, will not react well to off-color remarks. We know that this leads in most movies to the “twin-bed” master bedroom of any married couple almost. It is the innocent flirtations and the prudish chase that can be seen, and ends with the man winning the woman. Especially, in musicals. There is definitely a second class citizenship status to this.
1. What is most noticeable between the two is the chemistry - quite a lot of magnetism going on. Both seem to like each other but she of course is
doing her best to seem unimpressed by his advances. You see her embarrassment in the second clip, she notices the Mountie watching her uncomfortable
performance, although he doesn't seem to notice she's not the best at swing music. She finally walks away with a toss of her head as if that would
salvage any self respect she may have had (I loved the comedic timing).
2. I have never seen either in any films and I'm quite surprised I haven't. The clips made me want to see more! I love their comedic timing and chemistry.
3. The female/male relationships are of course clean, he makes cutesy innuendo of liking her and she of course rebuffs his advances.
Nothing is overtly sexist or sexy (except for that bar singer - her outfit and dancing made her look like a trollop). Our heroine of course is dressed in a modest
skirt suit. She is good and pure as all heroine's of the day were.
1. J.M. is trying not to get involved with E.N. because she is in pursuit of her brother who is wanted by the Mounties. But she is very attracted to him. E.N. is drawn to her sophistication and demur attitude. Trying to woo her is almost impossible because her mind is on her brother.
2. I have seen all their movies but only together. They have chemistry and appeal.
3. The relationships of the time were depicted as chaste and pure. Real life was quite different at the time when people took pleasure where they could find it. The NORMS under the Hollywood Film Code required purity, chaste and clothed actors. Nothing showing, no vulgarity, and chaste performances.
1. Maybe its me, but I have never seen a lot of romantic chemistry between Nelson and Jeanette. In the first clip, their love/hate flirting shows them at their best. Nelson is more relaxed than he usually is when he sings, and they play comedy well. In fact, I often see the greatest chemistry between them when they aren't singing. When they sing, they stiffen up and bellow at each other. This may work well on the opera or operetta stage, but it doesn't work so well for me in the more intimate movies. For an example of good chemistry while singing in an operetta style, check out Allan Jones and Irene Dunne in Show Boat.
2. I've seen them in other films together, and all the films I remember were costume dramas like this one. Even Sweethearts took place in another era. It's as if MGM wanted to match their trained singing style, which is to song as a Shakespearean soliloquy is to conversation, with costumes that also distanced them from the audience and from everyday life.
3. These scenes seem to reflect the position of women at the time that the film came out. At that time, there were few women in the workplace, and few career opportunities for women (teachers, secretary, librarian, etc.) Men were in the position of power in workplace and in the home. You see that very clearly here. Notice in the first clip that his head is always higher than hers and that he is paddling the boat -- two symbols of male domination. The second clip shows her incompetence at performing in a nightclub, and I imagine that he follows her out of the club with the intention of comforting her. Notice also that his job is a mountie, one who protects people, and that the job she aspires to is a singer/entertainer, one of the few jobs that were open to her at the time but not one that (in this scene) is very respected.
1) I found the way the clips handle physical vs. emotional distance remarkable. In the canoe scene, they are physically near each other but there is more emotional distance. They aren't even looking at each other much of the time, and seem to be falling into what I imagine are safe and familiar roles for the characters. In the saloon scene, though they don't really engage with each other, the camera brings them together by capturing their expressions in closer shots. There is wit, humor, and chemistry in the first scene, but a real emotional connection seems to be forged in the second, when the more confident character is caught in a vulnerable situation and the slightly less confident character is allowed to feel empathy for her.
2) I have only seen clips of these performers singing over the years. I can't recall seeing their straight acting and I've certainly never watched an entire film that either was in. I confess I assumed their films were pretty much unwatchable based on the singing alone, and didn't particularly look forward to viewing these scenes. But they went some distance toward changing my mind. They will probably never be Fred & Ginger to me, but I wouldn't mind seeing more of them.
