The Story of Three Loves

Anthology films have never been big business in Hollywood, but in the early 1950s a spate of European movies—most based on collections of short stories by popular writers such as W. Somerset Maugham (Quartet in 1948 and Trio in 1950)—attracted notice on the art house circuit. Hoping to capitalize on a perceived trend, Twentieth Century-Fox jumped in with 1952’s O. Henry’s Full House (scored by Alfred Newman) and—not wishing to be left behind—M-G-M entered the fray with The Story of Three Loves, conceived and produced by Sidney Franklin.

Set in London, Rome and Paris (or, rather, Hollywood versions thereof), The Story of Three Loves consists of three vastly different stories that employ diverse casts, multiple screenwriters and two directors: Gottfried Reinhardt (son of Max) for the first and last sequence, and Vincente Minnelli for the central panel of the triptych. The one unifying factor that glued the stories together (apart from a plot device placing one of the main characters from each story as a passenger on the same transatlantic liner) was the musical score by Miklós Rózsa. Filming began in February 1952 and Rózsa recorded his score in October of that year. The film was expensive to make, and the studio—unsure of its popular appeal—delayed its release until March 1953.

Reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were positive if not enthusiastic, but each singled out the score for praise: Daily Variety called it a “fine, over-all score” while Weekly Variety noted it “enhances the entire production.” Audience reaction was muted, and time has not been kind to the film. It has only recently appeared on DVD and, although some of its music can be found on various anthology discs (in particular a beautiful suite fashioned by Christopher Palmer and recorded by Elmer Bernstein in honor of Rózsa’s 80th birthday), this is the first release of the full score. Disc 5 has been newly mastered from the original ¼″ monaural tape of what were originally three-track stereo recordings; the retention of separate tracks for the piano and orchestra has allowed certain cues to be remixed into rudimentary stereo, and a subtle stereo reverb has been used throughout to improve the ambiance.

The Jealous Lover

John Collier wrote the screenplay for the first act of Three Loves: the story of a young ballerina (Moira Shearer) who literally gives her life for her art. The segment was obviously inspired by Michael Powell’s and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948)—using the same theme, same milieu, and same star.

Miklós Rózsa devotes a relatively large amount of space in his memoir, Double Life, to The Story of Three Loves—which he described as “a delightful picture”—and in particular to “The Jealous Lover.” The filmmakers asked Rózsa to write a short ballet, which would be needed in a week. “I had to tell Franklin [one of the few producers the composer liked and admired] that although Rossini wrote an opera in ten days, I couldn’t do an original ballet in so short a time.” Initially, he proposed using the love music from César Franck’s tone poem Psyché (1888), but neither producer nor director cared for the piece. Then the composer recalled a recent Hollywood Bowl concert in which he had conducted Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943) with a young André Previn as piano soloist. He suggested it to the filmmakers and “this time they were delighted.” Before the film’s release, Rózsa encouraged MGM Records to issue a single of the 18th variation, a particularly beautiful passage that figures prominently in the film, but the New York office did not believe it had any commercial possibilities. “Well, the picture came out, and in no time the 18th variation became the most popular non-pop tune in America,” Rózsa recalled. “All the big record companies pulled out that variation from their recordings of the piece. Out they came on singles, and sold by the hundreds of thousands. The only company who knew about it months ahead…had pronounced it not commercial and ‘too high-brow.’” A few years later, Rózsa himself recorded the piece for Capitol Records with Leonard Pennario and the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra.

Almost all the music for “The Jealous Lover” comes directly from the Rachmaninov work. The original, a set of 24 variations for piano and orchestra on a theme by the 19th-century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, premiered in 1934 and quickly became one of Rachmaninov’s most popular pieces. With choreographer Mikhail Fokine, Rachmaninov himself had produced a ballet based on the work in 1937. The publishers granted permission for its use in the film as long as none of Rachmaninov’s music was changed, so Rózsa’s principal task was to cut and paste the various sections of the existing music into the film as required. Rózsa was, however, free to write his own variations on the Paganini theme for what little original dramatic underscore the segment required. (Rózsa did make subtle alterations to the Rachmaninov original here and there, which evidently were allowed or escaped notice.)

