This musical remake of Smilin’ Through, the third film version of Jane Cowl’s sentimental, supernatural stage war-horse, benefits from eerily rich Technicolor and careful handling of the increasingly matronly Jeanette MacDonald by director Frank Borzage. This material had served as a tear-milking vehicle for Norma Talmadge in the ‘20s and Norma Shearer in the ‘30s, and it was a touch threadbare even when they did it. MacDonald lacks Shearer’s passionate commitment to the role, but Borzage brings out something soft and quiet in the singing diva, so that this is probably the only one of her MGM movies that can be watched by anyone other than her still-devoted core fans. The film seems to drown in flowers and sunsets, but Borzage brings a bit of otherworldly magic to the first half, bolstered by Gene Raymond’s neuroticism as one of her men and not helped by Brian Aherne’s condescension as the other. MacDonald’s thin trilling is bearable for a while, and Borzage holds close-ups of her wavery little high notes gracefully, especially when she sings to Raymond in a boat behind a richly colored sky. But by the time she’s singing a prayer in church to the melody of “Pomp And Circumstance” while wearing a ridiculous black hat, MacDonald’s camp sanctimoniousness has asserted itself so disastrously that the movie never recovers.
- 100 min
- Frank Borzage
- Donald Ogden Stewart, John Balderston
- Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Aherne, Gene Raymond, Ian Hunter
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