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The Night Is Young

The Night Is Young(1935)

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teaser The Night Is Young (1935)

A romantic MGM musical based on Sigmund Romberg's 1924 stage operetta The Student Prince, The Night Is Young (1935) has music and lyrics by Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. It did not do very well upon release and fell into obscurity because at the time, MGM had just started a much higher-profile cycle of operettas starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Seen today, it offers quite a few delights and is interesting for the chance it provides to see a fine cast of actors at various career stages.

First, there's Ramon Novarro, that Latin Lover of the silent screen whose popularity as a romantic idol was eclipsed in his day only by Rudolf Valentino and John Gilbert. Novarro's most famous part had been Ben-Hur (1925); with the coming of sound, his romantic roles waned, and he gradually fizzled into character parts and, later on, television. His last feature film would be Heller in Pink Tights (1960). The Night Is Young - in which he plays an archduke who falls for a ballet dancer (Evelyn Laye) but must marry a princess (Rosalind Russell) - finds him in the midst of his downward career trajectory. In fact, this was the last picture he made under his MGM contract. With Novarro gone, only Norma Shearer remained of the studio's original 1924 group of stars. (Novarro did appear later in the MGM western The Outriders, in 1950.)

By way of contrast, Rosalind Russell was just starting what would be a hugely successful career on screen and stage. This was her fourth picture, and she is eighth-billed. Her role is essentially a walk-on, too small to allow her to do much of anything with it. In her memoir Life Is a Banquet (co-written with Chris Chase), Russell recalled her career at MGM: "I was never a top star at Metro. When I went there I...was already in my twenties, and I didn't fit neatly into the pattern of stars and the star system...I was in the second echelon. That was the way they ran the lot. I once said I never got a part at Metro unless Myrna Loy turned it down, and while that was meant to be funny, there was a grain of truth to it. They had me as a threat behind Myrna, the same way they had Luise Rainer behind Garbo. Every time Myrna asked for a change in her contract or a raise, the brass could say, 'Never mind, Roz Russell will do the picture,' and this system worked very beautifully." Russell would go on to earn four Oscar® nominations for Best Actress and would win the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1973.

Novarro's co-star here is the lovely Evelyn Laye, a famous British stage actress who steals the movie from him. She appeared in a handful of British films in the 1930s (and a handful more in the '70s and '80s) but made only two American pictures, One Heavenly Night (1931) and The Night Is Young, preferring for the most part to work in the theater.

In smaller roles are various other silent screen veterans. Una Merkel, for instance, had started in silents before spending the bulk of the 1920s on Broadway; in 1930 she returned to Hollywood for a long career as a character actress. Henry Stephenson was yet another stage veteran who got his start in silents and then went on to a career of character roles, usually as gentlemen of good breeding in historical dramas. Even Edward Everett Horton, best known for his sidekick roles in Astaire-Rogers musicals, had a significant silent career before making his first talkie.

"Snub" Pollard, a major silent screen presence who made slapstick comedies for Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd, appears here as a drummer. And look also for fan favorite Herman Bing, a German-born character actor who appeared in over 100 movies from 1929-1946. His German accent is unmistakable.

The Night Is Young was one of six features from 1935 to be credited to renowned cameraman James Wong Howe. He would eventually amass ten Oscar® nominations over his long career, winning the statuette twice.

Romberg's operetta has been the basis for other movies including, most famously, the MGM production The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), which also starred Novarro. Two songs from The Night Is Young became hits: The title song and "When I Grow Too Old to Dream."

Producer: Harry Rapf
Director: Dudley Murphy
Screenplay: Edgar Allan Woolf, Franz Schulz; Vicki Baum (story)
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Cast: Ramon Novarro (Archduke Paul 'Gustl' Gustave), Evelyn Laye (Elizabeth Katherine Anne 'Lisl' Gluck), Charles Butterworth (Willy Fitch), Una Merkel (Fanni Kerner), Edward Everett Horton (Baron Szereny), Rosalind Russell (Countess Zarika Rafay).

by Jeremy Arnold

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