Monday, August 27, 2012

SUTS 2012: Jeanette MacDonald

The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon is a month-long event corresponding with the Turner Classic Movies annual presentation, in which each day in August is devoted to the films of a different classic film star. The blogathon is hosted by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the links at either site.

Since SUTS lasts all month long, and there are so many stars to choose from, I decided I should probably pick at least one star I knew nothing about for this blogathon. I picked Jeanette MacDonald only because (a) she fit into my schedule and (b) I hadn't done an actress yet, so there you go. And I lucked out when I saw that she was a singer, because it gave me an opportunity to do something different yet again.

So let's see: MacDonald was born in Philly and went to New York to appear on Broadway with her older sister. Ernst Lubitsch took a chance on her in 1929 with The Love Parade, his first sound film, with Maurice Chevalier. From there, she went on to star in a number of mostly musical films, mostly at Paramount and MGM, spanning close to twenty years. Concurrently, she made a lot of records and did a lot of concerts, including opera, and she even did some radio and TV in her later years.

I've picked five songs that she sung in five different movies and reviewed them. I've tried to be as objective as possible, given that these songs come from a very different era; I don't expect her to sound like Adele or anybody like that.

"San Francisco" from San Francisco. Well, she's certainly having a good time in this scene - or sequence of scenes, actually. MacDonald had a very trilling, operatic voice, and it's certainly used to full effect here, though I wonder how the song would sound with a more earthier voice; Mae West's, for example. High marks for stage presence; I could easily imagine her voice carrying in such a small, intimate theater - and it's a nice, rousing number too. 9.0

"Wanting You" (with Nelson Eddy) from New Moon (no, not that one). Here's a romantic little ditty - and whoa, how about that glass-shattering high note towards the end? Sopranos going for those stratospheric notes is impressive and all, I guess, but to me, musical range is more important than whether your singing will make dogs bark in response. (IMDB says MacDonald had a three-octave range.) Not to knock MacDonald; she and Eddy sound very good together in what is - I'm sorry - a typical sappy love song. From the rolling of her R's, I imagine MacDonald's character has an accent of some sort as well. 7.0

"Will You Remember, Sweetheart?" (with Nelson Eddy) from Maytime. Okay, it looks like they start out as young lovers and later on we see her when she's older (dying?) but their souls, I guess, are reunited? That's what this looked like. I dunno. This song is boring. Again, not knocking MacDonald or Eddy's talent, but it is just such a super-sappy number, and I realize this film was made during the Depression and people wanted something uplifting and romantic but oh my god gag me already. 6.0

"Springtide" (with Jane Powell) from Three Daring Daughters. Older MacDonald, and with another female singer this time, this one's shorter, which may be why I like it. Seems very melancholy and wistful, and the way the two voices compliment each other towards the end is very pleasing. This one actually makes me wonder what the rest of the story is about - like, for instance, what the other two daring daughters were thinking when they walked in on Mom and big sis singing. 7.5

"Italian Street Song" from Naughty Marietta. Another upbeat song. This is from an operetta, so I expect her to hit high notes here - and boy, does she ever! I guess high notes impress me more in operas (or operettas) than anyplace else. You win, Jeanette MacDonald. Well played. (This song only hit #2 on the Billboard Classical chart? What song possibly beat it?) 10.0

So yeah, that's Jeanette MacDonald. Phenomenal singing voice, though I don't know if most of her movies interest me all that much, at least not the ones with Eddy. Still, since I'm writing about her, I guess I should watch one of her movies today.

UPDATE: I watched Three Daring Daughters this morning. It was alright.

Sidney Poitier
James Cagney


  1. "Italian Street Song" is a real showstopper, and Jeanette was just the girl to make it shine.

    Also, Beverly Sills released an album of Victor Herbert songs and she's no slouch in the High C Dept. either.

  2. I'm afraid my only recollection of Beverly Sills is when she was on 'The Muppet Show,' so I'll take your word for it.

  3. As Kay points out over at "Movie Star Makeover" (, that sort of Operetta film that Jeanette MacDonald made has really gone out of fashion. But it's so nice to see you appreciating her songs again. My favorite performance of her's would be SAN FRANCISCO:

  4. The closest contemporary analogous singer I can think of to someone like MacDonald would be Sarah Brightman, who despite a prolific singing career hasn't made much of a dent in Hollywood as an actress. So I guess you're right in that sense.


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