Filmsite Movie Review
Rose-Marie (1936)
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Rose-Marie (1936) is the film with the best-remembered pairing of "America's Singing Sweethearts." The charming, dramatic musical romance (aka Indian Love Call) with lovely scenic backdrops - a black/white MGM musical from a screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, was the second screen version of the popular operetta, and the second screen partnering of Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy (in their best-known film of eight films). A summary of their films from 1935 to 1942 included:

  1. Naughty Marietta (1935)
  2. Rose-Marie (1936)
  3. Maytime (1937)
  4. Girl of The Golden West (1938)
  5. Sweethearts (1938)
  6. New Moon (1940)
  7. Bittersweet (1940)
  8. I Married an Angel (1942)

The film was based upon the Broadway musical (of the same name) that premiered in 1924. It was the second of three movie adaptations of the staged musical:

  1. Rose-Marie (1928) - an MGM silent version starring Joan Crawford and James Murray, considered a lost film
  2. Rose-Marie (1936)
  3. Rose Marie (1954) (unhyphenated) - a CinemaScopic and color remake (very different from the 1936 version), with Ann Blyth (as Rose Marie Lemaitre) and Howard Keel (as Sergeant Mike Malone R.C.M.P.)

The film's tagline was: "An opera star. A mountie. The Canadian Rockies." The studio's blurb tauted: "Lovers heartbeats set to enchanting music."

In fact, the film was a hybrid of the western and musical comedy genres - moving from its stage-bound roots (with two operatic performances) to a more expansive outdoors setting. It was one of the first musicals to use a naturalistic setting. There were numerous on-location sequences of rugged horseback riding on wooded trails, canoe paddling on a moonlit lake, camping out (with a tent and campfire) under the stars, and survival of a near drowning.

Still, it remained a simple, nostalgic tale of a dilemma - a choice between love and/or duty-honor, with the continual refrain of the song: "Indian Love Call." [Note: The RCA recording of Nelson Eddy's and Jeanette MacDonald's song sold over one million copies in 1935.].

Although it was supposed to be set in the Canadian province of Quebec, it was filmed mostly in the mountainous Lake Tahoe region of California with towering Sierra Nevadas, rather than in northern Quebec province. The film kept referencing the Canadian Rockies - a much different region - located about 2,000 miles to the west of the province of Quebec.

Many reviewers have commented upon how the musical was also not a very accurate historical representation of the Canadian Mounted Police, or of the hypnotic ethnic sequence known as the "Totem Tom Tom" Indian dance.

Films similar in theme involving Mounties and romance included North of the Yukon (1939) and Cecil B. DeMille's first Technicolored film, North West Mounted Police (1940).

Plot Synopsis

An Opera Performance In Montreal, Canada:

The film opened in Montreal, Canada where temperamental, headstrong, 23 year-old celebrated diva opera soprano singer Marie de Flor (Jeanette MacDonald) was on a successful opera tour throughout Canada. In the Royal Theatre to a packed house, she was masterfully singing "Je Veux Vivre dans Ce Reve" in the death scene of Charles Gounod's opera Romeo et Juliette. The self-centered star's operatic co-star was Romèo (4th billed Allan Jones, in one of his two opera performances in the film).

After the performance, the pompous performer spoke to her caring maid Anna Roderick (Una O'Connor) about how she didn't need romance with suitor Teddy (David Nivens) whom she found distastefully smoking in her dressing room and very eager to propose. She spurned and rebuffed him (he had been following her from city to city to persistently ask for her hand in marriage). After he left, she called him a "silly boy" that she could easily wrap around her finger. She claimed to Anna that she already had work, fame and money: ("What do I want with a good match. I have everything. I have my work, I have fame, I have money"), and had no time for romance with men who were all alike - she called them "stupid idiots."

In an anonymous letter (from a "Sincere Admirer") sent at 5 pm from her incarcerated brother John/Jack Flower (James Stewart in his second feature film role, a very short on-screen performance at the end of the film, 5th-billed), she learned that his request for parole had been refused. He had originally been imprisoned for an armed bank robbery. Marie's manager R.O. Myerson (Reginald Owen) encouraged her to participate in some evening appearances, but she initially refused and wanted to be left alone - until she learned that the visiting Premier of Quebec Canada (Alan Mowbray) was an ardent fan and was "anxious" to meet her. She changed her mind and arranged for the Premier to join her for a lavish get-together - so that she could appeal to him for her brother's release.

That evening, a private catered dinner party (prepared by her chef) was hurriedly set up in Marie's Wayland Hotel suite, where she planned to graciously entertain the exclusively-invited guests with piano playing (by Mr. Daniells (Herman Bing)), cocktails and her singing ("Pardon Me, Madame") while wearing a glamorous new dress - to impress the Premier. She was lauded with compliments for her beauty and the evening's performance, but put off her opportunity to privately speak to the Premier until after dinner. Her objective was to share her worries about her brother and flirtatiously charm and convince the Premier to honor her request for the early release for her brother.

