John McCormack appeared in two commercial motion pictures during his career. The first, Song O' My Heart (1929), was a vehicle designed especially for him to appear in a starring role. The second, Wings of the Morning (1936), was a drama in which he had a cameo appearance as himself. Song O' My Heart was the first full length movie whicn starred an operatic singer. The story was built around his role as a singer whose attributes were essentially those of McCormack the man. The story by Tom Barry and Sonya Levien was that of an Irish singer who interrupts his career in order to return to Ireland to care for the children of his childhood sweetheart, who, married to another who has abandoned her, dies during the story.
McCormack signed a contract for $500,000 with the William Fox Corporation in May of 1929 in New York City. At that time neither the script of the movie nor the title had been determined. It had originally been thought that a contract for two movies for the sum of $1,000,000 would be signed, but this plan was abandoned pending the outcome of the first effort. Incidental scenes were filmed in Ireland near Moore Abbey (McCormack's residence at the time) in August of 1929. Other scenes to be filmed in Ireland had been planned, but, except for two short sequences, the balance of the movie was filmed in Hollywood between 25 November 1929 and 16 January 1930. The film was directed by Frank Borzage, shown above with McCormack and Schneider.
It has not been possible to assign precise dates to the various scenes in the movie, including those which contain musical performances by McCormack. The filming of each scene in all cases included the recording on film at that time of any musical selections in that scene.
Thus the original film is the master for the musical recordings. The entire film was shot not only on the standard 35mm film but also in separate takes in the 70mm format developed by Fox studios (known as "Fox Grandeur").
The soundtrack of the 35mm film was 2mm wide, while that of the 70mm film was 7mm wide, reputedly yielding superior sound reproduction. The 70mm format had been used in several previous Fox releases, but for Song O' My Heart the 70mm version is not known to have been released, and it is not known to have survived. Films to be released in the 70mm format were filmed in both 35mm and 70mm versions, and this required that each scene be filmed twice. Thus there were two separate sets of musical recordings, one for each size of film.
Only the 35mm version is known to have survived for Song O' My Heart. The concert sequence was filmed in Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. Other than the two scenes filmed in Ireland (which included "A Fairy Story by the Fire" and "Just For Today"), the remaining scenes were all filmed at the Fox Movietone Studios in Hollywood, California.
In its original form Song O' My Heart had full dialog on the soundtrack along with the musical numbers. For foreign release, however, the dialog in English was replaced by a continuous musical score which was interrupted only for McCormack's singing. Intertitles such as those used for movies in the silent era were used in the various languages of the countries in which the film was released.
The no-dialog versions thus produced were known as "synchronized" versions.
This version was originally thought to contain two songs which the dialog version
Another song recorded for the film,
Song O' My Heart premiered at the 44th Street Theatre in New York City on 11 March 1930 with much fanfare and was critically well received, although it proved subsequently not a financial success. Following its engagements here and abroad, it vanished, and all copies of the film were long believed to have been lost or destroyed in a warehouse fire in the 1940's.
A print of a synchronized version, however, was discovered in the Fox vaults by Miles Kreuger, and soon thereafter the movie received its first showing in nearly four decades on 16 July 1971 at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Kreuger's article about the film provides further interesting background information, not otherwise widely known.
Several years later a full dialog version was discovered and restored by Donald and Victoria Quinn. This print was presented in New York on 19 October 1974, as part of their celebration of the 90th anniversary of McCormack's birth.This full dialog version was available on VHS videotape for several years (ca. 1991-1994) from VAI, Video Artists International (New York). This issue is sadly now out of print.
The musical selections by McCormack from the film original have been released on long playing discs on three occasions. The "John McCormack Society of Greater Kansas City" issued the musical selections on a privately produced LP in the early 1970's (no issue number), which is thought to derive from the restored version of the film issued on VAI videotape. The sound quality was good throughout. It also included the closing orchestral music. Several years later the same selections were released by Pearl Records in the UK, also with acceptable sound. A third LP was privately issued by UORC Records (produced by the late Edward J. Smith). This release suffered from variable sound quality: the volume fades in and out, final notes are clipped, and there is extraneous noise.
Sean O'Carolan John McCormack Mary O'Brien Alice Joyce Eileen O'Brien Maureen O'Sullivan Tad O'Brien Tommy Clifford Fergus O'Donnell John Garrick Mona Effie Ellsler Peter Conlon J.M. Kerrigan Joe Rafferty J. Farrell MacDonald Elizabeth Kennedy Emily Fitzroy Vincent Glennon Edwin Schneider Guido Andres de Segurola Dennis Fullerton Edward Martindel Director Frank Borzage Assistant Director Lew Borzage Story and Dialog Tom Barry Continuity Sonia Levien Settings Harry Oliver Costumes Sophie Wachner Sound Engineer George Costello Photography, 35mm version Chester Lyons and Al Brick Photography, 70mm version J.0. Taylor Editor Margaret V. Clancy An additional song, "In the Place Where They Make the Gas," was sung by J.M. Kerrigan without accompaniment at one point in the story.
