Wednesday, July 03, 2024

NEW MOON (1931)

Sailing on the Caspian Sea, the ocean liner New Moon is headed for Krasnov. Cocky Russian soldier Michael Petrov (Lawrence Tibbett) flirts with Princess Tanya (Grace Moore) while she plays cards. When he feels dismissed by her, he goes out on deck and sings a vulgar song about a farmer's daughter to the delight of the peasants. Tanya follows him then asks him to translate the song for her. In doing so, he censors some of the rougher language, but then she reveals that she is well aware of the song's content by singing it in its original language. They do a bit of canoodling back in her stateroom—her father (Roland Young) spies through her keyhole and when his wife asks him if their daughter is in bed, he replies slyly, "Not yet." In Krasnov, Michael is upset to see Tanya heading off to the home of the governor, Boris Bursiloff (Adolpne Menjou), the stuffy but rich man she is to marry. She admits she's marrying for money, and tells him that he was just a shipboard fling. When he insults her, Boris assigns Michael to Fort Darvaz, a dangerous outpost where the ragtag soldiers are inclined to shoot any leader they don't like. However, Michael shoots first, showing the men he means business and gets them on his side. Tanya and her father visit, and the first thing she does is smack Michael several times in the face—Dad: "Is the customary horse-whipping over?" But when the fort comes under siege, the men are not so willing to fight until Michael rouses them with the song "Stouthearted Men" (have I mentioned this is based on an operetta?). Boris arrives, certain that Michael is marching to his death, but is he?

This is in theory based on a 1927 operetta by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, but except for a handful of songs and the basic melodramatic romance plot, this is nothing like the original, which was set in New Orleans and more faithfully adapted in 1940 with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. But this is still pre-Code fun: it's silly and a bit campy and not at all to be taken seriously. The two leads are a little problematic. Tibbett and Moore (pictured) were both Metropolitan Opera stars and when they're singing, they're fine. But as screen actors, neither one had a long career. They're not awful but they don’t really inhabit their characters. Tibbett has a kind of goofy boyishness that eventually grew on me (he looks a little like Jack Black), but Moore is unappealing in almost every movie star way; she comes off more as the heroine's best friend rather than the romantic lead. The script doesn't help—we don't see their relationship develop into love, and we have to take it on faith that they're really attracted to each other. Menjou does a cold fish martinet type well, and the secret weapon of the movie is Roland Young, contributing welcome comic relief here and there. I liked it OK but couldn't help wishing that a different actress had played the princess. [TCM]

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