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Friday, 9 January 2015

Classic Film Review: The Great Caruso (1951)

The Great Caruso stars Mario Lanza as the famous opera singer who grew up in Naples and then gradually won appreciation by the critics despite the fact he was a peasant. It documents the death of his mother and then his difficulties with the woman he first wants to marry before his career takes off. Then he meets Dorothy (Ann Blyth) and finds someone who, though she dislikes opera, can give him the support he needs.

From what I've read, this film isn't so much a biopic as a film loosely based on Caruso's life with plenty of songs thrown in. There isn't too too biography in there and that, I think, was what damaged my interest, especially in the first half of the film. It will appeal to those who want to hear numerous Caruso songs sung by Lanza but I struggled to care. Opera isn't really my thing, although I appreciated the scenes around his struggles rather than his successes. Lanza is excellent both in voice and body and certainly dominates the film.

The rest of the cast work well, although some of the faces Caruso surrounds himself with blend into one. Ann Blyth as Dorothy manages that remarkable feat of ageing on screen, first appearing as a young girl and evolving into Caruso's wife, and her performance is very enjoyable. However, I found that I was entranced by professional opera singer Dorothy Kirsten as Louise Heggar, an actress who only appeared in a handful of films but was prolific on the stage. The final scene between Kirsten and Lanza was memorable, not because of what it leads to but because of the delicate interplay between the pair.

While much of this film is played for dramatic effect, it's a good way to listen to Mario Lanza singing snippets of numerous songs and it's a fine way to while away an afternoon. Not one I'll be rewatching but that's down to personal preference more than anything.

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