Serenade (1956)

121-122 mins | Musical, Melodrama | 21 April 1956

Director:

Anthony Mann

Producer:

Henry Blanke

Cinematographer:

Peverell Marley

Editor:

William Ziegler

Production Designer:

Edward Carrere

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Breen Office spent nearly twenty years working with different studios to arrive at an acceptable adaptation of James M. Cain's novel. In the novel, a washed-up opera singer named Sharp wanders down to Mexico, where he meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Juana. Returning to Los Angeles with Juana and strengthened by her love, he becomes a famous singing star. Later, he goes to New York to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House and has a homosexual love affair with an opera impressario named Warfield. In the novel's climactic scene, Juana murders Warfield by dressing up as a toreador and performing a mock bullfight. According to an inter-office memo, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to many aspects of the first screen treatment of Cain's story, which he received in Dec 1937, including the unacceptable depiction of "illicit sex," prostitution, and homosexuality. He also wrote that the treatment of Mexicans "will probably be found objectionable to the authorities of that country."
       Correspondence from early 1944 indicates that RKO was interested in turning the novel into a film, as was M-G-M. Between Jun and Nov 1944, the Breen Office and M-G-M worked out solutions to the problematic content of Cain's original story. The homosexual was changed to a rich, powerful older woman, whom the main character marries, Juana would no longer be a prostitute, and a sex scene in a church was eliminated. Also, the "squalor, poverty, etc," of Juana and the main character's life together was not to be shown. Finally, according to Al Block of M-G-M, "what would ... More Less

