Welcome to Mill Creek Musings, a segment in which I work my way through the three low-price Mill Creek film sets that I own, reviewing each film for content and quality along the way. Mr. Imperium is the sixth film I’ve watched from the 50 Musicals set.

In the world of singer Frederica Brown, there are few things better than being saved from an overzealous admirer by a handsome, distinguished man – even if that man set the whole thing up in order to meet you.

Said handsome man introduces himself to Frederica as Mr. Imperium and says that he works in the “family business” – which happens to be the government, because he is actually Prince Alexis, an infamously womanizing heir to a European throne.

(Screen capture by TMP)

Frederica eventually realizes that he’s a prince and attempts to resist his advances at first due to his reputation, but soon falls for him. The two strike up a sweet, budding romance in the Mediterranean. She shares American customs with him, and he teaches her a few words of Italian. He dubs her “Fredda” (which she then begins using as a stage name), and she nicknames him “Al.”

All is going splendidly until “Mr. Imperium” receives a telegram telling him that his father is ill, leading him to become separated from Frederica. Twelve years pass before Frederica (now a successful performer) and her dear “Al” (now a king) meet again.

Don Hartman directs this 1951 musical romance. Lana Turner stars as Fredda, and Ezio Pinza (of South Pacific fame on Broadway) is her leading man. Also appearing are Marjorie Main, Barry Sullivan, and a lovely, young Debbie Reynolds.

All of the performances in this film are are solid. No single one stands out, though Lana has the most screen presence, possibly due to her glamour as an actress and the glamour of her character. Little Debbie Reynolds is adorable in  her role, though she doesn’t get enough screen time to really steal the film, unfortunately.

Turner and Pinza have a very cute chemistry in the beginning of the film. Pinza comes off as very forward and even a bit pushy which can be off-putting to the viewer, but overall they make a nice pair. Their relationship is sweet but playful, providing the audience with a pleasant atmosphere.

Unfortunately, this chemistry doesn’t keep up for the entire film. Somehow, by the time that their characters finally meet again, Pinza and Turner have lost their spark. Distance must not actually make the heart grow fonder, at least for this pair. The lack of chemistry in the second half makes it difficult for the viewer to care about them as a potentially reunited couple.

The picture quality is fairly low on Mill Creek’s print of the film, but muffled dialogue presents a larger problem. (Screen capture by TMP)

And though cute throughout most of the film, the relationship and the bit of drama surrounding it isn’t very engrossing. It doesn’t completely draw the viewer in at any point.

There are a few positives here, though. The fact that the film covers a fairly large span of time gives the viewer a nice sense of the progression of their lives as a whole rather than just one small part, setting Mr. Imperium apart from the structure of your average romantic film.

The songs are also quite good. As pieces of music, they’re all very sweet, romantic and easy to listen to. Pinza’s voice isn’t a style I’m usually a huge fan of, but there’s no doubt that he gives good vocal performances here and was a talented singer. Lana’s songs are dubbed by Trudy Erwin, who has a lovely voice.

Since this film was not a big success, MGM decided not to renew the copyright and it has fallen into the public domain. As a result, many low-quality copies of it have been included in DVD sets, such as the Mill Creek musicals set I’ve been working my way through. The picture quality on the Mill Creek print is a bit fuzzy, with a few pops here and there. It’s nowhere near sharp, but it isn’t too bad. The sound is a bigger problem. The muffling makes it hard to understand the dialogue at times.

Mr. Imperium is a generally enjoyable but less than spectacular American-girl-meets-prince film. It’s lighthearted and a bit comedic but doesn’t truly reach its potential for either comedy or drama. It’s simply a nice film – nothing special, but not awful either. Fans of the romantic musical genre will get some enjoyment from it, but others may find it dull due to its predictability. The score: 2.5/5