3) As I assume others have said, the film reinforces the cat and mouse idea of the male pursuing the female and the female being initially reticent, as befitting a proper lady. This gives the lady, as Jane Austen once observed, the power to "increase love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females." It is obvious they set the MacDonald character up as pure and untainted in the saloon scene, and the regular as a bawdy good-time sort of gal. The bad girl (complete with 'revealing' bodice - someone get her a proper bra!) may have the power of initial attraction, but she isn't the one that a good man emotionally connects to and presumably would choose to settle down with and bring home to meet the folks. By the way, MacDonald's attempts to mimic the bawdier performance were both humorous and touchingly awkward. I wanted to watch it through my hands. I half expected her to turn in a proper imitation, as Irene Dunne does in The Awful Truth - but that was a different sort of film, with very different characters, I expect.
While Jeannette is showing the deep focus regarding aiding her brother, it is clear in her expression that Nelson's voice helps her to see him as other than a means to an end. He isn't a smooth a film performer as she but it works in his favor as the stalwart Mountie.
Jeannette had a brightness that sold her movies and quite a range as she demonstrates in the scene in the tavern.
In the first clip there is a playfulness about the scene. The Mounty does not hide his attraction towards her as he says "every time I realize I'm helping you get to another man, it takes the heart out of me!"
He even tries to guess what type of guy she's seeing, and when he finds out that the guy is a singer, he proves that he is a singer too. The playfulness continues with
Rose Marie trying to exhibit a carelessness about his singing and his song, trying to act as though she doesn't enjoy it and even gives him a shocked look and challenges him at the end. She
jokes that he must have composed it on the spot, and he plays along, catching what she is doing, by singing it again but with a different name, and even "admits" that he sings that song as
long as the girl's name fits with it. As appalled as she appears to be by this news, she really did enjoy the song, and uses his comment about the names as an excuse to be able to hide her
feelings for him.
In the second clip, Marie is more vulnerable as she is out of her element. She isn't in control of the situation, and can't quite figure out how to gain that control, no matter how hard she tries.
It's clear that the style of performance needed for the saloon is not her style of performance, but she is willing to give it a try out of necessity. Her talent doesn't go unnoticed by everyone as
the pianist points out that she has a nice voice, she just has to put some pep in it. When the "regular" steps in to "save the day," or perhaps just to upstage her, Marie doesn't fully give up.
However, realizing that's just not for her, and realizing that the Mounty is present and has definitely noticed her, it's clear she's had enough. Though she leaves embarrassed, she leaves with
her head held high. That playfulness from the first clip is replaced with a sense of concern by the Mounty for her.
I have not seen them in any other movies and from these short clips I can't form any opinion or anything about them.
From these clips, it would seem that the relationships are more like a chase. The guy chasing the girl, and the girl giving the guy something to chase. The girl also makes him work for it, she doesn't
just let him have, he has to earn it in some way.
In clips from Rose Marie (1936) the interaction between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy is very reserved and formal yet an obvious flirtation is happening as Sergeant Bruce is pursuing a relationship with Marie and flat out asking her what competition he might have and what might attract her (to a man). So keeping in line with the production code, he is straightforward and open about his intentions all the while being a perfect gentleman. His singing starts to bring her around and allows for some innocent verbal trifling yet no physical contact at all and the conversation is all above board and very proper.
These film clips tells us that the relationships of men and women within films of this era are going to be appropriate and suitable per the Hollywood Film Code. The films to follow in this time period could be described, to paraphrase Joel Grey from Cabaret (1972), “In here life is beautiful!” Even the actors, the dialog and the plot are beautiful. Leave your troubles outside!
Jeanette MacDonald barely tolerates the Nelson Eddy character, won’t even look at him until he starts singing. Then a smile comes to her face, even though she still won’t turn around and look at him. Finally as he finishes, she turns to him and smiles. Afterwards, when he asks if she likes the song, she plays it cool, swapping in other girl’s names, but she is clearly impressed. Her perception has changed...