To her shock, Anna interrupted her and handed her a ring ("He told me to give you this"). She retreated to her bedroom where she was visited by Indian half-breed and Metis guide Boniface (George Regas in a stereotypical role) who was sent by her brother. She was told that her ne'er-do-well imprisoned brother had escaped into the woods. The escaped convict-fugitive John had been wounded during the escape and was being cared for by Boniface's mother in the Canadian wooded wilderness. And then she learned further dismaying news about her brother - he had killed a Canadian Mountie policeman in pursuit after the breakout. Her brother had also sent news that he was in need of her financial help: ("He's safe. He can get away, but he needs money, plenty of money to get out of the country"). He was located in a far-off remote area - a long trek from Montreal: ("First train to Quebec, then boat, then woods").

She was told that Boniface was leaving at 1:00 am on a train going north into central Quebec province. Boniface had an ulterior motive when he suggested: "Give me the money. It's better that I go alone. No one would know me." But she insisted on going with him on the difficult journey to personally deliver the money. She sent him to purchase train tickets for the two of them to Quebec - and promised to meet up with him in ten minutes.

Meanwhile, she summoned Myerson and made some vague excuses about leaving toward an unspecified destination to "someone who needs me terribly." She took all of her savings plus money from her manager, and made arrangements to depart in an inconspicuous outfit (a plaid shirt with a polka-dot bandana, brown hat, and a suede jacket) so she wouldn't be recognized. She ordered Myerson to cancel all her future engagements, concert dates and radio job - and he was flabbergasted: "I'll be ruined." She would leave the opera (she promised that she'd be back in a month in New York) to journey north into the Canadian woods backcountry with Boniface in search of her brother in the vicinity of Lac Chibougam.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec Province:

A group of galloping horses mounted by Royal Canadian Mounties raced through the countryside and practiced horse-jumping and other cavalry skills during training. They majestically marched toward the camera as the Mounties sang: "The Mounties" (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto A. Harbach) (led by Nelson Eddy):

Far over the snow what are those voices?
(Over the snow)
They sing as they go. What do those voices (call)
Look out for the Mounties
(Here come the Mounties)
We come, somebody hide, somebody better hide!

On thru' the hail
Like a pack of angry wolves on the trail
(We are after you) Dead or alive
We are out to get you Dead or alive
(And we'll get you soon.)

If you're the one.
Better run, better run away
Son, you are done, Throw your gun
Throw your gun away
Here come the Mounties
To get the man they're after now.

Also on Flower's trail was handsome Royal Canadian Mountie Sgt. Bruce (Nelson Eddy), a tracker who was appointed by his Commandant (Russell Hicks) to take the case at headquarters ("I'm sending you back into the woods"). He was to follow the trail of Flower (21 years old, 165 pounds, 6 feet 1 inch, dark blues eyes) and pursue him high up in the rugged mountainous woods of the Canadian backcountry. The suspect had escaped from jail 10 days earlier, and supposedly had no relatives. The fugitive had killed the first Mountie who had chased him - Bennett. The Commandant had full confidence in Sgt. Bruce's abilities: "You've never failed us yet."

Marie's Journey To a Small Lakeside Village:

With Boniface, Marie arrived by boat at a large Indian settlement at the edge of a large lake - the jumping off point for adventures into the outdoors.

[Note: The protracted series of sequences from here on all occurred on the same day - somewhat improbable:

  • Marie's Boat Trip to the Village with Boniface
  • The Visit to the Storekeeper's Shop, Where She Was Robbed by Boniface, and Suffered Fearful Hallucinations
  • Marie's Visit to the Saloon To Audition For Work
  • Meeting the Mountie and Being Interviewed in His Office
  • Their Canoe Trip to the "Totem Tom Tom" Festival Ceremony
  • Their Return to the Village
  • Further Serenades Outside Her Hotel Room
  • Marie's Departure From the Village's Wharf With Boniface]

At a village general store at the remote outpost where she was buying warmer clothes from the storekeeper (Lucien Littlefield) - for a 10-day trip further north on horseback for fishing - the dishonest Boniface absconded with her small purse when she became distracted. She had been double-crossed, robbed, and then deserted. The storekeeper mentioned his personal lowly opinion:

"That's the trouble with those half-breeds. You can't trust 'em."

Now penniless and frightened, the storekeeper recommended that he join her to visit the Mounted Police station nearby, but knowing that the authorities were looking for her brother, she declined to go together ("I'll go alone"). As she ran frantically to the station past other Indian natives, she glanced at two 'WANTED FOR MURDER' posters for her brother - offering a $100 reward for the ESCAPED CONVICT. During a montage, she became hysterical as she imagined her brother's capture and execution in superimposed newspaper headlines - as she cried out for "Boniface!"