In a 1976 interview with Derek Elley, published in Films and Filming (and later reprinted in Pro Musica Sana), Rózsa said that adapting another composer’s work (referring both to this film and the 1945 Chopin biopic A Song to Remember) was not very musically rewarding. “The trouble was that a piece of music was good for a scene up to a certain point but then the film changed and the music didn’t.” He added, “It was more difficult than writing my own.”

The pianist on “The Jealous Lover” was Austrian-born Jakob Gimpel, an esteemed artist and teacher who settled in Los Angeles after immigrating to America in 1938; he died there in 1989. Gimpel’s pupils included Jerry Goldsmith, and he appeared as a pianist in such films as Gaslight (1944) and Concert Magic (1948). For a two-piano arrangement of the Rachmaninov work used near the beginning of the film, Gimpel was joined by Agnes Neihaus.

1. Main Title
The “Main Title” consists of sections of the Rachmaninov work selected and sequenced by Rózsa. It begins with the first variation, followed by the theme itself (an unusual order, but how Rachmaninov originally composed it). After the second variation, Rózsa jumps to the 13th (truncated here) and closes with the 14th.
2. The Audition
The film opens aboard an ocean liner bound for New York. Famous choreographer Charles Courtray (James Mason) sits alone on deck. Two young Americans approach him and ask why he closed his ballet, Astarte, after a single performance. He refuses to tell them, and a wisp of Rachmaninov’s 18th variation covers a fade back in time to London, where Courtray watches a young girl, Paula Woodward (Moira Shearer), audition. Although only a single pianist appears on screen, the music here is actually Rachmaninov’s own two-piano arrangement of the eighth and ninth variations. Woodward collapses, causing great alarm.
3. The Audition—Conclusion; Opening Night
After a short break at the audition, the music resumes for another dancer with the sixth variation (only a short fragment of which is used in the film). The music ceases in the film when Paula’s doctor warns that—due to a heart condition—any further attempt to dance could prove fatal. The next music comes for “Opening Night” of Courtray’s ballet, as Paula watches the performance from her solitary box seat. A pan across the orchestra pit reveals Rózsa himself, in a rare onscreen performance, wielding the baton. The music here is Rachmaninov’s final variation, which includes a quote from the Dies irae, part of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead. This medieval chant was something of an idée fixe in Rachmaninov’s oeuvre, appearing in well over a dozen of his compositions. Rózsa himself used the melody, in very different contexts, in Young Bess and El Cid.
4. Paula Alone
While the theater empties, Paula waits in her box; she then walks down to the stage. In her mind’s ear she hears the music of the ballet and begins to dance, unaware of Courtray observing her. For this sequence, Rózsa selected variations 11 and 12—an apt choice given the slow, hesitant nature of Rachmaninov’s treatment of the theme in this section of his work.
Coutray invites Paula to his studio. Although she is at first reluctant (and not for the romantic reason he supposes), she ultimately agrees. Rózsa wrote his own variations on Paganini’s theme for this cue, but they were not used in the film.
5. Ballet
Courtray induces Paula to dance for him. While she dresses in one of the ballet’s costumes, she hears the piano cadenza from the end of the 22nd variation in her head. Courtray puts on a record of the Rachmaninov (signaled by an audible shift in the recorded sound) and she begins her dance (choreographed by Frederick Ashton). The passages Rózsa excerpted begin with variation 23, followed by variations 12, 16, 19 and 21; he composed a short transitional passage (4:04-4:29) of his own to lead into the 18th variation, which closes the cue. This is one of the most expansive sections in Rachmaninov’s work, and in its rapturous beauty can be heard the lush, romantic sound for which the Russian composer was justly famous.
6. Love Scene
Paula ends the dance emotionally exhilarated but physically exhausted, yet she assures Courtray she is “just a little out of breath.” Spellbound by the power of her dancing, he kisses her. The orchestra reprises Rachmaninov’s 18th variation, but for this cue Rózsa has re-orchestrated it, replacing the piano part with woodwinds and harp.
Paula Disappears
Paula goes into the next room to change out of her costume, and an inspired Courtray begins to sketch revised choreography, stimulated by his new muse. Rózsa takes over with more of his own variations on Paganini’s theme—romantic, warm and ecstatic. When Courtray realizes Paula is not responding to his voice, he rushes after her, only to discover she is not there. The music darkens and becomes more agitated, reaching an agonized climax when he sees her outside, escaping from him.
Mademoiselle Bridge
Paula returns home, exhausted but filled with life. Her joy is short-lived, however, for she collapses on the stairs, never to dance again. A final impassioned phrase from Rachmaninov covers a change of scene back to the ocean liner, where a pensive Courtray notices a couple of small children taken in tow by their governess. Also watching them is a young woman, known simply as “Mademoiselle” (Leslie Caron), lost in thoughts of her own.


