Firefly, The (1937): MGM Star Vehicle for Operetta Singer Jeannette MacDonald

Jeannette MacDonald gets above the title star billing in The Firefly, MGM lavish screen version of the 1912 operetta by composer Rudolf Friml and librettist Otto A. Harbach.

Quite unusually, most of the work’s music is used, though applied to a new story, now set in Spain during the time of Emperor Napoleon I.

The movie added a new song, “The Donkey Serenade” (Herbert Stothart of Friml’s 1918 orchestral piece ‘Chanson’), which became popular with audiences.

The film’s original prints were tinted with Sepia-Blue, Orange and Pink; in the same year, the first version of A Star Is Born, with Fredric March and Janet Gaynor, also experimented with color.  However, on TV it is shown in black-and-white.

MacDonald plays secret agent Nina Maria Azara, working undercover for Spain’s King (Tom Rutherford)) as a singer known as “Mosca del Fuego” or “Firefly.”

She is in love with Captain Andre (Allan Jones), but manipulates to orchestrate change of the French defensive positions, thus facilitating Duke of Wellington to win the Battle of Victoria.

In the predictable happy ending, Nina and Andre leave together.

The historical set design is the usual MGM kitsch style, but MacDonald overcomes the shortcomings of the nonsensical plot with her charm and vocal range.

It is not one of the star’s strong features, but her fans embraced the movie as yet another vehicle created specifically for MacDonald, who, by Hollywood standards, had a rather short career.

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