DVD: Mario Lanza – The Best Of Everything (2017)
This release from Screenbound is a 90 minute documentary about the singer Mario Lanza, and includes ‘insights’ and commentary from UK Opera singers Leslie Garrett and Russell Watson, along with Joseh Valleja, Steve Hackett and Lanza’s daughter Ellisa.
And what a sad story it is. Born in Philadelphia, Lanza decided as an altar boy that he would like to sing like his hero; Enrico Caruso, and sets out to become the greatest opera singer in the world. Blessed with an incredible voice and dashing ‘Italian’ good looks it wasn’t long until Hollywood came knocking at his door in the form of Louis B. Mayer who enabled him to become a film star, get his own national radio show, and in 1951 managed to get him a TIME Magazine cover. It’s hard to believe but Lanza was in every sense of the word a ‘superstar’, and the first singer to achieve gold records, with million sellers in both classical and popular categories.
I vividly remember the first time I saw Mario Lanza, I was 8 and The Great Caruso was on TV. My mother was a fan, and after hearing him for years, to finally SEE him was an epiphany. Here was a handsome and sincere dark skinned/haired man, who could not only sing, but look deep into my eyes and sang just for me. His secret was literally his voice, here was a man, classically trained in Opera, who could also sing popular songs, in a softer voice. I think Lanza was without a doubt the first real cross-over artist, which probably explains his appeal to a contemporary audience. He has the most expressively beautiful tenor voice that lends itself to every song he sings.
This documentary film covers all the main points in his life, including his marriage to Betty Lanza and his four children, all his films especially The Great Caruso and touches on the story of getting fired by MGM during production of The Student Prince in 1952 after being assailed over the ‘excess’ passion of one song on the soundtrack. Because of this he was more or less blacklisted by Holllyywood and his career spiralled downhill. Lanza never fully recovered from the emotional catastrophe of “The Student Prince” fiasco and losing his MGM contract, and declined slowly in a pattern of near-alcoholism, food-binging, huge weight gains and losses and professional tempestuousness.
Fed up with not being able to get film roles (other than Serenade) Lanza quit Hollywood and moved his family to Rome in the hope of rebuilding his career, were he made two Italian language films.
He died very unexpectedly (in the 50’s his constant starvation diets and intense workouts to lose weight before a film would have taken their toll, also its likely he would have been given an array of pills by the studio, although no one has ever mentioned it, but as a contemporary of Judy Garland, it’s possible) of either a blood clot or a heart attack aged only 38, leaving behind Betty and his four children. Only 5 months later Betty committed suicide.
Lanza’s life story is a dynamic and interesting one that unfortunately is given short shrift by this documentary. Ideally this should have been a 3-parter along the lines of the wonderful Documentary about Frank Sinatra ‘All or Nothing at All’, only then would Lanza get the attention his story deserves. There was SO much more to say, but this documentary zips through his life story and ends like a damp squib on Betty’s suicide.
A huge plus is that you get to see the 3 songs he sang at the Palladium for the 1957 Royal Variety performance in front of the Queen. I have to admit my eyes may have got a bit damp when he hits the High C In ‘Be My Love’. WHAT a voice. No one can sing Pagliacci like Lanza.
Do yourself a favour, go on Amazon and buy The Great Caruso. Its wonderful.