Friday, February 5, 2010

ROSALIE (MGM 1938) Warner Archive Collection

Utterly nonsensical to a fault, yet blindingly spectacular to equal aplomb, W.S. Van Dyke's Rosalie (1938) is a movie musical desperately in need of one good story idea instead of a myriad of bad ones. Not that the film suffers terribly from its hyperbole haphazardly poured over mountains of awkward cliché. On the contrary, Rosalie is a triumph of style over substance and staged with a Herculean amount of glamour that only MGM in its heyday could so magnificently put together and pulled off.

The inimitable Cole Porter provides 9 songs, many of them showstoppers. Nelson Eddy warbles the bombastic title tune as well as one of Porter's most sublime and enduring creations; In The Still of The Night. What is curious about the film is it preposterous claptrap of plot points, unceremoniously lumped together by writers, William Anthony McGuire and Guy Bolton.

MGM's 'tops in taps' dancing lady, Eleanor Powell stars as Rosalie - Princess of the fictitious Balkan province of Romanza. Living incognito as a student at Vassar, Rosalie is much admired by her classmates in all respects except in her curious despising of All-America football star and West Point cadet, Dick Thorpe (Eddy). However, like all great love/hate relationships in the movies, this one too is destined for happier times before the final fade out.

Dick's best friend, Bill DelRoy (Ray Bolger) is something of a chicken livered wallflower, despite the fact that he is also a West Point cadet with prospects of marrying real looker, Mary Callahan (Virginia Grey). At a party given to celebrate Dick's final football victory for the academy, Dick is introduced to Rosalie. However, despite sharing a dance, she is pert, curt and rather snobbishly rude to him - believing Dick to be a lady's man. Instead, Dick proves Rosalie wrong by traveling all the way to Vassar for a chance to serenade her in the dark.

In the meantime, it is revealed that Rosalie is actually Princess Rosalie - heir to the throne of Romanza. She is recalled to her native country by her father, King Frederick Romanikov (Frank Morgan, at his bumbling best) for pending nuptials to the Chancellor's son, Prince Paul (Tom Rutherford). Paul, however, is desperately in love with Rosalie's best friend, the Countess, Brenda (Ilona Massey).

Infatuated, though unconvinced that Dick's intentions are strictly honorable and true, Rosalie challenges him to follow her to her country on the eve of a celebration. However, she keeps from him both the fact that she is a princess and that she is engaged to someone else.

From here, the plot only becomes more convoluted and pointless; salvaged only by MGM's immeasurable penchant for ultra glamour. On the eve of the celebration, Dick arrives in Romanza by performing a darling trans-Atlantic flight. Bill, who has taken safe passage by boat, pleads with Dick to allow him to lie about having flown with him, thereby winning the respect of Mary and her stubborn father.

A dramatically staged revolution breaks out, but is almost instantly quashed. Nevertheless, the King and Queen (Edna May Oliver) depart for America where Rosalie tours West Point with Dick as her chaperone. Once again, she is rude and haughty towards him, only this time - having learned her true identity - Dick reciprocates, giving the Princess a taste of her own medicine. The two eventually reconcile and the King allows his daughter to marry Dick, leaving the Countess and Prince Paul to pursue their romantic attachment as well.

Rosalie is magnificently mounted entertainment - but it fails to catch on and hold our attention except in fits and sparks. There is genuine chemistry between Eddy and Powell. Often Eddy has been assessed by the critics as having a generally wooden acting personality, and, while I must confess that to be a fairly accurate critique of his filmic work opposite Jeanette MacDonald, with Eleanor Powell at least, Eddy seems more at ease and actually, quite amiable. Powell, while in rare form as a dancer, is miscast in all her haughty exclusivity. One wonders why Dick would continue to pine for Rosalie since her demeanor toward him is mostly sullen and cruel.

Apart from Eddy's vocals, the high water mark of this film is undoubtedly Powell's tap rendition of the title tune, performed on a 60 acre soundstage with 2000 extras in attendance and 27 cameras rolling. It's a mindboggling spectacle of epic proportions. Also impressive is the royal wedding finale. In the final analysis, Rosalie is a film that should be revisited for its sheer scope and majesty. Just don't expect too much by way of plot.

This Warner Archive Collection burn-on-demand title exhibits a rather softly focused B&W image. While medium shots can appear relatively sharp with a considerable amount of fine detail present, long shots tend to be a tad blurry on the whole. For a film over 70 years old, it's quite remarkable how little age related artifacts there are. The image is clean and quite smooth in appearance. Contrast levels are weaker than expected and there are instances of edge enhancement, but overall the image will not disappoint. The audio is mono and adequate for this presentation. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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