The second film in which McCormack appeared, Wings of the Morning, was the first British Technicolor film and starred Henry Fonda. It's plot was intricate, set in Ireland during a span of 50 years, involving gypsies, horse racing, and life amongst the gentry in rural Ireland. McCormack made a cameo appearance as himself in an informal concert sequence unrelated to the story. The three selections were recorded on film during the summer of 1936 on an undetermined date.
Other film footage that exists of McCormack is usually silent film. The 26 June 1932 performance of "Panis Angelicus" at the Pontifical High Mass of the 31st Inter- national Eucharistic Congress (Phoenix Park, Dublin) was filmed, but the recording that survives is derived from the BBC broadcast of this service.
JOHN McCORMACK - FILM RECORDINGS
Fox Movietone Sound on Film process
Each of the following selections was recorded at least twice, once on 35 mm
film and again on 70 mm film, during the shooting of each scene in each
format. Only the recordings from the 35 mm film soundtrack are known to have
survived. The 70mm "takes," although known to have been made, are presumed
lost and unpublished. Thus, the discographic information below may be
assumed to be that for only the 35mm film recordings, which have survived as
described above. The LP issued by the John McCormack Society of Greater
Kansas City is abbreviated J.M.A. LP. No re-issues on CD are known (as of
Long Play Videotape
AUGUST 1929. Recorded in the vicinity of Moore Abbey,
County Kildare, Ireland)
With Edwin Schneider, piano:
A Fairy Story by the Fire Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
With Edwin Schneider, organ:
Just for Today Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
The recordings of A Fairy Story by the Fire on the Kansas City LP and on the
VAI VHS Videotape are different. In the former the little girl exclaims after the song
"... I like that story...," whereas in the VAI all-talkie videotape she says "...that's lovely..."
25 NOVEMBER 1929 THROUGH 16 JANUARY 1930. Fox Studios,
With Edwin Schneider, piano:
THE BOHEMIAN GIRL: When coldness or deceit Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
(2nd verse only) J.M.A. LP
I Feel You Near Me Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Kitty, My Love, Will You Marry Me? Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Pearl GEMM 176e
Pearl GEMM 160
The Rose of Tralee Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
0 Mary Dear (see discussion above) unpublished
With Fox Studio Orchestra conducted by Arthur Kay (?):
A Pair of Blue Eves Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
The Magpie's Nest Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Recorded in Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium,
5th and Grand, Los Angeles, California:
With Edwin Schneider, piano:
Luoghi sereni e cari Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Little Boy Blue Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Plasir d'Amour Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
All'mein Gedanken ("Minnelied") Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
Ireland, Mother Ireland Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
I Hear You Calling Me Pearl GEMM 188 VAI 69067
In 1930 the soundtrack of the movie was transferred to discs by the Victor
Company for use in those theatres which could not utilize the sound-on-film
of the original reels. None of these transcription discs is known to have
survived. Entire soundtrack of U.S. version (9 reels) re-recorded to disc
for use in theatres lacking sound-on-film equipment:
MVE 62870-lA, 2, 2A Reel No. 1
MVE 62871-IA, 2, 2A Reel No. 2
MVE 62872-lA, 2, 2A Reel No. 11
MVE 62873-IA, 2, 2A Reel No. 4
MVE 62874-1, 1A, 2A Reel No. 5
MVE 62875-lA, 2, 2A Reel No. 6
MVE 62876-1, IA, 2, 2A Reel No. 7
MVE 62877-lA, 2, 2A Reel No. 8
MVE 62878-lA, 2, 2A Reel No. 9
It is not known whether the two additional reels of the foreign versions were
transferred to disc.
SUMMER 1936. Elstree, Hertfordshire, England.
With Orchestra: Long-Play
Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms AU 4792
Killarney AU 4792
The Dawning of the Day AU 4792
A portion of Killarney from the Wings of the Morning Soundtrack was
re-recorded onto matrix CA 16287-2 (78 rpm) and issued as part of Voices of
the Stars "in aid of the Cinematograph Benevolent Fund," ca. 1938.
Most of the singing of The Dawning of the Day is obscured by film
This film is available on VHS videotape from more than one supplier of classic films.
JOHN McCORMACK - FILM RECORDINGS
Cylinder Recordings, 1904-1906
Gramophone and Typewriter Recordings, 1904
Odeon Recordings, 1906-1909
Victor/HMV Acoustic Recordings, 1910-1925
Victor Electric Recordings, 1925-1931
HMV Electric Recordings, 1927-1942
Extant Broadcast Recordings, 1926-1942
Discography Index Page
© Paul W. Worth 1997