(the 3rd of the 25 remaining Best Actress nominees!)
GRACE MOORE IN ONE NIGHT OF LOVE (1934)
The competition (Cliff: 4* for 4*!)
Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night
—Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage— (write in!)
Norma Shearer in The Barretts of Wimpole Street
As I started out on this tour of female performance, I never thought I would see three nominees give their renditions of Carmen. Neither Dorothy Dandridge nor Eleanor Parker’s actual voices were heard in Carmen Jones (and English language adaptation by Oscar Hammerstein) or Interrupted Melody; that proud distinction belongs solely to Grace, the surprising & fleeting opera sensation of Columbia’s silver screen. While my taste in opera remains woefully unrefined, I could still appreciate her ample singing ability and stage presence in the all-too-few scenes of actual operatic performance. Unfortunately, sixty-odd minutes of flimsy, misunderstanding-laden backstage drama surround the twenty minutes of singing, and Grace does not have the same ear for dialogue that she does for recitative. Not that it matters too much; her placement in an extra-tight field of three nominees in 1934 (shockingly, at the expense of Myrna Loy for The Thin Man, which otherwise rivaled It Happened One Night in major category noms) reflected an appreciation for a woman whose “La Barrett” is all her own.
Still, the story does Grace few favors: her character emerges as petulant, not just the usual immature: she fakes illnesses out of jealousy, and is willing to refuse to go on stage when she thinks the performance will be canceled, but submits when she learns the role will go to a competitor. The film errs in overstating her gift–her Carmen earns a drooling invitation from the Met, but her maestro naturally insists that she isn’t ready. It’s not all bad, though. If the movie sags in the middle, it’s still glorious around the edges. I fell in love with the opening scene, which distilled the fantastical enchantment of a bygone era of opera: we open with Grace singing in a radio contest to determine the winner of a two-year tutelage under Europe’s greatest maestro, while he listens over the airwaves on his yacht on the moonlit Mediterranean. Also, at the very end of the film, following a triumphant performance of Puccini, the tender intimacy found amidst thundering applause assures that the story closes out with the same measure of grace with which it began. For 1934, Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night wins it by a country mile over the conventional nominees and by a clear margin over Bette Davis’ raw, write-in driven nomination, and Grace at least goes down as a unique entry in the history of the category.