Bitter Sweet (1940): Starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

Noel Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet of 1929 was remade in 1940 by Van Dyke at MGM as a star vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, then at the height of their careers.

Our Grade: B (*** out of *****)

The (first and better) version was shot in black-and-white in 1933, with Anna Neagle and Fernand Gravet in the leading roles.

Set in late 19th century Vienna circa 1870s, this romantic tale depicts the relationship between music teacher Carl Linden (Nelson Eddy) and his prize pupil Sarah Milick (MacDonald).

Eloping with Sarah, Carl writes an operetta that would showcase her particular talents.  It’s a success and Sarah goes to fame, fortune, and glory.  But Carl does not live long enough to see Sarah’s triumphs.  For her part, Sarah is determined to keep his memory—and legacy for ever,

Shot in Technicolor, the film received two Oscar nominations, though won none.

The operetta contains many popular tunes.

Among the reliable characters in the supporting cast are George Sanders, Felix Bresart, Sig Ruman, and Herman Bing as a Viennese shopkeeper.

Noel Coward disliked the film, which was cut and rewritten, removing much of the operetta’s wit and irony. The opening scene, a flash forward, was deleted because it had already been used in MGM’s 1937 film “Maytime.”

The film was popular at the box-office.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Cinematography (Color): Oliver T. Marsh and Allen Davey

Interior Decoration (color): Cedric Gibbons and John S. Detlie

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

“The Thief of Bagdad” won Best Color Cinematography for George Perinal and Best Color Art Direction for Vincent Korda.

Jeanette MacDonald as Sarah Millick, later Sari Linden
Nelson Eddy as Carl Linden
George Sanders as Baron Von Tranisch
Ian Hunter as Lord Shayne
Felix Bressart as Max
Sig Ruman as Herr Schlock
Diana Lewis as Jane
Lynne Carver as Dolly
Edward Ashley as Harry Daventry


Directed by W. S. Van Dyke
Produced by Victor Saville
Written by Lesser Samuels, based on the 1929 operetta Bitter Sweet by Noël Coward
Music by Gus Kahn
Cinematography: Oliver T. Marsh, Allen M. Davey
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: November 8, 1940
Running time: 94 minutes


TCM is showing the operetta quite often; I refreshed my notes when I saw it on June 18, 2020.