Jeanette MacDonald played the same character in San Francisco (1936). She must make money by singing in **** Norton’s (Clark Gable) saloon, but thinks she is above it. The conflict comes when she is offered a chance to sing at an opera house. But she has fallen in love with **** Norton … Again the male/female conflict where the woman thinks she is "above it" yet because of bad luck, must do something she ordinarily wouldn't do. The male, being attracted to her (a different type of woman than he is used to), woos her and wins her in the end.
It is clear (especially in the early Code Films) that purity should be the idea that is championed. These characters clearly are on the straight and narrow. When placed in the unsavoury saloon, MacDonald is made to seem innocent and and put-upon; clearly, the film-makers are creating the impression for all to be in love with the "good girl". This false reading of women just leads to decades of engendering a culture. On a side note, it is interesting how they adapted the original operetta from Broadway and made it this film.
1. In the 1st scene, she is driving the interaction. She is not interested in him and he tries very hard to win her over anyway he can but ends up revealing himself as something of a playboy and she calls him out on it. There is almost no eye contact between the two. His song does win her over (some) and she then looks at him but turns away again when she realizes he might not be serious. In the 2nd scene, eye contact is purposefully avoided by both of them. She is ashamed that she has to work in such a place and that she is failing miserably. She slinks away in defeat. He tries to make sure that she doesn't see him with another woman hanging all over him, which he was fine with until her sees her singing. He feels sympathy for her but is not going to embarrass her in front of everyone.
2. I have not seen them in anything else.
3. This movie casts women as either saints or whores, there's no in between. For the Nelson Eddy character, he's revealed as a playboy but is ashamed to have her see him as such, especially in the bar. It's acceptable for a man to have a past but not a woman. He probably changes in order to win her over because she's the good woman he's always wanted deep down.
The first clip from Rosemarie really sets the tone for the relationship between Nelson and Jeannette. The attraction is there and his feigned jealously of having to "bring her to another man" is quite fun to watch. You can tell that she is truly impressed by his voice and her gentle mocking shows a little of her jealous side as well. The second clip in the saloon is interesting to me, because Jeanette really doesn't appear embarrassed until she notices that Nelson is there. He attempts at being more provocative cements the notion that she needs to behave as such to please a man, or "get the guy"
I have seen a few of their films and had always viewed them as stereotypical operetta fodder/ Boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl. I'm hoping to watch them with a little different perspective now.
The interaction between the two characters in the canoe is interesting. We have to assume that we're in a very quiet point on the lake - no wind, no paddling noises whatsoever, and Rose Marie is able to hear Mountie Bruce just fine, regardless of which way she's facing. That said, putting our rapt audience hat on, they're bantering away like comrades, rather than developing a romantic relationship - which we know will develop, come hell or high water, because this IS a movie and they MUST sing together. But it's not surprising that they're a little less than cuddling, since many of us have seen the beginning of the movie and know that she's hiding something and he's trying to figure it out. He doesn't, right now, seem to view her as an object of affection - she's more of a study. He's joking about many love interests and the way he gets them, while she plays along. All that changes when he sees her sing next to the dance hall girl in the second clip.
I've seen Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in several movies together (I regret to say I cannot remember them), as well as separately. Nelson I remember vaguely in frontier movies ('stalwart' seems his natural forte), and Jeanette I remember in "Three Daring Daughters" (she plays mom) and "San Francisco" (doesn't everybody?). When I was younger I loved them together, but have no memory of plot, and I'm not sure that was my fault. Regardless, Jeanette seems stamped with the "lady" label, while Nelson seems not only stoic, but possibly limited by his acting range.
But I think Nelson does show a bit of range in the saloon in Rose Marie. That scene was filled with little threads of conflict: Nelson seeing what a real lady looks like, versus those floozies; the bad saloon girl showing Rose Marie how singing in a saloon is done; and our heroine trying, then realizing "how it's done" just wasn't the right thing to do. A lady staying a lady no matter what - even if she has no money, no prospects - that has motion picture production code written all over it. And of course Mountie Bruce was realizing that a real lady was a cut above all those bad girls he'd been spending time with - the production code would never allow happiness for bad girls.
