Bitter Sweet (1940)

Bitter Sweet (1940)

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke (San Francisco (1936)) Noel Coward’s play (treated by Lesser Samuels) & songs and the 1933 film was remade into this colorful costumer and musical romance drama for Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy (fans). It received Oscar nominations for its Color Art Direction & Cinematography (both of these Academy Awards went to The Thief of Bagdad (1940)). The cast also includes George Sanders Ian Hunter Felix Bressart Sig Ruman Veda Ann Borg and Herman Bing (among others).

In London 1891 hopelessly romantic Sarah Millick (MacDonald) skips out of her arranged marriage to elope with her penniless Viennese music tutor Carl Linden (Eddy) much to the dismay of her mother (Fay Holden) her dullard foreign minister fiancé Harry (Edward Ashley) and his mother Lady Daventry (Janet Beecher) though her friend Dolly (Lynne Carver) is delighted. Carl & Sari (as he calls her) immediately leave for Vienna where after she has a chance meeting with Baron Von Tranisch (Sanders) the couple is greeted enthusiastically by Carl’s friends Ernst (Curt Bois) and Max (Bressart). The celebration is continued later at Mama Luden’s (Greta Meyer) restaurant.

After a year the Lindens are still happy and poor. Sari begins to write a letter home to ask for money but instead ends up offering her services as a singing tutor to a market keeper (Bing) for food. Unable to sell his completed operetta Carl ends up inadvertently bungling her arrangement. Ernst & Max who have a penchant for pawning Carl’s possession for food & drink have an idea – play outside the baths in Bonn in hopes of attracting a millionaire’s ear. The four of them do just that and hearing Sari sing Carl’s operetta British Lord Shayne (Hunter) believes that it brings him luck in his card game with the Baron and others. He sends them money to continue but after the Baron loses to Shayne he looks out the window and recognizes pretty Sari. The Baron then sends a messenger to take the makeshift band away to a job working at Herr Schlick’s (Ruman) café.

Schlick doesn’t know what to do with the players until he sees Sari then he hires her & the others and fires Manon (Borg barely in two scenes) who’d been the Baron’s previous mistress. Even though Sari is never asked to sing she & Carl are oblivious to the arrangement between Schlick and his regular customer the Baron who insists that the café owner keep his mistresses employed for his (own purposes &) excellent patronage. When by chance Harry Daventry visits with his wife Jane (Diana Lewis) the Baron’s arrangement becomes clear to Sari who then quits Herr Schlick. The Baron is naturally furious with the café owner when he learns that his new mistress won’t be dining with him but Schlick tells dishwashers Ernst & Max that the famous (producer?) Herr Wyler (Charles Judels) will be coming to his café that night. The friends tell Sari of it and seeing a chance to sing Carl’s operetta for him she joins a surprised Carl (who plays the piano there) at Schlick’s. But it is Schlick that is surprised when he learns that Wyler really is there brought by Lord Shayne to hear Sari sing. Just as she’s completed singing the operetta the drunken Baron accosts her initiating a fatal duel between the master military swordsman and poor Carl.

But the show must go on. Sari refuses Harry & Jane’s offer to return to London with them; her home is now the place that Carl loved Vienna. With Wyler & Shayne’s help Carl’s opera is produced performed by Sari to great success one which is “bitter sweet”. The film ends with a fantasy sequence much like an earlier MacDonald/Eddy vehicle Maytime (1937) does.

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