This mediocre biographical operetta has two superb voices and some gorgeous melodies. 3 Stars

It’s not a great film musical, but there is some great music contained in Song of Norway, and its picturesque cinematography and great singing by Frank Porretta and Florence Henderson give it some distinction.

Song of Norway (1970)
Released: 04 Nov 1970
Rated: G
Runtime: 138 min
Director: Andrew L. Stone
Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical, Romance
Cast: Toralv Maurstad, Florence Henderson, Christina Schollin, Frank Porretta
Writer(s): Homer Curran (play), Milton Lazarus (musical play), Andrew L. Stone (screenplay), Andrew L. Stone (story)
Plot: Based on the life of Norway's greatest composer Edvard Grieg, and filmed in Norway where he lived. The soundtrack is all Edvard Grieg's music with added lyrics.
IMDB rating: 4.0
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 22 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/14/2020
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3/5

Probably the least requested movie of the counterculture revolution era of the late 1960s and early 1970s would have been a film version of a 1944 Broadway operetta featuring the life and music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Nevertheless, Andrew L. Stone’s Song of Norway was produced and released in 1970 resulting in general critical and public apathy. Though the stage show had run two years during the tumultuous last years of World War II, the Grieg classical pieces rearranged and set with lyrics simply weren’t what most people were looking for in their movie entertainment of the era (as witnessed by similar lackluster results for Lost Horizon and The Great Waltz, two similar music-heavy movies too old-fashioned for then-modern audiences). Seen today, the film’s similarities to The Sound of Music are obvious in places, but the narrative isn’t engrossing enough to carry the burden of its music-heavy construction (forty Grieg pieces turned into twenty-five musical numbers).

Young composer Edvard Grieg (Toralv Maurstad) wishes to give his homeland Norway its own unique musical sound, but he’s thwarted every step of the way by short-sighted Norwegians who can’t recognize the quality of his work and look down on him due to his lack of stature in the international music community. His girl friend Therese Berg (Christina Schollin) tries to use her family’s wealth to further Edvard’s career, but her father (Robert Morley) blocks her every move and eventually forbids her to see him any more. Finding a kindred spirit in composer Richard Nordraak (Frank Porretta), the two men work tirelessly to get Grieg’s compositions heard and appreciated by imminences such as Hans Christian Andersen (Richard Wordsworth), Henrik Ibsen (Frederick Jaeger), and Franz Liszt (Henry Gilbert), aided by the charming singer Nina Hagerup (Florence Henderson), but winning audiences to his new compositions proves to be a daunting uphill struggle.

Director Andrew L. Stone took only some of the narrative ideas from the Broadway operetta created by Robert Wright and George Forrest (who also took the Grieg classical pieces and restructured them into songs with lyrics), fashioning his own scenario of artistic struggle that was no more interesting than the stage story and inserting into it a different if equally tiresome love triangle which mars the film’s last half hour. Only six songs from the stage operetta were used in the film score, the balance being new adaptations of Grieg pieces by Wright and Forrest. Certainly the film’s most memorable tunes are the more familiar ones from the stage, but some of the new tunes are just fine for their purpose: Edvard’s haunting “Strange Music,” Nordraak’s robust title song, the charming Act II beginning production number “Be a Boy Again,” and his moving, climactic “Three There Were,” and Nina’s “I Love You.” Other rousing songs include the trio’s “Hill of Dreams” (a true highlight of the film), the seasonal delight “It’s Christmastime” (with the mellifluous tenor of Harry Secombe, Mr. Bumble from Oliver!), and another from the stage “Midsummer’s Eve,” the best of a number of songs which use photographic montages to wow audiences who might have been viewing the movie originally in Cinerama (actually Super Panavision). But Stone clearly is uncomfortable with musical structuring: the production numbers are sometimes broken up abruptly (both the opening number “The Life of the Wife of a Sailor” and the completely unnecessary “Freddie and His Fiddle” are sectioned between dialogue scenes to no purpose and destroy the continuity of Lee Theodore’s choreography), and Florence Henderson’s introductory song with a group of adoring children “A Rhyme and a Reason” couldn’t be more obviously and shamelessly patterned on “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. Additionally, an animated sequence featuring Grieg’s Peer Gynt music comes out of nowhere and grinds the movie to a complete halt.