In 1952, M-G-M was paying director Vincente Minnelli $3,000 a week and, since The Bad and the Beautiful was not scheduled to begin production until the spring, they assigned him to direct the first of the Three Loves segments to be filmed (in February) to keep him busy. “Mademoiselle” was Rózsa’s second collaboration with Minnelli, preceded by Madame Bovary in 1949 and followed by Lust for Life (FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 1) in 1956. Jan Lustig’s screenplay (adapted from his own short story) brings together two lonely innocents in a city of strangers. While the story takes place in Rome, everything possesses a pronounced Gallic flavor (Minnelli had only recently finished An American in Paris and Gigi was only four years away). Even the composer uses a distinctly impressionistic palate more suggestive of the City of Lights than the Eternal City. His colorful orchestration makes deft use of woodwinds, and the occasional touches of lyricism and whimsy so eloquently captured in Minnelli’s direction are aptly reflected in the score.

7. Eternal City
Mademoiselle’s thoughts take her back to Rome, where she has lately been governess to a young American boy while his family was on vacation there. This cue introduces three of the four themes that Rózsa will develop throughout the story. The first is Mademoiselle’s own—a poignant “love theme” often given to solo violin. It quickly gives way to the expansive theme of Rome itself, as the camera majestically pans across shots of the Forum and the Baths of Caracalla. Next heard is the mischievous, playful motive for her charge, Tommy (Ricky Nelson), who hates being 11 years old and in need of a governess. Mademoiselle reads Verlaine to him (or, rather, at him), and the music slides effortlessly between their themes as her passion for the beauty of the poetry conflicts with his desire to be grown up.
8. Witch
Another boy tells Tommy tales about “the witch” who lives nearby. At first he is unconvinced that she is anything other than the old American lady he knows as Mrs. Hazel Pennicott (Ethel Barrymore, in a brilliant bit of casting), but he is spooked by an unexpected flight of birds (aptly characterized by the music) and comes under her spell as he and his friend watch her from a safe distance. The witch’s motive is very short, but readily identifiable with its little opening chromatic turn, canonic imitation and evocative orchestration. Tommy’s theme mirrors his resolve as he summons the courage to approach her.
9. Wish
A musical “sting” underscores Tommy’s fright when Hazel breaks a glass. He tries to excuse himself, but Hazel gets his attention when she tells him she did not like her governess either. He decides that, if she is indeed a witch, perhaps she can help him grow up so he will no longer need Mademoiselle. She agrees to his request, but cautions him that the spell will only last four hours. The music shifts effortlessly from a tentative, half-scared version of his theme to the witch’s motive as she cuts a ribbon in two and gives half to him, telling him what he must do that night to be granted his wish. Introduced in this cue (at 1:54) is a five-note motive that imitates the rhythm of her name as spoken by Tommy, which will assume major importance in the next track (Rózsa used the same idea for the words “cleaning woman” in his final score, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid).
10. Phony Witch
The magic hour approaches: Tommy climbs into bed and wraps the ribbon around his finger, repeating Hazel’s name, just as she had told him to do. The orchestra becomes a giant clock, ponderously ticking away the seconds (to which real clock chimes were added on the film soundtrack).
The Miracle
Churning, mechanical music, in which Hazel’s five-note name-motive figures prominently—and which prefigures the time machine transformation scene in Time After Time (FSMCD Vol. 12, No. 3)— yields to a spookier, bewitched atmosphere as the wind ominously blows the curtains in Tommy’s room. The camera pans from young Tommy to a mirror, in which appears the grown-up Tommy (Farley Granger), still in his pajamas. His theme enters and grows in confidence and self-assurance as he dresses in a tuxedo to go out, until a clouded harmony underscores his realization that he needs money. A clarinet chuckles in typical Rózsa fashion as Tommy digs out his piggy bank, and a final assertive gesture from the orchestra heightens the smashing of this precious resource.
11. Nocturne
That night, a pensive Tommy wanders the city and comes across a book of French poetry lying on the ground. As he picks it up and begins to read aloud, the music segues from his theme to Mademoiselle’s—heard here in its full flowering on solo violin. He sees a young lady nearby, offers her the book and is surprised to discover that it is Mademoiselle herself. He is completely smitten and quotes the very passage from Verlaine she had been reading to him earlier in the day. The theme of the Eternal City blossoms on solo cello beneath the poetry.
12. Romance
Love is in the air: Tommy experiences his first grown-up kiss, and Rózsa develops Mademoiselle’s theme (initially on solo violin) with great sensitivity and an almost impressionistic sense of harmony and orchestral color.
The camera keeps close to the couple as they enjoy a carriage ride under the stars and wax philosophical about the transiency of life. The theme of the Eternal City appears first on solo cello and then briefly in canon with a solo violin until Mademoiselle’s solo violin underscores their final kiss.
Suddenly—in a Cinderella-like moment—Tommy realizes time has expired: midnight chimes and the magical theme from “Phony Witch” returns. Tommy bids Mademoiselle a hasty farewell, and his theme follows him back to the hotel and settles him once again in his bed, a contented 11-year-old.
13. Farewell
The next morning, Tommy and his parents are at a train station, preparing to go home. Mademoiselle follows, but only to tell them that she has decided to stay in Rome. An “older,” much wiser Tommy begs her to come with them, but she declines and tearfully sees them off. An urgent, pleading development of his theme leads to the witch’s motive when Mademoiselle accidentally bumps into none other than Hazel Pennicott. The old lady offers her kind words and leaves behind the other half of Tommy’s red ribbon. Mademoiselle’s theme makes its final appearance laid over thematic elements of the witch’s motive as the scene returns to the ship, where the red ribbon swiftly leads to a “chance” encounter with a young man who is as taken with Mademoiselle as Tommy had been. Mademoiselle’s theme grows more pensive as the camera moves on to another passenger—Pierre Narval (Kirk Douglas)—and the final act begins.


