In Philadelphia, the soprano Prudence Budell returns from Europe after a period of five years training in the best Europeans music schools. Her millionaire grandmother Abigail Trent Budell sponsors an opera company under the command of the famous maestro Jose Iturbi to give a chance to Prudence to lead an opera.
They hire the also famous tenor Guido Russino Betelli, but Prudence does not feel comfortable with him on the stage. When Prudence accidentally sees the American-Italian truck driver Johnny Donnetti singing opera, she convinces Jose Iturbi to give a chance to Johnny. They fall in love for each other, but when Prudence visits his work to tell that he will be hired, she meets Mary and she believes Johnny is in love of his colleague.
Kathryn Grayson ... Prudence Budell
José Iturbi ... Himself (as Jose Iturbi)
Ethel Barrymore ... Abigail Trent Budell
Mario Lanza ... Johnny Donnetti
Keenan Wynn ... Artie Geoffrey Glenson
J. Carrol Naish ... Papa Donnetti
Jules Munshin ... Michael Pemberton
Thomas Gomez ... Guido Russino Betelli
Marjorie Reynolds ... Mary
Arthur Treacher ... Hutchins
Mimi Aguglia ... Mamma Donnetti
Amparo Iturbi ... Herself
Bridget Carr ... Donna Donnetti
Amparo Ballester ... Rosina Donnetti
Mario Lanza made his film debut in "That Midnight Kiss" costarring Kathryn Grayson, Ethel Barrymore, Jose Iturbi, Keenan Wynn, Thomas Gomez, Marjorie Reynolds, and Jules Munshin. The script was tailor-made for Lanza, set in his home town of Philadelphia. It was this film that nearly ruined my own singing aspirations. My mother always thought that if I were really good, someone would discover me - I guess hauling a piano - the way that Lanza was in this film. Nevertheless, I put all that aside when I watched it.
Johnny is a truck driver discovered testing out the piano he delivers to Abigail Budell (Barrymore), patron of the arts. She's just founded an opera company for the benefit of her daughter Prudence (Grayson). When the current tenor (Gomez) quits in a huff, Johnny steps in. He and Prudence are in love, but before either one of them can really act on it, Prudence is told by another woman (Marjorie Reynolds) that she wants to marry Johnny. How to get these two songbirds back together?
"That Midnight Kiss" is a big budget, glossy MGM musical extravaganza and as such, it's delicious to watch and makes for joyful listening. Lanza, attractive and a natural before the cameras, really commercialized opera in the U.S. with his clarion tenor. His IMDb bios were obviously written by fans. Though he certainly had a fantastic voice, he was evidently hard to work with, especially for his female costars. Alcohol and crash dieting eventually made his heart give out while he was still in his thirties. Also, he had his own sound; in recordings, Caruso sounds much more baritone-y, though Lanza's IMDb bio claims the voices match. It's hard to know what Lanza's voice sounded like on the opera stage. People who heard him in person claim the voice was not very large. Nevertheless, it was perfect for film.
Pretty and petite, Kathryn Grayson does a lovely job both in her acting and singing. Both singers shine in the more lyrical pieces sung outside Prudence's window and show their versatility. A side note - it's a little questionable what opera the company is doing - Grayson and Gomez sing a duet from "Lucia" in rehearsals, but the final product was in English and definitely NOT Donizetti!
The rest of the cast is superb - Keenan Wynn has impeccable comic timing, and Jules Munshin is given some great bits throughout. Thomas Gomez is hilarious as the bombastic tenor Betelli. Ethel Barrymore is stately and classy as Prudence's grandmother. Iturbi, playing himself, is delightful and plays some beautiful piano. Celeste Aida and the Lucia duet were conducted at pretty swift tempi, as was the "Caro Nome" that Grayson starts to sing at the piano.
Highly entertaining and recommended if you're a lover of classical music.
Mario Lanza makes a very confident screen debut with this movie. The scene in which he first appears - some 15 minutes into the film - is teasingly executed: we hear his voice (singing the Neapolitan classic, Mamma mia, Che Vo' Sape) as co-star Kathryn Grayson enters her home, and - with her (and our) interest aroused - the camera slowly pans to reveal his handsome presence. It's a great moment, helped by the fact that Lanza really does look terrific, especially in comparison with the portly stock tenor we have been watching only minutes earlier.