According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Breen Office spent nearly twenty years working with different studios to arrive at an acceptable adaptation of James M. Cain's novel. In the novel, a washed-up opera singer named Sharp wanders down to Mexico, where he meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Juana. Returning to Los Angeles with Juana and strengthened by her love, he becomes a famous singing star. Later, he goes to New York to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House and has a homosexual love affair with an opera impressario named Warfield. In the novel's climactic scene, Juana murders Warfield by dressing up as a toreador and performing a mock bullfight. According to an inter-office memo, PCA director Joseph I. Breen objected to many aspects of the first screen treatment of Cain's story, which he received in Dec 1937, including the unacceptable depiction of "illicit sex," prostitution, and homosexuality. He also wrote that the treatment of Mexicans "will probably be found objectionable to the authorities of that country."
       Correspondence from early 1944 indicates that RKO was interested in turning the novel into a film, as was M-G-M. Between Jun and Nov 1944, the Breen Office and M-G-M worked out solutions to the problematic content of Cain's original story. The homosexual was changed to a rich, powerful older woman, whom the main character marries, Juana would no longer be a prostitute, and a sex scene in a church was eliminated. Also, the "squalor, poverty, etc," of Juana and the main character's life together was not to be shown. Finally, according to Al Block of M-G-M, "what would emerge, then,...seems...to be a good honest story, with no trace of the homosexuality which figured in the book, or indeed anything objectionable, that I can see." The file on the film contains no other correspondence regarding the M-G-M production of Serenade , however, and it appears that the project was dropped at this stage.
       Warner Bros. was the next studio to take an interest in the project, as evidenced by a 22 Jan 1945 letter from studio executive James. J. Geller to the Breen Office. Geller asked for Breen's opinion on a five-page treatment written by Jerry Wald. Although Geller asserted that the studio's decision as to whether it would buy the rights to Cain's novel would depend on Breen's opinion, Breen responded that the treatment is too "general and nebulous" to warrant a definite statement. Wald's treatment eliminated the homosexuality and suggested making the main character a doctor. Wald insisted that the most important point about the character Juana is that she is "Indian--a simple, beautiful girl with direct emotion." According to Wald, the theme of the film--a "conflict between a cheap, somewhat degrading love and a deep simple one"--would resemble the theme of Somerset Maughan's Of Human Bondage .
       The studio and the Breen Office continued to argue about the film's content, especially about what the Breen Office termed an "inescapable flavor of sexual perversion suggested by the present relationship of Warfield and Sharp." Throughout the project, the Breen Office expressed concern that the Mexicans in the film be represented in the most favorable light possible. In particular, Breen requested that all "pidgin English" spoken by the Mexican characters be eliminated. This planned production of Serenade , which according to a press release was to co-star Ann Sheridan and Dennis Morgan, was shelved in Aug 1946. It was picked up again in May 1948. The revised project was to star Jane Wyman and be directed by Michael Curtiz. In a 10 Mar 1949 news item, however, Curtiz remarked on the difficulty he had been experiencing casting the film, and by 1951, according to a 22 Dec 1954 DV item, Robert Sisk was set as the director. In Aug 1955, after years of discussion and rewriting, the script finally was deemed acceptable by the PCA.
       The film was shot on location in San Miguel d'Allende and includes scenes shot at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Onscreen credits include the following acknowledgment: "Palace of Fine Arts Photographed Through Courtesy of the National Art Institute, Mexico." Although actor Harry Bellaver's character was listed as "Monte" in the CBCS and Var review, he was called "Tonio" onscreen. According to a 3 May 1956 LAEx review, Mario Lanza had not performed for three years prior to appearing in Serenade . The HR review noted that a pudgy Lanza had thinned down for the role of the tormented Damon Vicente. In 1958, Jakob Gimbel filed suit against Warner Bros. and RCA Victor, claiming that he agreed to act as the film's musical adviser and offscreen pianist on the strict proviso that his name would not be listed in connection with the picture. Although Gimbel did not receive credit onscreen or in reviews, his name did appear on the soundtrack album. The final disposition of the suit is not known. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills Citizen
13 Apr 1956.
---
Box Office
17 Mar 1956.
---
Daily Variety
22 Dec 1954.
---
Daily Variety
13 Mar 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
13 Mar 56
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
17 Mar 56
p. 42.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 1955
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Sep 55
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Dec 55
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Mar 56
p. 3, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Aug 1958.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
3 May 1956
sec. II, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
25 Jun 1948.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 May 1956
pt. III, p. 10.
Motion Picture Daily
13 Mar 56
p. 1, 4.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Mar 56
p. 817.
New York Times
13 Nov 1955.
---
New York Times
23 Mar 56
p. 21.
New Yorker
31 Mar 1956.
---
The Exhibitor
21 Mar 56
pp. 4123-24.
Variety
14 Mar 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Stand-by dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam crew
Cam crew
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus adv
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Operatic adv
Operatic coach
Scr supv
Scr supv
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Serenade by James M. Cain (New York, 1937).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Serenade" and "My Destiny," music by Nicholas Brodszky, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"Ave Maria," music by Franz Schubert, lyrics traditional
"Lamenti di Frederico" from the opera L'Arlesiana , music by Francesco Cilea, libretto by Leopoldo Marenco
+
SONGS
"Serenade" and "My Destiny," music by Nicholas Brodszky, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"Ave Maria," music by Franz Schubert, lyrics traditional
"Lamenti di Frederico" from the opera L'Arlesiana , music by Francesco Cilea, libretto by Leopoldo Marenco
the prayer from Act 3, Part 4, and "Dio Ti Giocondi" from the opera Otello , music by Guiseppi Verdi, libretto by Arrigo Boito
"Di Quella Pira" from the opera Il Trovatore , music by Guiseppi Verdi, libretto by Salvadore Cammarano and Bardare
the tenor aria from the opera Der Rosenkavalier , music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
"Torna a Surriento," words and music by Ernesto De Curtis
"O Paradiso" from the opera L'Africaine , music by Giacomo Meyerbeer, libretto by Eugène Scribe
"Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turandot , music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni
"O Soave Fanciulla" from the opera La Boheme , music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
"Amor Ti Vieta" from the opera Fedora , music by Umberto Giordano, libretto by Arturo Colautti
"Il Mio Tesoro" from the opera Don Giovanni , music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 April 1956
Production Date:
14 September--7 December 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
21 April 1956
Copyright Number:
LP8170
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Color
Warner Color
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
121-122
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17795
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Damon Vincente, an Italian American with a beautiful operatic singing voice, leaves his job picking grapes at a California vineyard when he gets an audition at Lardelli's, a San Francisco opera restaurant where several great tenors have gotten their starts. One night, Charles Winthrop, a famous concert promoter, visits Lardelli's with Kendall Hale, a beautiful heiress whom Damon had met one day when she and prizefighter Marco Roselli were lost in the wine country. After the show, Winthrop invites Damon to join him and Kendall at the Mark Hopkins hotel for dinner, and when he arrives, she introduces him to Maestro Marcatello, a famous opera coach. Damon explains that as a child he received singing lessons only when the harvest was good, and that after his parents died, he worked making wine and had little time for artistic instruction. Marcatello asks Damon to sing, and the young man shows so much potential that the maestro offers to train him. As the group discusses Damon's talents, Roselli arrives and screams at Kendall for not having attended his championship fight that night, and storms out. After Kendall declares to the group that she never told Roselli that she loved him, she asks Damon to stay once the others have left. He declines, and in the cab on the way home, Winthrop tells him that Kendall is a dangerous woman. Later, at Lardelli's, Damon's cousin Tonio makes elaborate plans for the tenor, but Damon, who is falling in love with Kendall and fighting against it, is worried that his life is changing too quickly. Finally having given in to Kendall's seductions, Damon invites her ... +


