Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Film Tribute To Mario Lanza

On January 31,1921, Alfred Arnold Cocozza was born in Philadelphia. The world would come to know him as Mario Lanza. You can get a good feel for his biography at Wikipedia. Mario Lanza had a meteoric rise and an all too short life. He was discovered by MGM's Louis B Mayer singing the Hollywood Bowl in 1947 and signed to a contract. MGM was noted for making stars out of niche performers. In the 1930's they had successfully marketed a series of operettas featuring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. They had also discovered the beautiful Esther Williams and marketed a string of successful aquatic films.

Opera or operettas were something of a niche in America. They never quite reached mass appeal. Mario Lanza would change that. His films might not be well remembered by casual film lovers today but they were huge hits at the time. Lanza, unlike Nelson Eddy or even Howard Keel was earthier and emphatic in his singing, whereas they were a bit more rugged. He had a charm that elevated him over the rest. In1949, he was cast beside Kathryn Grayson, MGM new operetta star in the wake of Jeanette McDonald's retirement. The film was "That Midnight Kiss". It is more a Grayson picture than Lanza as he never quite gets all the attention his skills merited, but he shines at critical moments. The following are clips from "That Midnight Kiss"

The following clip sold a million records.

The following year,he was again cast with Grayson and David Niven in "The Toast of New Orleans". It was this film that provided him his signature song "Be My Love"

The following year, Mario Lanza cast to play the lead in "The Great Caruso". Although largely a fictional account of the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso Jr. would say: "I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography. [...] Mario Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct.Lanza excelled in both the classical and the light popular repertory, an accomplishment that was beyond even my father's exceptional talents."

The following year Lanza would star in "Because You're Mine". He plays a tenor drafted into the army. James Whitmore Jr plays his Sergeant who's trying to hook him up with his sister, who of course can sing. It has one of my all time favorites as Mario sings "The Lord's Prayer".

Two years later Lanza would provide the dubbing for Edmund Purdom in "The Student Prince".It's a shame he couldn't star in place of the plastic Purdom, but we'll have to settle for a dub.

The following clip is the best part of the movie

In 1956, Lanza went to Warner Brothers to make "Serenade". I just watched this the other day for the first time. It's almost painful but has a couple great scenes.

Lanza's last film was "Seven Hills of Rome". Not a fitting requiem but good stuff.

Mario Lanza died on October 7,1959. A talent to be missed

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