We tend to think of the media we consume as products, finished from their inception. The point of a talented production and relations staff is to control the narrative; filming is going smoothly, no actor or director feels slighted (at least publicly); and that the release is planned, and executed perfectly from the production schedule through opening night and beyond. If we knew about petty behavior, like we sometimes, do, or we heard about struggle, perhaps the talent is a little less lofty, shrouded in a little less mythos. We want art, maybe not especially film, to dazzle us as a triumph over entropy and the natural path of a Luddite society. And so the process is controlled, with conflict carefully curated and presented to us with or without commentary.
The early talking films, spreading wide throughout the 1930s, proved the technology to record sound to tape and sync it with a moving image became cheaper, more prevalent, and its welders more proficient. Commentary about film was limited, perhaps not by ambition, but by bandwidth: the cost of ink and demand for media process stood at odds and remember media was not yet social, but curated by the powerful few who controlled what was said, who said it, where it would be seen, and when the masses would get to see it. The press was free insofar as the worldmakers believed it so. In short: the corrupt and the balmy occupied the same space. The early film, One Night of Love, was no exception to this way of the world.
Its story isn’t new. It centers around a slice of life of the human spirit: a burgeoning opera singer happens upon a willing and renowned teacher, and they form a bond, ultimately leading to her success and their togetherness. Every film in the 1930s innovated in some way, either technologically or in how it presented a story. One Night of Love helped to push the movie operatic Musical: before popular music became, well, popular, the Opera dominated the space, as the vocal response to a genre that’s teetered across vocal/instrumental divide since the human learned to make sound and to harness it. One Night of Love employed one of the 1920’s operatic stars, Grace Moore, to sing the part and she did so, for all we know, as well as was asked.
But there are reports that she struggled with some of the film’s well-known arias including Un Bel Di Vedremo, from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and she threatened to walk off set. The studio retaliated by threatening to dock her pay for the day’s costs. They reconciled, obviously, and the film stands as a tribute to Moore’s vocals, her and her co-star’s (Tullio Carminati) chemistry, and the popularization and access to operatic performance. But if there is one anecdotal and potentially apocryphal story related to the difficulty of performance, recording, editing, and pasting on film, there are sure to be others. We just don’t hear about them, because either a) they didn’t happen, b) they happened but no one bothered to document them, or c) no one cared about the mistakes made for so many reasons.
Interestingly, there is an “outtake” available for this film. Given how expensive film was in the 1930s and how challenging it (apparently) was to get acceptable to great takes, that a production studio would commit something to film without copious practice is unlikely, and yet it exists. The take sounds and looks acceptable, so as an audience, it is safe to say that there was something terribly wrong with it; I don’t see it, but maybe you might.
One Night of Love will forever be mired in the depths of film-enthusiast-only territory, as it lost handily to It Happened One Night at the Seventh Academy Awards. The early ’30s are probably regarded as the kink-wrinkling phase of modern talking film and story took awhile to navigate from stage-ready production to film first written for the different, tubular medium.