Cast & Crew
In 1873, Enrico Caruso is born to humble parents in Naples, Italy. As a boy, he joins the church choir, and one day, just before the start of a religious procession in which he is to sing, his mother falls gravely ill. Enrico wants to stay with her, but she persuades him to rejoin the procession. During the procession, Mama Caruso dies. When Enrico becomes a man, he sings for coins in local restaurants, and although he wants to marry the beautiful Musetta Barretto, her father finds such employment undignified. To please the old man, Enrico agrees to forsake his singing and become a merchant, but he is miserable. One of his deliveries takes him to the restaurant where he used to perform, and soon he is singing with his old friend Fucito. The great tenor Alfredo Brazzi, listening at a nearby table, is so impressed with Enrico's singing that he places him in the chorus for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida . Barretto, however, orders Enrico to keep away from his daughter. Enrico earns a bit part in Tosca , and makes his official debut in Cavalleria Rusticana . After topping the bill at the La Scala performance of La Giaconda , Enrico returns to his home town a great success. Everyone is impressed with the singer's fame and fine clothes, but Gino, the barber, finally reveals that Musetta has married someone else. Grateful to Gino for his honesty, Enrico asks his friend to accompany him to his debut in London's Covent Garden and there he proves a sensation in Rigoletto . His success is marred only by the outbursts of his temperamental co-star, Maria Selka, who despises Italian tenors, and the sadness of his mentor Brazzi, who has lost his voice. Good-hearted and generous, Enrico hires Brazzi as his manager, and the party sets out for New York and Enrico's Metropolitan Opera debut. During rehearsal, Enrico and soprano Louise Heggar are taken with each other's singing, and as time passes, they become close friends. The effusive tenor does, however, unwittingly offend Park Benjamin, one of the Met's principal patrons. Later, while visiting the Benjamin home to make his apologies, Enrico meets and falls in love with the snobbish patron's lovely daughter Dorothy. During his first performance, Enrico is so nervous about impressing the "Diamond Horseshoe" of patrons and critics that he earns poor reviews and only polite applause. When Benjamin, disturbed by the attempt of an "Italian peasant" to portray a nobleman, attempts to have Enrico removed from the cast, the singer is deeply offended and declares, "I do not sing in America." Dorothy persuades him that if he performs for the people in the galleries, he will love and be loved by America. Before the next performance, Enrico clasps his good luck charm, prays to the Blessed Virgin, reminds himself that "I am no gentleman," and then entrances not only the gallery crowd but also famous tenor Jean de Reszke with his magnificent voice. Outside the theater, Enrico sings for an appreciative crowd of Italian immigrants before embarking on a triumphant world tour. Upon his return to the Met, he takes "Senorina Doro" to a small Italian restaurant, where he proposes. Dorothy happily breaks the news to her father and is disappointed when he, protesting that such a union would be "undignified," refuses his permission. The two are wed anyway, and Dorothy later surprises her husband by singing for him at his birthday party. Enrico is on stage when he learns of the birth of his daughter, whom he names Gloria Graziana Victoria America Caruso. The tenor's success continues, but one night, while singing a song to his daughter, he is overcome by a fit of coughing. When Dorothy discovers that he has been using an ether spray on his throat, she begs him not to appear in his scheduled performance of Martha , but he protests that he is well. That night, Caruso sings beautifully, but during the performance, he collapses on stage and dies. In the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera, admirers place a wreath at the bust of the great Caruso.
Carl Benton Reid
Peter Edward Price
Olive Mae Beach
William Yetter Jr.
Rod De Medici
Peter Herman Adler
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ernesto De Curtis
G. B. De Curtis
Friedrich Von Flotow
J. Rosamond Johnson
Jesse L. Lasky
Richard Alfred Milliken
Jack D. Moore
Francesco Maria Piave
Friedrich Wilhelm Riese
Robert B. Smith
Francesco Paolo Tosti
William J. Tuttle
Paul Francis Webster
Edwin B. Willis
Best Costume Design
The Great Caruso
Lanza had been turned down for the movies on his first try when Jack Warner, head of Warner Bros., deemed him too heavy for screen stardom. A few years later, a slimmed down Lanza scored a triumph at the Hollywood Bowl, with MGM head Louis B. Mayer in attendance. That led to an MGM contract and his film debut starring in That Midnight Kiss (1949). From the start, Lanza campaigned to get MGM to put him into Caruso's life story. After two more hit films, the studio bought the rights from Caruso's widow, Dorothy, and got to work on the picture that would always be associated with their new singing star - The Great Caruso (1951).
The script, from Hollywood veterans Sonia Levien and William Ludwig, changed a lot of history, conveniently forgetting that Caruso was married twice and already had grown children when he met second wife Dorothy. But they also offered opportunities for scenes from seven operas, a feat that helped musical director Johnny Green and conductor Peter Herman Adler win an Oscar® nomination. Here, too, however, they played with the truth, focusing on better-known pieces and overlooking Caruso's two favorite operas, La Juive and The Peal Fishers.
