Screen operettas were big business in the 1930s. Despite having already acquired a reputation as being maudlin and trite by the time Hollywood got their hands on these stage properties, the resulting films from that decade sparkled with good music and indelible voices. Not so much the case when MGM tried to resurrect the genre mid-decade during the ultra-conservative 1950s. While some fared better than others, for the most part one had to concede that the postwar era of AnscoColor and Cinemascope was an ill fit for the more intimate ruminations of star-crossed lovers that usually populated such drivel.
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald had prevailed victorious in Rose Marie (1936), a 1924 chestnut with songs by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart that ripened as blossoms on the bow into a memorable screen entertainment. But the remake co-starring Howard Keel and Ann Blyth can only be considered 'moving' if one counts the amount of bathroom breaks necessary to wade through its heavy treacle.
MGM billed the remake as 'the first great musical in Cinemascope' - a grotesque overstatement that in no way compensates for the utter claptrap unraveling after Leo's roar. Ronald Millar and George Froeschel's screenplay veers wildly away from the homespun quaintness of the original story for an even more banal outing. Howard Keel is cast as Capt. Mike Malone, a Canadian Mountie entrusted by a close friend to look after his daughter, Rose Marie (Ann Blyth); a tomboy in a coonskin cap with an atrociously bad French accent.
Rose Marie does not want to go back with Mike to the Mountie outpost but is forced to after several painful attempts at escape. But then - who'd a guessed? - she takes to the butch lifestyle like salmon to spawning. That is, until Mike's superior, Insp. Appleby (Ray Collins) realizes that she is really...well... a 'she'. Appleby instructs Mike to place his charge in the care of Lady Jane Dunstock (Marjorie Main) who is herself attempting to procure a romance with Mike's partner, bumbling Barney McCorkle (Bert Lahr).
On their way through the Rockies Mike and Rose Marie come in contact with James Severn Duvall (Fernando Lamas); a furrier who also moonlights as a bandit. Mike suspects that James is once again up to no good. But Rose Marie has taken an instant liking to him, one that does not diminish after she finds him robbing one of Lady Jane's charitable dances. Meanwhile, Indian chief Black Eagle's (Chief Yowelachie) daughter, Wanda (Joan Taylor) is also madly in love with James. Her father threatens her with exile and even beats her to discourage the romance. In fact, James is not in love with Wanda either. He has fallen hopelessly for Rose Marie.
Mike writes Ottawa for a dispensation to marry Rose Marie. But she turns him down. James takes Rose Marie to a ceremonial Indian dance and Wanda, seeing their affections for each other, decides to murder him. At the last possible moment she fails and rushes back to her father's tent to cry instead. Assuming that his daughter has been with James, Black Eagle beats her again. But Wanda still has the knife and murders Black Eagle in cold blood. The rest of the tribe suspects James of the crime and is about to burn him at the stake when Mike intervenes. At the courthouse Mike learns that it is Wanda who is guilty of the crime. He also realizes that James and Rose Marie are made for each other and decides to escort her to the outskirts of the forest where the lovers are reunited.
Rose Marie is so bad it's not even good. Paul Vogel's occasionally breathtaking cinematography of the Canadian Rockies aside, there's nothing to recommend the film. Director Mervyn LeRoy frequently interrupts the dated songs with bits of dialogue and other nonsense that really waters down what little musical appeal the film might have had. Busby Berkeley stages a Tom-Tom dance against some studio-bound paper mache cliffs. But the sequence has obviously been truncated in the editing process.
Howard Keel is in fine voice, but his acting is as wooden as the pines that surround him. Ann Blyth is a caricature of the pioneer woman - a sort of Frenchie Calamity Jane who bursts into song to escape the real chore of acting. Marjorie Main and Bert Lahr are both gifted comedians, but are given so precious little to do that one wonders why they are in the film at all. In the final analysis Rose Marie is an exemplar of why MGM slipped in its supremacy at the box office throughout the 1950s. It's a lousy attempt to look back at a more fondly embraced period in their history, but with none of the majesty that exemplified the good ol' Thalberg days on the backlot.
Rose Marie is a Warner Archive release and despite being advertised as 'remastered' the transfer leaves much to be desired. The image throughout is riddled with age related dirt and scratches. These imperfections are, for the most part, forgivable. What is unforgiveable is the AnscoColor image that is often faded and suffering severely from vinegar syndrome deterioration. Whole portions of this film have degraded in their color fidelity to a ruddy orange mess, robbing us of the visual splendor in Paul Vogel's cinematography. The audio is stereo surround and adequate for this presentation. Warner Home Video has also included the original theatrical trailer and a deleted musical number 'Love and Kisses' as extra features. Neither have been anamorphically enhanced! Bottom line: Not recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)