The Great Caruso (1951)

109-110 mins | Musical, Biography | 27 April 1951

Director:

Richard Thorpe

Producer:

Joe Pasternak

Cinematographer:

Joseph Ruttenberg

Editor:

Gene Ruggiero

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Gabriel Scognamillo

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Caruso Sings Tonight and The Life of Caruso . Dorothy Caruso, who wrote the biography on which the film is based, was Enrico Caruso's wife. M-G-M purchased rights to the book from Jesse L. Lasky's company in 1949. As depicted in the film, Caruso was born in Naples in 1873 and sang in his church's choir as a young boy. After studying for three years with Guglielmo Vergine and Vincenzo Lombardi, Caruso made his debut as a tenor in Naples on 16 Nov 1894.
       In 1898, he was engaged by the Teatro Lirico in Milan, and in 1901, he became a member of Milan's La Scala opera company. After triumphant appearances in Monte Carlo, Caruso was awarded contracts at Covent Garden in London and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On 23 Nov 1903, he made his American debut in the Met's production of Rigoletto , Although his initial performance received mixed reviews, he became the company's favorite singer by the end of the season. Caruso sang at the Met and other major opera houses for the next seventeen years, becoming the highest-paid and most beloved opera star in the world. At the Met, he sang in over 600 performances, in almost forty operas. According to various sources, he earned nearly two million dollars in royalties from his phonograph recordings.
       Caruso appeared in two Famous Players-Lasky silent films, the 1918 My Cousin and the 1919 The Splendid Romance (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ). On 11 Dec 1920, during a performance ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Caruso Sings Tonight and The Life of Caruso . Dorothy Caruso, who wrote the biography on which the film is based, was Enrico Caruso's wife. M-G-M purchased rights to the book from Jesse L. Lasky's company in 1949. As depicted in the film, Caruso was born in Naples in 1873 and sang in his church's choir as a young boy. After studying for three years with Guglielmo Vergine and Vincenzo Lombardi, Caruso made his debut as a tenor in Naples on 16 Nov 1894.
       In 1898, he was engaged by the Teatro Lirico in Milan, and in 1901, he became a member of Milan's La Scala opera company. After triumphant appearances in Monte Carlo, Caruso was awarded contracts at Covent Garden in London and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On 23 Nov 1903, he made his American debut in the Met's production of Rigoletto , Although his initial performance received mixed reviews, he became the company's favorite singer by the end of the season. Caruso sang at the Met and other major opera houses for the next seventeen years, becoming the highest-paid and most beloved opera star in the world. At the Met, he sang in over 600 performances, in almost forty operas. According to various sources, he earned nearly two million dollars in royalties from his phonograph recordings.
       Caruso appeared in two Famous Players-Lasky silent films, the 1918 My Cousin and the 1919 The Splendid Romance (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ). On 11 Dec 1920, during a performance of L'elisir d'amore at the Brooklyn Academy, Caruso coughed blood and was later diagnosed with "intercostal neuralgia." His final appearance in an opera occurred on 24 Dec 1920, when he sang his favorite role in La Juive . On 2 Aug 1921, while in Naples recuperating from surgery and its complications, he died.
       According to a Sep 1950 NYT article, screenwriters Sonya Levien and William Ludwig never intended The Great Caruso as an authentic biography of the opera singer. In particular, they eliminated any reference to Caruso's common-law wife and his two illegitimate children by her. The Var reviewer noted that "there is nothing in the film to hint that Miss Benjamin was Caruso's second wife; that he had grown children and was middle-aged when he married her." According to a May 1955 NYT article, in addition to the biography, the writers had at their disposal notes from Caruso's secretary's journal.
       In 1946, when Lasky was considering making Caruso's film biography, he planned to transfer recordings of the singer's voice to the picture's soundtrack, replacing the old orchestral accompaniment with an updated one. While many reviewers complained about the range of questionable accents displayed by the actors in The Great Caruso , most commented favorably on Mario Lanza's performance. Actress Ann Blyth, who portrayed Caruso's wife Dorothy, was borrowed from Universal Pictures for the film.
       Many of the singers in the opera montage were veteran performers of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Blanche Thebom of the company made her motion picture debut in The Great Caruso . The company's mezzo-soprano Jarmila Novotna, playing the diva "Maria Selka," did not sing in the picture. According to a May 1951 LAEx news item, much of Novotna's role was cut from the final film.
       Arias recorded for the film's soundtrack album, but not included in the final film were "Questa o quella" and "Parmi veder le lagrime" from Rigoletto ; "Reconditi armonia" from Tosca ; and "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir d'amour . The Great Caruso was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design (color) and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording. It was one of the four highest-grossing films of 1951 and, according to modern sources, earned ten million dollars in its first year of release.
       In early 1952, Caruso's Italian heirs, who had previously sued the makers of the Italian screen biography Legend of Caruso without success, sued M-G-M for not getting their consent to do the film and for taking liberties with Caruso's life. In late May 1955, LAT reported that the heirs had won an $8,000 suit against M-G-M, with the court ruling that the picture was "offensive to the honor and private and family life" of Caruso. M-G-M was ordered to pay all court expenses and withdraw all copies of the film from circulation in Italy. The heirs also protested the film's billboard advertising in Rome, which showed star Mario Lanza drinking Coca-Cola. The posters were ordered removed in Apr 1952. The Great Caruso was re-issued in 1963 and in 1970. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Apr 1951.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1949.
