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The Great Caruso
Original film poster
Directed byRichard Thorpe
Written byWilliam Ludwig
Produced byJoe Pasternak
StarringMario Lanza
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byGene Ruggiero
Music byJohnny Green
Distributed byLoew's Inc.
Release date
  • April 27, 1951 (1951-04-27)
Running time
109 mins
CountryUnited States
Box office$9,269,000[1]

The Great Caruso is a 1951 biographical film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and starring Mario Lanza as famous operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. The movie was directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Joe Pasternak with Jesse L. Lasky as associate producer. The screenplay, by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig, was suggested by the biography Enrico Caruso His Life and Death by Dorothy Caruso, the tenor's widow. The original music was composed and arranged by Johnny Green and the cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg. Costume design was by Helen Rose and Gile Steele.

The film is a highly fictionalized biography of the life of Caruso.


The Opera Montage are Metropolitan Opera stars, notably sopranos Teresa Celli, Lucine Amara and Marina Koshetz, mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom, baritone Giuseppe Valdengo and bass Nicola Moscona.


Although The Great Caruso follows the basic facts of Caruso's life, several of the characters and incidents portrayed in the movie are fictional. Because of this, members of the Caruso family in Italy successfully sued Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for monetary damages, and the studio was temporarily ordered to withdraw the film from exhibition in Italy. Here are a few of the films' many factual discrepancies:


Box Office

The Great Caruso was a massive commercial success and the most profitable film for MGM in 1951. It set a record gross at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, grossing $1,390,943 in ten weeks.[2] According to MGM records, it made $4,309,000 in theatrical rentals in the US and Canada and $4,960,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $3,977,000.[1] The movie was also the most popular at the British box office the same year.[3]


Newsweek wrote that, "Lanza brings to the role not only a fine, natural and remarkably powerful voice, but a physique and personal mannerisms reminiscent of the immortal Caruso."[citation needed] According to Bosley Crowther, the film is "perhaps the most elaborate 'pops' concert ever played upon the screen"; Blyth's voice is "reedy" but "Lanza has an excellent young tenor voice and...uses it in his many numbers with impressive dramatic power. Likewise, Miss Kirsten and Miss Thebom are ladies who can rock the welkin, too, and their contributions to the concert maintain it at a musical high." Crowther says "All of the silliest, sappiest clichés of musical biography have been written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig into the script. And Richard Thorpe has directed in a comparably mawkish, bathetic style."[4]

Nearly 40 years after its release, Caruso's son, Enrico Caruso Jr. reminisced that, "Vocally and musically The Great Caruso is a thrilling motion picture, and it has helped many young people discover opera and even become singers themselves." [citation needed]He added that, "I can think of no other tenor, before or since Mario Lanza, who could have risen with comparable success to the challenge of playing Caruso in a screen biography."[citation needed] The film has also been cited by tenors José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti as having been an inspiration for them when they were growing up and aspiring to become singers.

Awards and honors

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards; at the 24th Academy Awards ceremony, Douglas Shearer and the MGM Studio Sound Department won for Best Sound.[5]

The film was also Oscar-nominated for its costume design and its score.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


The Great Caruso record album (though not an actual film soundtrack) was issued by RCA Victor on the LP, 45 and 78 RPM formats. The album featured eight popular tenor opera arias (four of which were heard in the film) sung by Lanza, accompanied by Constantine Callinicos conducting the RCA Victor Orchestra. The album sold 100,000 copies before the film premiered and later became the first operatic LP to sell one million copies. After its original 1951 release, the album remained continuously available on LP until the late 1980s and was reissued on compact disc by RCA Victor in 1989.


In 1947, radio actor Elliott Lewis was considered the front-runner for the role of Caruso, and was screen-tested in January and June.[7] That same year the American tenor Richard Tucker, fresh from his success under conductor Tullio Serafin in the reopening of the Verona amphitheater, was considered but was not screen-tested for the role of Caruso.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study
  2. ^ Arneel, Gene (September 12, 1962). "1 Theatre+10 Pix=$14,000,000". Variety. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. December 29, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  4. ^ Crowther, Bosley (May 11, 1951). "Great Caruso Makes Its Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved January 4, 2012.
  5. ^ "The 24th Academy Awards (1952) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 20, 2011.
  6. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  7. ^ "20 Aug 1947, Page 9 - The Des Moines Register at". August 20, 1947. Retrieved June 5, 2022.