Damon Vincente, an Italian American with a beautiful operatic singing voice, leaves his job picking grapes at a California vineyard when he gets an audition at Lardelli's, a San Francisco opera restaurant where several great tenors have gotten their starts. One night, Charles Winthrop, a famous concert promoter, visits Lardelli's with Kendall Hale, a beautiful heiress whom Damon had met one day when she and prizefighter Marco Roselli were lost in the wine country. After the show, Winthrop invites Damon to join him and Kendall at the Mark Hopkins hotel for dinner, and when he arrives, she introduces him to Maestro Marcatello, a famous opera coach. Damon explains that as a child he received singing lessons only when the harvest was good, and that after his parents died, he worked making wine and had little time for artistic instruction. Marcatello asks Damon to sing, and the young man shows so much potential that the maestro offers to train him. As the group discusses Damon's talents, Roselli arrives and screams at Kendall for not having attended his championship fight that night, and storms out. After Kendall declares to the group that she never told Roselli that she loved him, she asks Damon to stay once the others have left. He declines, and in the cab on the way home, Winthrop tells him that Kendall is a dangerous woman. Later, at Lardelli's, Damon's cousin Tonio makes elaborate plans for the tenor, but Damon, who is falling in love with Kendall and fighting against it, is worried that his life is changing too quickly. Finally having given in to Kendall's seductions, Damon invites her and Winthrop to go on tour with him. In New York, however, he is forced to cancel a date with Kendall in order to rehearse for his debut at the Met, where he is to sing Othello. After the rehearsal, Damon finds Kendall with a young sculptor, Russell Hanson, who is sculpting a bust of the icy blonde, and grows jealous. While he sings the part of Othello on stage at the Met, Damon looks anxiously around the hall for Kendall, who never shows up. In the middle of a duet with a soprano, he shocks everyone by storming offstage. He rushes to Kendall's home and learns that she has left on a trip with Russell. Enraged, Damon leaves and heads for Mexico City, where he is scheduled to sing at the National Theatre. During a rehearsal, he loses his voice and breaks down. After the directors replace him, Damon goes to the small town of San Miguel de Allende, where, during a fiesta, he falls ill with a malaria-like disease. Juana Montes, a Mexican girl, tends to him and then brings him to recuperate at the Montes farm, where she lives with her aunt and uncle, Manuel and Rosa. Damon offers to work in the fields to pay back the money that Juana has spent on his hotel and doctor's fees. One day, Damon picks up a guitar and discovers that he still cannot sing. When Juana suggests that he return to singing after the harvest is over, Damon bitterly replies that his voice is gone for good. Juana insists that it is the fault of the "Americana," and that he must find his voice again. At a fiesta commemorating the death of Juana's father, a bullfighter who died in the ring, Juana dresses up as a toreador and reenacts the bullfight. Felipe, a young man who is in love with Juana and jealous of Damon, calls Juana's father a coward, prompting Juana to threaten him with her drawn sword. When Damon goes to comfort her, she explains to him that when her mother ran away with another man, her father lost his will to live and became easy prey to a charging bull. Juana goes to church to ask for forgiveness, and Damon follows her. When he hears her pray for him, he begins to sing "Ave Maria," and then cries tears of joy. Damon announces that he will return to the U.S. to sing in the opera and asks Juana to accompany him, but she refuses. As she drives him to the airport at Mazatlan, however, a storm breaks out and the pair is stranded in the mud. Juana tries to resist Damon's advances, but finally gives in and they kiss. Back in San Francisco, Damon shows up at Lardelli's with Juana as his bride. Later, after Damon is reunited with cousin Tonio, Winthrop arrives at the restaurant and offers Damon a chance to regain his celebrity by singing with the San Francisco Opera. Kendall attends the performance with the intent of winning Damon back, and a jealous Juana encourages Damon to take a job in New York, even though Kendall will be nearby. Kendall invites the couple to a cocktail party, and when they arrive, she takes Juana aside, ostensibly to show her the Mexican treasures she bought when she was looking for Damon south-of-the-border. When she gets Juana alone, she warns the girl that she will take Damon away from her and make him a big star. While still in the bedroom, Juana finds a bullfighter's sword and performs her toreador reenactment for the guests, brandishing the sword at Kendall's throat. After Damon calls Juana from her trance, she runs away, whereupon Damon tells Kendall with confidence that he no longer has feelings for her. Out in the street, Juana is hit by a bus, and when Damon finds her, she tells him that he must go to his performance and not worry about her. At the concert, Damon sings the song "Serenade" in dedication to his beloved, and begins to cry when Tonio tells him from backstage that Juana will recover. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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