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Toast of New Orleans, The (MGM 1950, Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza)

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Although just a paragraph in the novel that was MARIO LANZA’S life, Toast Of New Orleans retains its charm as a work of accidental autobiography.

The legendary tenor plays Pepe Duvall, a Bayou boy whose vocal prowess impresses the man behind the New Orleans opera (DAVID NIVEN). Taken from his home, he is brought to the city to undergo formal training, and it is here he encounters the company’s leading soprano, Suzette (KATHRYN GRAYSON). Outwardly disdainful of his unsophisticated manner, she hides a secret admiration for the charismatic singer.

In turn, he decides to take lessons in social improvement to speed his progress through high society and his chances of amore – a development which appals his old friends, dismayed at the marionette he has become. An opening night awaits, giving the couple a deadline for love, or a lifetime of duplicity.

Any Lanza film lives by its soundtrack. In this case a blend of new numbers – written by Sammy Cahn – and opera standards from Carmen and La Traviata give maximum scope for the star’s immense vocal range.

Veteran Norman Taurog (this was his 73rd picture) gives his film pace and energy, but there’s no doubting the centrepiece. Under the patronage of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, Lanza is pushed toward inevitable stardom, reaching the apex a few months later with the title role in The Great Caruso (1951) and a global following that listed Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra among the disciples.

Mayer’s demise saw his studio torn asunder, with his protégé the unwitting scapegoat for the new bosses. It tore Lanza apart, and he succumbed to drugs and alcohol before a fatal heart attack at the age of 38, just eleven weeks before the Swinging Sixties began.

production details
USA | MGM | 97 minutes | 1950

Director: Norman Taurog
Writers: Sy Gomberg and George Wells

cast
Kathryn Grayson as Suzette Micheline
Mario Lanza as Pepe Abellard Duvalle
David Niven as Jacques Riboudeaux
J. Carrol Naish as Nicky Duvalle
James Mitchell as Pierre
Richard Hageman as Maestro P. Trellini
Clinton Sundberg as Oscar
Sig Arno as Mayor
Rita Moreno as Tina
Romo Vincent as Manuelo