As if playing an operatic legend on-screen weren't enough, off-screen Lanza displayed enough temperament for a season-full of Met stars. His weight yo-yoed throughout the production. Costumes that fit properly on Friday, had to be rebuilt on Monday to accommodate weekend-long binges. He quarreled with everyone and refused to sing the film's one original song, "The Loveliest Night of the Year." Co-star Ann Blyth got to sing it instead. But when it became a hit, Lanza finally agreed to record it.
The Great Caruso was the hit of Lanza's film career, but it would also prove to be his last MGM film. He was scheduled to star in The Student Prince, but his weight and temperament led the studio to fire him after the soundtrack had been recorded. In his place they hired the non-singing but decidedly thinner and more accommodating Edmund Purdom, who lip-synched the songs to Lanza's vocals. Lanza would make only one more Hollywood film and two in Europe before his weight problems led to his death from heart trouble at the early age of 38.
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Sonya Levien, William Ludwig
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Costume Design: Helen Rose, Gile Steele
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero
Original Music: Johnny Green
Cast: Mario Lanza (Enrico Caruso), Ann Blyth (Dorothy Benjamin), Dorothy Kirsten (Louise Heggar), Jarmila Novotna (Maria Selka), Richard Hageman (Carlo Santi)
C-110m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
The Great Caruso
The working titles of this film were Caruso Sings Tonight and The Life of Caruso. Dorothy Caruso, who wrote the biography on which the film is based, was Enrico Caruso's wife. M-G-M purchased rights to the book from Jesse L. Lasky's company in 1949. As depicted in the film, Caruso was born in Naples in 1873 and sang in his church's choir as a young boy. After studying for three years with Guglielmo Vergine and Vincenzo Lombardi, Caruso made his debut as a tenor in Naples on November 16, 1894.
In 1898, he was engaged by the Teatro Lirico in Milan, and in 1901, he became a member of Milan's La Scala opera company. After triumphant appearances in Monte Carlo, Caruso was awarded contracts at Covent Garden in London and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. On November 23, 1903, he made his American debut in the Met's production of Rigoletto, Although his initial performance received mixed reviews, he became the company's favorite singer by the end of the season. Caruso sang at the Met and other major opera houses for the next seventeen years, becoming the highest-paid and most beloved opera star in the world. At the Met, he sang in over 600 performances, in almost forty operas. According to various sources, he earned nearly two million dollars in royalties from his phonograph recordings.
Caruso appeared in two Famous Players-Lasky silent films, the 1918 My Cousin and the 1919 The Splendid Romance (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). On December 11, 1920, during a performance of L'elisir d'amore at the Brooklyn Academy, Caruso coughed blood and was later diagnosed with "intercostal neuralgia." His final appearance in an opera occurred on December 24, 1920, when he sang his favorite role in La Juive. On August 2, 1921, while in Naples recuperating from surgery and its complications, he died.
According to a September 1950 New York Times article, screenwriters Sonya Levien and William Ludwig never intended The Great Caruso as an authentic biography of the opera singer. In particular, they eliminated any reference to Caruso's common-law wife and his two illegitimate children by her. The Variety reviewer noted that "there is nothing in the film to hint that Miss Benjamin was Caruso's second wife; that he had grown children and was middle-aged when he married her." According to a May 1955 New York Times article, in addition to the biography, the writers had at their disposal notes from Caruso's secretary's journal.
In 1946, when Lasky was considering making Caruso's film biography, he planned to transfer recordings of the singer's voice to the picture's soundtrack, replacing the old orchestral accompaniment with an updated one. While many reviewers complained about the range of questionable accents displayed by the actors in The Great Caruso, most commented favorably on Mario Lanza's performance. Actress Ann Blyth, who portrayed Caruso's wife Dorothy, was borrowed from Universal Pictures for the film.
Many of the singers in the opera montage were veteran performers of the Metropolitan Opera Company. Blanche Thebom of the company made her motion picture debut in The Great Caruso. The company's mezzo-soprano Jarmila Novotna, playing the diva "Maria Selka," did not sing in the picture. According to a May 1951 Los Angeles Examiner news item, much of Novotna's role was cut from the final film.
Arias recorded for the film's soundtrack album, but not included in the final film were "Questa o quella" and "Parmi veder le lagrime" from Rigoletto; "Reconditi armonia" from Tosca; and "Una furtiva lagrima" from L'Elisir d'amour. The Great Caruso was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Costume Design (color) and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and won the Oscar for Best Sound Recording. It was one of the four highest-grossing films of 1951 and, according to modern sources, earned ten million dollars in its first year of release.
In early 1952, Caruso's Italian heirs, who had previously sued the makers of the Italian screen biography Legend of Caruso without success, sued M-G-M for not getting their consent to do the film and for taking liberties with Caruso's life. In late May 1955, Los Angeles Times reported that the heirs had won an $8,000 suit against M-G-M, with the court ruling that the picture was "offensive to the honor and private and family life" of Caruso. M-G-M was ordered to pay all court expenses and withdraw all copies of the film from circulation in Italy. The heirs also protested the film's billboard advertising in Rome, which showed star Mario Lanza drinking Coca-Cola. The posters were ordered removed in April 1952. The Great Caruso was re-issued in 1963 and in 1970.