If you’re going to film an operetta, either get a talented singer for your leading man (John Boles, Dennis Morgan, or Gordon MacRae for The Desert Song, Lawrence Tibbett in The Rogue Song) or find a ghost singer who can dub him successfully (Mario Lanza’s vocals used by Edmond Purdom in The Student Prince). They’ve done neither for Song of Norway. Toralv Maurstad, a rather inexpressive actor to start with, has very little in the way of a singing voice, so most of Grieg’s songs from the stage have either been dropped or are talk-sung by Maurstad. Thankfully, operatic tenor Frank Porretta can pick up the male musical slack as Richard Nordraak, the most expressive and vivacious actor in the movie with ringing, rousing vocals. Florence Henderson has a pretty and clear soprano that can express warmth and feeling but without the bell-like clarity of a Shirley Jones or the power of a Deanna Durbin. Christina Schollin is an okay romantic rival as Therese Berg while guest stars Harry Secombe, Robert Morley, Edward G. Robinson (as a piano salesman), and Oskar Homolka as a town bigshot all produce exactly the kinds of characters one would expect from their presence.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film has been framed at 2.35:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Though most of the film looks simply splendid with excellent sharpness, robust color, and precise contrast, there are some curious instances of crimping in the center of the screen on a couple of occasions, impossible to ignore at the very center of the image. Otherwise, the image is spotlessly clear. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.

Audio: 4/5

The disc offers the choice of a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo surround track or a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix. Neither offers great activity in the rear channels though the front soundstage is full and offers good fidelity. Dialogue and song lyrics are relegated to the center channel. There are no problems with age-relate anomalies like hiss, pops, crackle, and flutter. This version of the movie does not offer overture, intermission, or exit music.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film historians Lee Gambin and John Harrison contribute a talky commentary more notable for talking about almost everything but Song of Norway taking frequent side roads to discussing other film musicals, other popular movies of the era, and information about real life people portrayed in the film but in very peripheral roles.

Kino Trailers: Sweet Charity, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Clambake, Daddy Long Legs.

Overall: 3/5

It’s not a great film musical, but there is some great music contained in Song of Norway, and its picturesque cinematography and great singing by Frank Porretta and Florence Henderson give it some distinction.

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Matt Hough

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MatthewA

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For what it's worth, I worked with choreographer Lee Theodore for many years as the Stage Manager of
THE AMERICAN DANCE MACHINE. She not only wouldn't discuss making the film, she'd only refer to
it as "that movie".

Her obituary didn't either. I didn't know she originated the role of Anybodys in West Side Story.

Additionally, an animated sequence featuring Grieg’s Peer Gynt music comes out of nowhere and grinds the movie to a complete halt.

Toralv Maurstad actually played Peer Gynt in a 1980s Norwegian TV movie.

That audio commentary sounds dreadful if they deliberately keep going off-topic. Is the movie really that bad if they'd rather talk about something else*? I never heard good things about it from anyone; this is honestly the most magnanimous review I've read of it. Do they even mention why ABC chose this show to make into a film? Ironically, a lot of the concurrent counter-cultural movies that looked more favorable to movie studios at the time because they were less expensive to produce look even more like products of their time now than they did then.

*Especially when its owners don't want to release the movie with "Song of" in its name that they actually did make.
 
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john a hunter

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Not seen it since its Cinerama release.
Don't recall it so bad it is unwatchable and thought it reasonably entertaining. to pass a few hours.
And if you are going to make a "bad" movie,make it in Super Panavision 70!
 