Turns out it's a good thing life isn't like the movies!
(I have to acknowledge that saloon scene in Rose Marie was remarkably similar to the scene in "San Francisco," where Jeanette MacDonald allowed love of "****" lead her down the road of singing in a sinful style. In that movie, the production code had an earthquake teach sinful Clark Gable a lesson.)
Structurally, the main characters are carefully designed to present stereotypes. Eddy represents masculine, authoritative law and order on the frontier. He will rescue her as Mounties always rescue damsels in distress as a shout-out to the old melodramas, a form familiar to pre-sound film audience. On the other hand, MacDonald symbolizes feminine purity (with a spunky element of playfulness which is still appropriate) and high class (her demeanor and musical choices). You can’t make ****-goochy sound with a voice like hers. She is worthy of him and will help further tame the lawless society.
Both are in stark contrast to the stock characters who are rough customers who might be loggers or gold miners (lawless, hedonistic) and saloon girls who give entertainment of a crasser nature and implied physical comfort. All are plied by alcohol which allows release from inhibitions (except for the main characters), daily toil and dirt, conditions. The audience aspires to the main characters but to some degree, identify with the stock characters.
The setting is the western/northern frontier where law and order must be established with a firm hand. The frontier allows man’s basic nature to be exhibited which is always entertaining. It further sets up the theme of man vs his innate nature as well as the imperative that social order must prevail to preserve culture and humanity. This is important historically, especially after the conflict of World War I (and as prelude to World War II).
During the Depression, this film reminded the audience of the old days when “girls were girls and men were men” and the days of chivalrous knights and damsels while acknowledging that times were changing. Displaced by economic situations, Depression-era people yearned to strike it rich and to explore the great unknown if only in their minds and vicariously through film. Still, the human heart needs companionship, family and security. There was security in the rules of chivalry and the mythical days of old that people long for in times of economic distress.
Cinematically, in the canoe, both characters are presented in close proximity which is only allowed because of the situation and staging. Propriety and her primness is maintained by placing her back to him while it also allows contrast between his wooden presentation and her natural acting. For the plot, this signals conflict and the need for the boy to win the girl. After all, the thrill of the pursuit is the theme of many human stories in all art forms, old and new. How will he win her? Are they worthy of each other? What plot elements can make it interesting? Eddy as Canadian Mountie is the courtly suitor. This is all very proper as opposed to looseness of bar scene with people stepping in front of each other before the camera and audience. Here, the juxtapositions, especially in sharp contrast to MacDonald’s high music and formal presentation, show the level of disorder/lawlessness/social chaos in the setting which adds that element of complication to the basic conflict of will boy win the girl.
Here, this example of musical art form is built upon the traditions of both opera and Broadway. From opera, it used the form (opera comique) and the popular type of singing, Bel Canto. The staging and his stiffness are reminiscent of staged opera while MacDonald takes advantage of close-ups possible in film, exhibiting her real acting flair, a talent which sets her apart and becomes more important as film develops. Her style is both winsome as it seems natural and spontaneous. An element of Broadway musicals is that because it is staged and the audience at a distance, intimacy, naturalness and spontaneity are lost to stylized, grander gestures and expression. Film changes this relationship so that the audience has a much closer to the characters, drawing them into the medium and story. This is also shown in the Garland/Durbin song. Garland seems spontaneous and Durbin more formal. In the end, the formality and stiffness, even song styles, will change as they need to. It is fun to examine film in these earlier stages to explore its roots and development.
1) There is a certain level of innocence that is carried through them, fitting in with the code, but there is also a wonderful flirtation between the two that comes through in the clips. They are romantic without having to be seductive, which is evident in the second clip when the more **** up saloon dancer gets up to entertain, but Eddy's eyes stay fixed on MacDonald. You can see the admiration and love that he has for her shows on his face. Purity shines through more than the sexuality.
3) There is a level of purity to the romance, as I mentioned in the first response. There might be teasing going on between the two, but they don't stray from solid and traditional view of first comes love, then marriage, then the baby in the baby carriage.
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