---
Daily Variety
13 Apr 51
p. 3.
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1952.
---
Film Daily
16 Apr 51
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
14 Apr 51
p. 58.
Hollywood Citizen-News
1 Feb 1946.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1950
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1950
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 1950
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1950
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1950
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 51
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 1952.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1970.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
30 May 1951.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 May 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald
6 Feb 1963.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
21 Apr 51
p. 810.
New York Times
10 Sep 1950.
---
New York Times
11 May 51
p. 32.
New York Times
8 May 1955.
---
The Exhibitor
25 Apr 51
p. 3061.
Time
21 May 1951.
---
Time
5 May 1952.
---
Variety
18 Apr 51
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Opera montage:
Dorothy Vaughn
Allan Ray
German montage:
French montage:
Spanish montage:
Zachary Yaconelli
William Nind
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Women's cost
Men's cost
MUSIC
Operatic numbers staged and cond by
Mus supv and background score
SOUND
Rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Mont seq
MAKEUP
Hair styles des by
Makeup created by
STAND INS
Voice double
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the book Enrico Caruso, His Life and Death by Dorothy Caruso (New York, 1945).
SONGS
"The Loveliest Night of the Year," music by Irving Aaronson, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, adapted from "Over the Waves" by Juventino Rosa
"Magnificat," traditional
"A Marechiare," music by Francesco Paolo Tosti, lyrics by Di Giacomo
+
SONGS
"The Loveliest Night of the Year," music by Irving Aaronson, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, adapted from "Over the Waves" by Juventino Rosa
"Magnificat," traditional
"A Marechiare," music by Francesco Paolo Tosti, lyrics by Di Giacomo
"A Vuccella," music by Francesco Paolo Tosti, lyrics by Gabriele D'Annunzio
"La Danza," music and lyrics by Gioacchino Rossini
"Celeste Aida," "Numi, Pieta," "Consecration Scene" and Trio Finale from the opera Aida , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
"La Donna è Mobile" and Quartet ("Bella Figlia dell'Amore") from the opera Rigoletto , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave
"Miserere" ("Ah! Che la Morte Ognora") from the opera Il Trovatore , music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
"E Lucevan le Stelle" and "Torture Scene" from the opera Tosca , and "Che Gelida Manina" from the opera La Bohème , music by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
"Brindisi" ("Viva il Vino Spumeggiante") and "Vilification Scene" from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana , music by Pietro Mascagni, libretto by Guido Menasci and Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti
"Cielo e Mar" from the opera La Gioconda , music by Amilcare Ponchielli, libretto by Arrigo Boito
"Torna a Surriento," music by Ernesto de Curtis, lyrics by G. B. de Curtis
"La Mattinata," music and lyrics by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
"Recitativo" and "Vesti la Giubba" from the opera Il Pagliacci , music and libretto by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
"Sweethearts" from the operetta Sweethearts , music by Victor Herbert, libretto by Robert B. Smith
"Ave Maria," music by Charles Gounod, adapted from the First Prelude in The Well-Tempered Clavichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, French lyrics by Paul Bernard, English lyrics traditional
Sextet ("Chi mi Frena") from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor , music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
"Because," music by Guy d'Hardelot, lyrics by Edward Teschemacher
Finale ("Qui Sola, Vergin Rosa)" adapted from "The Last Rose of Summer," music based on "The Groves of Blarney" by Richard Alfred Milliken and "M'appari tutt'amor, from the opera Martha , music by Friedrich von Flotow, libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Riese
"Under the Bamboo Tree," music and lyrics by Robert Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Caruso Sings Tonight
The Life of Caruso
Release Date:
27 April 1951
Production Date:
5 September--mid October 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
12 April 1951
Copyright Number:
LP893
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
109-110
Length(in feet):
9,822
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14927
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In 1873, Enrico Caruso is born to humble parents in Naples, Italy. As a boy, he joins the church choir, and one day, just before the start of a religious procession in which he is to sing, his mother falls gravely ill. Enrico wants to stay with her, but she persuades him to rejoin the procession. During the procession, Mama Caruso dies. When Enrico becomes a man, he sings for coins in local restaurants, and although he wants to marry the beautiful Musetta Barretto, her father finds such employment undignified. To please the old man, Enrico agrees to forsake his singing and become a merchant, but he is miserable. One of his deliveries takes him to the restaurant where he used to perform, and soon he is singing with his old friend Fucito. The great tenor Alfredo Brazzi, listening at a nearby table, is so impressed with Enrico's singing that he places him in the chorus for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida . Barretto, however, orders Enrico to keep away from his daughter. Enrico earns a bit part in Tosca , and makes his official debut in Cavalleria Rusticana . After topping the bill at the La Scala performance of La Giaconda , Enrico returns to his home town a great success. Everyone is impressed with the singer's fame and fine clothes, but Gino, the barber, finally reveals that Musetta has married someone else. Grateful to Gino for his honesty, Enrico asks his friend to accompany him to his debut in London's Covent Garden and there he proves a sensation in Rigoletto . ... +


