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That Midnight Kiss
Principal Cast List:
Kathryn Grayson, José Iturbi, Ethel Barrymore, Mario Lanza, Keenan Wynn, Jules Munshin, Thomas Gomez.
The Story:
Ethel Barrymore is Abigail Budell, matriarch of a wealthy Philadelphia family. She wanted to be an opera singer when she was young, but was never allowed; now her granddaughter Prudence (Kathryn Grayson) wants to be one and Abigail is determined that Prudence will succeed—even if she has to start her own opera company to do it. Iturbi is Abigail’s friend, the conductor of the orchestra Abigail also founded—and now he’s going to be the conductor of her opera company as well. Abigail starts her opera company in record time and engages a boorish, egotistical tenor (played by Thomas Gomez) as the lead—but Prudence can’t sing with him because she laughs at the thought of being “in love” with him. (Somebody should’ve told her that opera might involve a certain degree of acting…) Iturbi reassures her that “great tenors are very seldom young, good-looking men who feel the words of opera” and tells her if she ever finds a fellow like that, then he wants to meet him. With that, Prudence goes home and discovers Johnny Donnetti (Mario Lanza) delivering her new piano and singing to beat the band. In short order Johnny’s an up-and-coming star himself—and he and Prudence have fallen hard for each other. But he forgets to tell his girlfriend, and things fall apart until Iturbi, with the help of his manager Michael Pemberton (Jules Munshin) and Johnny’s manager (Keenan Wynn) can play cupid.
I swear, folks, it is much better than it sounds.
Excerpts from newspapers of the day:
The New York Times, September 23, 1949.
No one can say that Metro has done things by quarters—or even halves—in bringing forth Mario Lanza, its latest singing man. It has launched the beaming young tenor in a juicy leading role alongside Kathryn Grayson in a lark called “That Midnight Kiss.” Furthermore, it has loaded this package with music and talent galore, a muchness of colorful production and plenty of pleasant romance…
Under such nice circumstances, one doesn’t care to be too critical or demanding about such a little thing as a plot…there’s a lot of youthful skylarking, soft-eyed spooning and clowning in spades. With José Iturbi in the picture, as the stern opera impresario, the comical pattern for the effort—as well as the musical pattern—is set…Mr. Iturbi does his old job of stomping and storming through a film, impressing the youngsters with his candor and his noted ability to play.
…Meanwhile, of course, Mr. Iturbi gets off his share of music, pounding out Liszt’s E-flat Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s B-flat Concerto in handsome style, and joining with his sister, Amparo, in a thrilling rendering of Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude.”
Chicago Daily Tribune, September 9, 1949
…Affable José Iturbi is present in the same sort of role he has had in previous films—a gentle genius who likes nothing better than playing Cupid’s helper when not busy at the piano. This trip he smooths the path of true love for piquant Kathryn Grayson and Mr. Lanza, and conducts the orchestra for their solos and duets…The sound track offers bits of operas, a Chopin etude, and several modern numbers. It all adds up to a lot of eye and ear appeal, effectively presented and loosely tied together by a threadbare plot.
The Newark Advocate & American Tribune, October 10, 1949
Musically “That Midnight Kiss” is tops. José Iturbi always lends distinction to a picture and Kathryn Grayson is one of the most talented and charming of the young singers.
The Post-Standard, October 15, 1949
Favored Kathryn Grayson, in excellent voice, is the central figure as a young aspiring opera singer. Her grandmother is Ethel Barrymore, who never looked more regal or beautiful, in her smart clothes and elegantly dressed white hair. José Iturbi is all over the place. He is on contract to Abigail Budell (Miss Barrymore), having launched her symphony orchestra in Philadelphia and as the story opens, tagged to a also institute an opera company to launch granddaughter Prudence (Miss Grayson) on an operatic career.
Patiently Iturbi listens, likes the voices and engages the famous tenor Betelli (Thomas Gomez), corpulent and egotistical, for the male lead…
Beautifully executed and directed, the picture is uplifting. Wynn and Munshin provide laughs. Iturbi provokes titters with his eye twinkle, and Gomez is laughed at. The singing is superb and hearers will be talking about Lanza’s future, based upon his marvelous present. It is far from a highbrow production entirely, for anyone will enjoy the familiar music and the tightly knit story.
From Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movies Guide:
That Midnight Kiss (1949) C-96m. **1/2
Director: Norman Taurog
Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, José Iturbi, Ethel Barrymore, Keenan Wynn, J. Carrol Naish, Jules Munshin. Flimsy musical romance between Lanza and Grayson salvaged by pleasant musical interludes and glossy production.
Thoughts of ManyFountains.com: I don’t care if this one’s “flimsy”—I like it. All the main characters are likable people, even the imperious Ethel Barrymore. Wynn and Munshin are very funny. Thomas Gomez, not mentioned by Maltin for some reason, is terrific as the famous, boorish tenor that Lanza replaces. Iturbi plays a support role more important than the music this time around—and he’s good at it. There’s a scene where he visits the Donnetti family for the sole purpose of wreaking havoc in their lives, and after doing so with casual abandon, he departs with a “my work here is finished” sort of smile. Amparo appears in one scene, and this time she actually has a couple of lines; it’s rather a nice exchange between brother and sister, too. By the way, Iturbi’s niece Amparin had a small part in this one—look for her as Johnny’s sister Rosina.
Interesting Trivia:
Joe Pasternak claimed Mario Lanza’s life paralleled that of the fictional Johnny Donnetti—he claimed to have “discovered” Lanza driving a delivery truck. It wasn’t true; Lanza had been “discovered” by MGM while he was singing at the Hollywood Bowl. Serge Koussevitsky had given him his big break in 1942; MGM latched onto him in 1947.
“That Midnight Kiss” was Lanza’s first film and Iturbi’s last. Lanza said he learned a lot about breathing from Iturbi; he also said he didn’t care for Ethel Barrymore. Lanza only made a few films himself—10 years after “That Midnight Kiss” made him famous, he was dead.
I have seldom seen so many newspapers make so many mistakes in a movie review. One calls Ethel Barrymore Miss “Barrett.” Another calls her character “Prudence’s aunt” rather than her grandmother. Yet another claims that Amparo Iturbi accompanies Kathryn Grayson in her “audition” for Iturbi at the beginning of the movie!
The marquee in front of the hall shows Iturbi’s concert as consisting of Mozart, Liszt and Beethoven, but Iturbi is actually shown playing Tchaikovsky’s famous B-flat concerto.
Memorable Iturbi Lines:
That skinny little girl with the pleading eyes?
Everybody thinks anybody who can reach a high C should sing in opera.
I knew a man in Spain. He wanted to be a great toreador—a bullfighter. But he lost a leg before he had his chance. So he said his son would be the great bullfighter. He sent the boy off to work with the best men of the bull ring. Then at last came the big day in Madrid. The son was to carry the father’s name to fame—to be a great toreador. The bull was better than the boy—and the father’s dream was ended.
He’s famous. To some people, fame means the right to scream at other people.
Great tenors are very seldom young, good-looking men who feel the words of opera.
Play it, young man—don’t beat it to death.
He’s from Philadelphia. That’s a great recommendation for lawyers, or people who make scrapple—but it doesn’t necessarily apply to opera singers…and I love scrapple.
Do you remember the story about the bullfighter? You have one in your own family.
More people around here are getting colds…
Serious? It’s a failure!
You were given a great gift and a chance to use that gift. You could have given joy to the world. You could have made many people personally happy. But you didn’t think of anyone but yourself. You could have made it possible for your mother to take things easy; you could have made all your father’s dreams come true; helped your sisters do what they wanted. But no; it was more important for you to do what you wanted. All right, you did! So forget about it!
Iturbi’s Musical Numbers
Caro nome with Kathryn Grayson (briefly)
Una Furtiva Lagrima with Mario Lanza
Soloist and Conductor:
Piano Concerto in E-flat (Liszt) (excerpt)
Piano Concerto in B-flat (Tchaikovsky) (excerpt)
Verrano a te sull with Grayson & Thomas Gomez
Celeste Aida with Lanza
Sweet are the Love Songs (based on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony)
Duo Piano with Amparo:
Revolutionary Etude (Chopin)