Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Student Prince ( 1939 )

This Valentine's Day, the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society is hosting The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon to celebrate one of the most delightful romantic couples to ever grace the silver screen - Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. I will be reviewing Naughty Marietta tomorrow but first, a look at one of the best musicals this twosome never made, MGM's adaptation of the operetta The Student Prince ( 1939 ).

Sigmund Romberg penned the score to this delightful operetta in 1924, musicalizing the 1902 Wilhelm Meyer-Förster play "Old Heidelberg". The story centers around the young Prince Karl Franz of Karlsberg, who is encouraged by his tutor, the kindly Doctor Engel, to attend the University of Heidelberg prior to capping the crown on his head. In this charming old German town, Prince Karl falls in love with Kathie, the barmaid at the local beerhall where all the students congregate after school. He wishes to marry Kathie but he is pledged to betroth Princess Margaret, and so his heart is divided between his personal desire and duty for his country.

This simple but engaging plot was interwoven with over 15 glorious Romberg songs, including "Drink, Drink, Drink!", "Golden Days", "Serenade", and "Deep in My Heart".
"The Student Prince" was an immediate success upon its Broadway debut in 1924, becoming the most popular musical of the 1920s, running even longer than "Show Boat". Hollywood brought it to the screen in 1927 as a silent film (!) starring Ramon Navarro and Norma Shearer and then remade it as a musical with Edmund Purdom and Ann Blyth in 1954, but between those years no screen version was made. I'd like to argue that Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was blind to not see the potential box-office success of casting two of their biggest drawing stars - Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy - in a musical version of this story. 

The Student Prince ( 1954 )

1939 would have been the ideal release year for this film since MacDonald and Eddy would have just completed The Girl of the Golden West and Sweethearts but had no major release planned for the "golden year". MacDonald would have been marvelous as Kathie, the sweet and saucy barmaid whom all the college-men adored, while Nelson Eddy had the perfect royal bearing to portray Prince Karl. When Karl first arrives in Heidelberg he is stiff and overly curt, but as he gets to know Kathie and the other students his supreme-air fades away and he becomes beloved by all....a part that Eddy could have easily pulled off. 

The musical numbers were well-suited to both MacDonald and Eddy's voices and the rousing "Drink, Drink, Drink!" ensemble number would have been splendid with Eddy leading the chorus. 

Henry Stephenson could have been cast as Karl's father, the King ( a role that Louis Calhern played in the 1954 version ), Frank Morgan could have been the gentle Professor, Reginald Owen could have played Lutz, Karl's valet, and Elissa Landi would have made a charming Princess Margaret with her aristocratic stature. Herman Bing could have also provided comedic relief as the studdering prime minister. 

The Student Prince would have been a film that did not conclude with Eddy and MacDonald joining hands and singing into the sunset, but at least, it would have a happier ending than the tear-inducing Maytime ( 1937 ). 

Alas, Louis B. Mayer had too much on his plate to consider the project and The Student Prince was not filmed until nearly 25 years later....a version which is very entertaining but lacks the sparkle that MacDonald and Eddy would have given to the characters and the film as a whole. 

Click here to read some fabulous reviews of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films from The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon being hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Constance,

    I just read your article, and it is simply marvelous! Your casting is very versatile, and I can tell you put a lot of thought into it. I don't know much about "The Student Prince," but just from the way you described it, I can tell that it would have made a thrilling film with Jeanette and Nelson!

    Thanks again!

    Joyfully,

    Rebekah Brannan

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  2. I've watched both the 1927 and 1954 versions of this film. Even though I've never seen any of McDonald's or Eddy's films together, I think your casting is spot on.

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