In 1873, Enrico Caruso is born to humble parents in Naples, Italy. As a boy, he joins the church choir, and one day, just before the start of a religious procession in which he is to sing, his mother falls gravely ill. Enrico wants to stay with her, but she persuades him to rejoin the procession. During the procession, Mama Caruso dies. When Enrico becomes a man, he sings for coins in local restaurants, and although he wants to marry the beautiful Musetta Barretto, her father finds such employment undignified. To please the old man, Enrico agrees to forsake his singing and become a merchant, but he is miserable. One of his deliveries takes him to the restaurant where he used to perform, and soon he is singing with his old friend Fucito. The great tenor Alfredo Brazzi, listening at a nearby table, is so impressed with Enrico's singing that he places him in the chorus for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida . Barretto, however, orders Enrico to keep away from his daughter. Enrico earns a bit part in Tosca , and makes his official debut in Cavalleria Rusticana . After topping the bill at the La Scala performance of La Giaconda , Enrico returns to his home town a great success. Everyone is impressed with the singer's fame and fine clothes, but Gino, the barber, finally reveals that Musetta has married someone else. Grateful to Gino for his honesty, Enrico asks his friend to accompany him to his debut in London's Covent Garden and there he proves a sensation in Rigoletto . His success is marred only by the outbursts of his temperamental co-star, Maria Selka, who despises Italian tenors, and the sadness of his mentor Brazzi, who has lost his voice. Good-hearted and generous, Enrico hires Brazzi as his manager, and the party sets out for New York and Enrico's Metropolitan Opera debut. During rehearsal, Enrico and soprano Louise Heggar are taken with each other's singing, and as time passes, they become close friends. The effusive tenor does, however, unwittingly offend Park Benjamin, one of the Met's principal patrons. Later, while visiting the Benjamin home to make his apologies, Enrico meets and falls in love with the snobbish patron's lovely daughter Dorothy. During his first performance, Enrico is so nervous about impressing the "Diamond Horseshoe" of patrons and critics that he earns poor reviews and only polite applause. When Benjamin, disturbed by the attempt of an "Italian peasant" to portray a nobleman, attempts to have Enrico removed from the cast, the singer is deeply offended and declares, "I do not sing in America." Dorothy persuades him that if he performs for the people in the galleries, he will love and be loved by America. Before the next performance, Enrico clasps his good luck charm, prays to the Blessed Virgin, reminds himself that "I am no gentleman," and then entrances not only the gallery crowd but also famous tenor Jean de Reszke with his magnificent voice. Outside the theater, Enrico sings for an appreciative crowd of Italian immigrants before embarking on a triumphant world tour. Upon his return to the Met, he takes "Senorina Doro" to a small Italian restaurant, where he proposes. Dorothy happily breaks the news to her father and is disappointed when he, protesting that such a union would be "undignified," refuses his permission. The two are wed anyway, and Dorothy later surprises her husband by singing for him at his birthday party. Enrico is on stage when he learns of the birth of his daughter, whom he names Gloria Graziana Victoria America Caruso. The tenor's success continues, but one night, while singing a song to his daughter, he is overcome by a fit of coughing. When Dorothy discovers that he has been using an ether spray on his throat, she begs him not to appear in his scheduled performance of Martha , but he protests that he is well. That night, Caruso sings beautifully, but during the performance, he collapses on stage and dies. In the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera, admirers place a wreath at the bust of the great Caruso. +

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

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