By 1938 Jeanette MacDonald in particular was anxious to at least partially escape the constant teamings that she had with Nelson Eddy. This didn't result from any personal dislike of Eddy but was simply her need to expand her dramatic range and put some variety into who she worked with. While their Box Office draw together at this time made a breaking up of the team unthinkable MGM decided to go all out with their new production of the 1913 play by Victor Herbert and make it unique for the MacDonald/Eddy team. A lavish budget was set which included the use of three strip technicolour which greatly enhanced the look and feel of the production and showed audiences for the first time the beauty of Jeanette MacDonald's colouring and Nelson Eddy's often overlooked masculine charm. It was the couple's first modern dress picture as well which considerably freed up their performances, in particular that of Nelson Eddy who was often accused of looking very stiff in his earlier period costumes. MGM also took the innovative step of hiring famed writer of wit Dorothy Parker and husband Alan Campbell to add a little spice to the proceedings in "Sweethearts", which resulted in the team positively shining under the lively dialogue and amusing situations far removed from their usual prim exchanges. "Sweethearts", chronicles the trials of famed husband and wife operetta team Gwen Marlowe (MacDonald) and Ernest Lane (Eddy) who as the film begins are celebrating their sixth anniversary as the sweethearts of America performing non stop in the top Broadway smash "Sweethearts". Unbeknown to the adoring public however Gwen and Ernest are tearing their hair out from the constant grind of the same show week in week out and of the unrelenting demands on what little leisure time they have to do radio broadcasts, personal appearances etc. When an aggressive Hollywood producer Norman Trumpett (Reginald Gardiner) makes an effort to lure the tired couple away with the promise of artistic and financial rewards in Hollywood the race is on by the Broadway show's manager Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan), to do whatever is possible to hold the couple in New York. Fed up with the constant demands on their time both jump at the offer to enjoy the California sun. The very amusing schemes to keep them from excepting the Hollywood offer however almost breaks up the couple with Gwen believing the Ernest is having an affair with their personal assistant Kay Jordan (Florence Rice). After seperating however the couple realise how much they do miss each others company and artistic give and take and see that they really are the sweethearts of popular public opinion and decide to stay together in the Broadway show.
Vintage MacDonald/Eddy material perhaps, but delivered with some of the wry observations about actors and producers and the "lure" of Hollywood in general one would come to expect from the witty pen of Dorothy Parker. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy rarely have been in finer form than in this outing and the rapid fire direction of the famed Woody "One Take" Van Dyke is ideal for the fast moving and at times amusingly cynical storyline. The couple are given ample opportunity in between their verbal hijinks to deliver some of the superb operetta moments that one would come to expect in their work with the tile tune "Sweethearts" and "My Little Grey Home in the West" being standouts superbly staged. Being the "A" class production it was and starring one of Louis B. Mayer's favourite leading ladies "Sweethearts" glows in every department from lavish costumes, staging of incredibly elaborate production numbers to the beautiful colour photography which took out that year's special Academy Award for colour cinematography.
For any lovers of operettas and of the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy teamings, "Sweethearts", is a treat that reveals some of their best work together. Their spicy dialogue and contemporary characters and settings show them in a refreshing new light and expands the range of what we have come to regard as their typical screen personas. Backed up by the MGM expertise you need not be a huge opera fan to appreciate this film. I cherish it as the magnificent effort in all aspects of film making that it undoubtedly is and see it as a sterling example of what the big Hollywood studios were capable of achieving at their peak. I am sure you will enjoy Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy working with the magical dialogue of Dorothy Parker in their delightful modern operetta "Sweethearts".