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THAT MIDNIGHT KISS(director: Norman Taurog; screenwriters: Bruce Manning/Tamara Hovey; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Gene Ruggiero; music: Charles Previn; cast: Kathryn Grayson (Prudence Budell), Jose Iturbi (Himself), Ethel Barrymore (Abigail Budell), Mario Lanza (Johnny Donnetti), Keenan Wynn (Artie Glenson), J. Carrol Naish (Papa Donnetti), Jules Munshin (Michael Pemberton), Thomas Gomez (Guido Bertelli), Marjorie Reynolds (Mary), Arthur Treacher (Hutchins), Amparo Iturbi (Herself); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joe Pasternak; MGM; 1949)
“Features young budding opera star tenor Mario Lanza in his film debut. The handsome lad proves he can sing, but falls short in the acting.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Norman Taurog (“G.I. Blues”/”Palm Springs Weekend”/”The Caddy”) directs this flat operatic musical that features young budding opera star tenor Mario Lanza in his film debut. The handsome lad proves he can sing, but falls short in the acting. Screenwriters Bruce Manning and Tamara Hovey aim to keep things from becoming stuffy by having Mario play a man-of-the-people earthy type of truck driver. The film was a box-office hit, as it proved if you dumb things down you can bring culture to the masses.

It’s set in Philadelphia, where wealthy society matron Abigail Budell (Ethel Barrymore), an imperious patron of the arts, finances a new civic opera company so her recent college grad opera trained granddaughter Prudence Budell (Kathryn Grayson) can make her debut as a singer under fussy symphony orchestra leader Jose Iturbi’s direction. When famed cranky opera tenor Bertelli (Thomas Gomez) quits rather than sing with Prudence, ex-GI truck driver and trained opera singer, Johnny Donnetti (Mario Lanza), is recruited and gets approved after an audition with Iturbi in his workplace delivery loading zone office (where there happens to be a piano). Naturally a romance also develops between the two newcomer singers, and after some kind of misunderstanding the lovebirds get into tune romantically by reuniting for a powerful climactic singing duet in their opera opening.

The opera singing is very good; the stale story is not very good. The story seems to be an excuse to get Mario Lanza into the movies so those ordinary folks who don’t normally go to opera can see what they are missing. Lanza sings the following songs: “Celeste Aida,” Donizetti’s “Una Furtiva Lagrima” and “Mama Mia Che Vo Sapé” from “Cavalleria Rusticana.” He also capably handles a lighter popular song, “They Won’t Believe Me,” by Jerome Kern.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”