Bob Cashill

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Stone's career arc from STORMY WEATHER to hardboiled crime and action pictures like THE STEEL TRAP and CRY TERROR! and THE LAST VOYAGE to this and THE GREAT WALTZ is a curious one. Kino must disinter that final flop next.
 

Matt Hough

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For what it's worth, I worked with choreographer Lee Theodore for many years as the Stage Manager of
THE AMERICAN DANCE MACHINE. She not only wouldn't discuss making the film, she'd only refer to
it as "that movie".
Seeing how her work got chopped up so unnecessarily, I can understand her disdain.
 

MatthewA

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Seeing how her work got chopped up so unnecessarily, I can understand her disdain.

What's shocking about that is that the director's wife edited the film!

I could never find this for rent or sale anywhere in an actual physical store. Magnetic Video brought it out relatively early in home video's life:

91xRj6aRzmL._AC_SL1500_.jpg


CBS/Fox inherited the rights and re-released it in Hi-fi Stereo through Playhouse Video and kept the faux-Sound of Music title font to sell it to children*:

s-l1600.jpg



The last time it was on VHS was when Anchor Bay got the rights along with some other ABC titles. Unlike many of the Disney titles they got, this was just for VHS, and with a godawful cover with Florence Henderson's face from about 20 years later photoshopped in!

s-l1600.jpg



*Which begs the question of why the original print ads and video seem to inadvertently suggest a ménage à trois for a supposedly G-rated film.
 
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lionel59

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Good and fair summation of this film Matt.
I saw it at age 11 in Easter '71 in Geelong, Victoria. Was somewhat non-plussed but curious to see it now to better assess its pros and cons. I think Edward G. Robinson stood out, for memory. THE BRADY BUNCH had recently begun on Australian TV, so Florence Henderson was known to me. Her overly cute song with the children probably has its basis further back with Getting To Know You (that is, if it was not in the 1944 Broadway show).
A few '40's shows filmed much later seem to have suffered major plot changes (eg. PAINT YOUR WAGON). I can only guess that the non-singing male lead was a star in Europe and cast for that market. I have not heard of him since.
Wright and Forrest did something similar with the music of Alexander Borodin and KISMET nine years later. I would say that that play and film are more highly esteemed then and now, although the movie adaptation was also not financially successful and has its flaws.
I only saw SONG OF NORWAY in 35mm, but I recall it revived in Melbourne in 1975 with THE SOUND OF MUSIC in 70mm and it no doubt played in that format originally. I think it was reasonably popular here, as many musicals were in that era despite disappointing box office figures elsewhere (egs. MAME, LOST HORIZON, SWEET CHARITY). I am curious to see the other Andrew L. Stone failure, the remake of THE GREAT WALTZ, which is very hard to view and assess at present. Maybe Warner Archive could take a chance with it if NORWAY sells well. I'm sure both films have devoted followings, if only for their scores and scenery. Glad Kino unearthed this movie from pirate/pan&scan ignominy.
 

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Apparently, 20 years earlier, there was an aborted attempt to make a British film out of it … with John Mills! Rank and Universal were going to co-produce it, but it never happened.

Wright and Forrest did something similar with the music of Alexander Borodin and KISMET nine years later. I would say that that play and film are more highly esteemed then and now, although the movie adaptation was also not financially successful and has its flaws.

Even if Vincente Minnelli only did it on the grounds that he could also direct Lust for Life, Kismet, which I have actually been in on stage, at least got made at M-G-M right before the musical units started to slow down and then shut down altogether. That was also better-known because of a non-musical 1944 Technicolor film with Marlene Dietrich, itself taken from a 1911 play by Edward Knoblock. Interesting how they chose Russian music, that of Alexander Borodin, to tell a story set in the Middle East. If anything, Borodin had a more interesting life since he was also a chemist in addition to being a composer.

Minnelli couldn't do this and still do On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which also had a European male lead.
 