That evening, Marie was compelled to find work - she inquired about getting a job to sing in the bawdy and very rowdy dance-hall saloon in town for tips - in order to survive. As she auditioned with her first song: "Dinah" in the frontier honky-tonk - assisted by the saloon's piano player Joe (Jimmy Conlin), her refined soprano voice was out of place and she was not appreciated by the uncouth and boisterous patrons. She received coaching for her second song: "Some of These Days" from one of the other more popular entertainers Bella (Gilda Gray), a Mae West-lookalike, to make her act sufficiently more "hot", vulgarized and sexed-up, in order to succeed and receive tips, but still was regarded as too-dainty, ruby-throated and refined. During her strained and embarrassing performance, Sgt. Bruce entered the saloon. She caught his attention as she struggled to acquire an audience. Knowing that she had failed and had been humiliated, Marie left the saloon in shame.

Marie's First Encounter with Mountie Sgt. Bruce:

The Mountie followed her out into the night air, and approached to offer her a compliment: "I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your singing....I think you have a very nice exceptional voice." He was aware that she was the victim of theft because a report had been filed by the storekeeper.

He led her over to his Mounted Police station to interview her, and provided her with her suitcase. Because of a monogrammed R on her luggage, she gave her name as 'Rose'. He revealed that he had recognized her voice: ("I'd know your voice in a million") - identifying her as the famed opera star Marie de Flor, although he pretended that he didn't really know who she was. Combining her stage name with the false name she had given him, he called her Rose-Marie de Flor. When he asked about some of her vital information, he requested: "Sex" - and answered for himself: "Decidedly." He noted her complexion as "Lovely," and her hair color as "Red."

She intentionally provided more vague excuses and lied to him when asked what she was doing there - she convincingly asserted: "I came up here to get away from people. I wanted to be alone so I wouldn't be recognized." She wanted to remain incognito - the reason that she hadn't reported the theft, but she claimed she must still find her money and guide. She didn't want the Mountie to know her connection to and search for her fugitive brother. He offered to help her find her half-breed guide who had stolen her money. And then she feigned telling him "everything" - "I'm up here to meet someone" - and that she was "fishing" - supposedly she was looking for her sweetheart in the woods, for romance.

The Canoe Serenade - and the Indian Camp's Totem Dance Festival:

On their way to an Indian camp's annual festival (where Boniface would most likely be located), in the evening's moonlight, Sgt. Bruce transported her via canoe. [Note: He only paddled on the right side of the canoe, something that would cause the canoe to go in circles.] He asked about the "competition" he was up against, inquirng if her beau was a banker, a poet, or a polo player: "What's the attraction?" She answered: "He's an Italian tenor." He began to sing the title song "Rose-Marie" (composed by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto A. Harbach and Rudolf Frimi) to woo her during the trip on the lake:

Oh Rose, my Rose Marie
Oh sweet Rose Marie, it's easy to see
Why all who learn to know you, love you
You're gentle and kind, divinely designed
As graceful as the pines above you
There's an angel's breath beneath your sighs
There's a little devil in your eyes.

Oh Rose Marie I love you
I'm always dreaming of you
No matter what I do I can't forget you
Sometimes I wish that I'd never met you
And yet if I should lose you
T'would mean my very life to me
Of all the queens that ever lived I'd choose you
To rule me my Rose Marie

After the serenade (he was falling in love with her), she complimented him on his baritone voice: "You have a lovely voice," and he admitted: "Every word came right from my heart." But then together, they joked about changing the female's name in the song from Caroline to Genevieve or Annabelle: "What do you do? Change the name to suit the girl?"

At the Indian camp, an annual corn-festival "Totem Pole Dance" ceremony was just about to commence. He described it as a Mardi Gras-like festival and polytheistic celebration: "They thank everybody. The corn, the sun, the rain, the birds, their ancestors. They do a thorough job":

[Note: The exploitative, frenzied dance sequence featured over seven hundred Indians from fifty different tribes, and the construction of 40-foot tall totem poles. It was filmed over a six-week period in the Lake Tahoe, CA area at Emerald Bay. One of the main characters in the dance was credited as the Corn Queen (Mary Loos). During the scene, a Native-American and the Corn Queen danced on a gigantic drum or tom-tom as it was twirled around by other costumed dancers and participants. The politically-incorrect scene was a mish-mash and had many factual and geographical inaccuracies, in its hybrid representations of cultural diversity, including Plains Indian feather headdresses, Aztec breeches, and Salish totem poles of the Pacific Northwest Coastal region. Totem Poles were peculiar to West Coast tribes and would not have been part of the native cultures of Eastern or Central Canada.]

After the dance, he informed her that he often came to the celebrations to police them - this year, he was there to "get some information about a man we're after." She surmised that he had been assigned to find her brother. When Sgt. Bruce noticed a suspicious-looking Indian who had been drinking, he brought the man over to Rose-Marie, but she falsely denied it was Boniface. When she was able to break away, Rose-Marie located Boniface in private - she confronted him and using blackmail, she threatened him with jail time if he didn't return her money: ("Give me that money or I'll turn you over to the police!"). After getting back her money, she also demanded that he resume his guide-job for her: ("And now you're going to take me the rest of the way") and arranged for a departure time an hour later at the wharf in the village. Then, after reuniting with Sgt. Bruce - without telling him what had transpired with Boniface, they quickly returned to the village, and he assisted her in renting a hotel room for the night.

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