20 April 2009 | marcslope
The great outdoors
MGM's first CinemaScope musical is pictorially splendid, with what looks like on-location shooting of the Canadian wilderness, or a very good faking thereof. The lake and mountain vistas must have been spectacular on the big screen; even on a TV screen they're impressive. Also, the screenwriters dump the pretensions that marred the 1936 Nelson-Jeannette version and return closer to the 1924 stage story, streamlining it nicely and removing some of the clunkiness in the dialog. Only a handful of the original Friml-Harbach-Hammerstein-Stothart songs survive, but several of the new ones are by Friml, too (with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster), and one, "I Have the Love," is quite nice. Ann Blyth, while not credibly a backwoods French-Canadian, is lovely and with a fine set of soprano pipes, and Howard Keel reminds us again of how Hollywood underrated him--one of our most masculine musical leading men, with an easy understated acting style to back up his booming vocals. Fernando Lamas hasn't that much to do, and it feels unfair that one of Ms. Blyth's leading men has to be a good sport and just step back and let her love the other. And Bert Lahr may be a comic genius, but his and Marjorie Main's material is so rotten that you tend to forget it. Still, a couple of soundstage scenes aside, it's a gorgeous big-screen production, and not as dramatically inert as many other operetta-derived musicals. A very pleasant 107 minutes.