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lionel59

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Wow. Interesting factoid I was completely unaware of. It may have been a better movie, although the score would have to have been altered a good deal to make Grieg a non-singing role. Mills would have acted the part well. Maybe someone like Anna Neagle could
have been in the Henderson role.
FINIAN'S RAINBOW was originally planned as an animated movie with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald voicing roles. The recordings made are on a Sinatra boxed set which I own.
 

roxy1927

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George Balanchine choreographed the original stage production as Agnes DeMille did the original choreography of Paint your Wagon. They must have been something to see.
I remember It playing at the Cinerama on Broadway and while the sort of movie I would want to see avoided it as the reviews across the board were so terrible with Kael saying it looked like it was literally made by trolls.
I of course would have ignored this if not for Florence Henderson. She was so grating and annoying to me that I couldn't imagine sitting through a Super Panavision 70 musical with her. Even though I was a boy I found the Brady Bunch unwatchable despite having had a taste for insipid family sitcoms. Amazingly she worked with Broadway's very best from the golden age which never ceases to amaze me. Clearly I'm in the minority concerning her talents. She seems like she was a very nice woman in any case.
Who is that beauty in the photo? It's telling that's not Henderson. She should have played the role. With those looks if she can't sing dub her!
 

RolandL

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As I posted on the Kino thread - Played for 60 weeks at the London Casino Cinerama theatre. Longer than any of the other 70mm Cinerama titles at the theatre. Also played for 40 weeks at the LA Cinerama Dome.

songofnorways.jpg
 

Matt Hough

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The film lost money, but it wasn't a financial disaster on the scale of Doctor Dolittle. Of course, it only cost $3.8 million to make. If Dolittle could have been made for that, it would have been profitable. The commentators in discussing the large scale musical flops of the era mention Finian's Rainbow which, of course, did NOT end up in the red, just another bit of misinformation passed along perpetuating that myth.
 

Matt Hough

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Who is that beauty in the photo? It's telling that's not Henderson. She should have played the role. With those looks if she can't sing dub her!
That's Christina Schollin, the second female lead. She does sing a tiny bit in the movie with an unsteady contralto, so she would have to have been dubbed if she had been given the lead. It's a shame Barbara Cook wasn't cast in Henderson's part. Her amazing soprano would have made Nina's songs really special rather than merely pleasant.
 
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This is on my “someday-the-border-will-re-open-and-I-can-order-this-and-get-to-my-PO-box-list”. I was a big collector of 78s in the late ‘60s and SON(1944) was the first 12” 78 album I found. Apparently it was a best seller released second to the“Oklahoma” OC recording. It is an almost complete recording running almost 1 hour. The entire thing had to be cut down to eventually play on 1 LP. It got heavy play at our house especially after I dubbed it onto a cassette. I still play the amazingly cleaned up CD occasionally.

I was supremely disappointed in the film version. The plot was cheesy on the 78s, but why film a musical famous for its music and change most of the songs (a strangely common practice) is beyond me.
 

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I’m generally not familiar with these kind of movies. I’ve seen and liked The Sound of Music, but otherwise haven’t ever gotten familiar with them. None the less I’m also SUPER tempted to see just how bad it is.
 

Marc Hampton

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It’s bad in a “Lost Horizon” (1973) way as opposed to a “Valley of The Dolls” way.

“Fascinatingly ill-advised” would be my take

What stuck out for me was an animated sequence with giants coming over the mountain that is completely out of nowhere and kind of disturbing.
 

john a hunter

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not to get off subject Roland,but how long did 2001 run at the Casino?
I recall that it was pulled too early as MGM were sure they had a smash hit with Ice Station Zebra,but thought it managed at least a year.
 

john a hunter

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What stuck out for me was an animated sequence with giants coming over the mountain that is completely out of nowhere and kind of disturbing.
I think that sequence is meant to reflect that the music was from the troll sequence in Peer Gynt which then was Grieg's most popular music save his piano concerto.