Lanza has some formidable acting talent to compete with in this movie. That he succeeds magnificently speaks volumes about the man's much-underrated acting ability. Also appearing in the film are seasoned veterans such as Ethel Barrymore, J. Carroll Naish, Jules Munshin and Thomas Gomez (hilarious as the aforementioned portly tenor). Keenan Wynn is also on hand as Lanza's amusing buddy, and the film also boasts another big musical name: conductor/pianist Jose' Iturbi, who plays himself.
The film is fun, and very competently produced in the grand tradition of MGM musicals. Lanza doesn't have a great deal to sing, but among the highlights are a very lyrical Celeste Aida (minus the recitative), the second half of Una Furtiva Lagrima, and Jerome Kern's They Didn't Believe, which is sung as a duet with Kathryn Grayson. MGM was clearly nervous about allowing Lanza too many "heavy" vocal offerings, but they were soon to rectify this with The Great Caruso, just two years later.
All in all, That Midnight Kiss is a most enjoyable romp with Lanza as its raison d'etre. The critics were not especially kind to the film - or Mario's co-star, the established Miss Grayson - but all were in agreement that Lanza made the picture worth seeing. This is what Newsweek Magazine had to say:
Aside from Jose' Iturbi's music, virtually the only excuse for this one is Mario Lanza, a singer whose talents would be conspicuous even outside a film devoted to opera. He can act as well as sing. But his efforts in both directions are hampered by an inconsequential story which enmeshes him with Kathryn Grayson - a girl who neither sings nor acts in his league.
And from The New York Times:
As for the budding Mr. Lanza, the opinion rendered of him by the sanguine Mr.Iturbi is good enough for us. "His voice," says Mr. Iturbi, "has quality and warmth and he has a very nice personality." Check.
The following year Lanza would go on to greater things in The Toast of New Orleans, before reaching his pinnacle in The Great Caruso.
For Mario Lanza's first feature film role it wasn't much of an acting stretch for him. He played exactly who he was an opera singing truck-driver from South Philadelphia. Mario would have been 28 at the time That Midnight Kiss came out and that is his approximate age right here.
Of course in real life he wasn't discovered by the granddaughter of another real life noted Philadelphian, Ethel Barrymore. As the plot would have it, Kathryn Grayson finds Mario playing on the piano and singing an old Italian song Mama Che Vio Sape.
Grayson's got singing talent herself in abundance and when you're from the Philadelphia Main Line you've got a grandmother who's willing to start a production company built around her. Of course to make sure it makes a little money you want a name tenor like Thomas Gomez as opposed to some unknown truck-driver.
Kathryn would rather make music with Mario both on and off the stage. The story with a few of the usual Hollywood romantic complications shows how they get to do just that.
Mario and Kathryn sang a good collection of classical and popular selections. My favorite recording of Jerome Kern's first great hit song They Didn't Believe Me is from Mario's original cast album of That Midnight Kiss. It's a solo recording, on screen it's done with Grayson and done just as beautifully. MGM made a good choice in including that great song in this film.
A good cast of MGM regulars supported Mario and Kathryn that included Keenan Wynn as Lanza's friend and Jules Munshin as the manager of the opera company. Best in the supporting cast however is Thomas Gomez as the egotistical tenor Lanza replaces. Gomez utilizes some seldom tapped comedy talent for this role.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer engineered a very auspicious debut for their new singing discovery in That Midnight Kiss.
It was only natural that when Mario Lanza made his film debut, MGM cast him opposite their current operatic diva, Kathryn Grayson, and showcased both of them in a sumptuous technicolor musical.
This film also marked the last film of Jose Iturbi, who lent his talent and charm to a number of MGM musicals in the '40s. The story is a simple one: opera singer Grayson would like to have a tenor who looks the part of the tenor role. When Lanza, a singing truck driver is discovered, she gets her wish--and a happy ending isn't far away. Humor of the painful kind is furnished by Jules Munshin and J. Carrol Naish but nothing really matters when Lanza and Grayson burst into song. Among the song highlights: Donizetti's "Una Furtiva Lagrima" and Verdi's "Celeste Aida". Grayson, who always had a burning ambition to be an opera singer, does a fine job on "Cara Nome" with her bright soprano.
The schmaltz is pretty thick--but fans of Grayson and Lanza will certainly enjoy this trifle. And, oh yes, Ethel Barrymore is prominent among the supporting players showing a droll sense of humor.