The film’s last act brings two guilt-ridden characters together in an angst-laden drama (scripted by Collier) that is somewhat redeemed by the excellent camera work used for its circus scenes (in which Douglas performed his own stunts). Douglas plays a virile trapeze artist and Pier Angeli a wistful girl he saves from a suicide attempt and then trains as his partner. Rózsa’s music is correspondingly darker and closer to his film noir style, although leavened with a number of source cues for the circus scenes.

14. La Java de la Seine
Pierre (Douglas) remembers himself back in Paris, along the banks of the Seine, and this little set piece helps establish the proper French atmosphere. For notes to a recording of the cue made in the 1980s, Rózsa wrote: “Fifty years ago, in Paris and using a pseudonym, I turned pieces like this out by the dozen simply to earn a living, since there was no money to be made in serious music.” Scored for a chamber ensemble, including accordion, the piece begins in minor and then switches to the major mode for its refrain. The wistful melody evokes thoughts of wine, smoky taverns and French chanteuses.
15. Visit in Hospital
Pierre is jolted out of his reverie when a young woman, Nina Burkhardt (Angeli) jumps into the river. He rescues her, and later visits her in the hospital. His theme— always painted in dark string colors—accompanies their halting dialogue. Built around an unstable tritone, the melody— like Pierre himself—is restless and brooding.
16. Balance
During a subsequent hospital visit, Pierre and Nina engage in awkward small talk. Both are troubled by their pasts and uncertain of their futures. Their conversation turns to skiing, and she tells him that—although she has only skied a little—she knows it is just a matter of balance and timing. His theme reflects the unsettled nature of both characters and he finds himself drawn to her sense of reckless adventure.
17. Fate
Although he now works in a bicycle shop, Pierre was once a circus aerialist. Because he was always pushing the limits of what they could do, there was an accident in which his female partner was killed. His friends encourage him to stay away from the danger and escape the memory, but he knows he is fated to return. When Nina comes to visit him, his dark theme pervades the scene. Musically, it wanders—like Pierre himself—without settling into a resolved harmony.
18. Offer
Pierre feels Nina would make a good new partner for him, and he asks her to join him. For the first time, his theme starts to develop a sense of direction, briefly breaking out into a joyful phrase as he describes the freedom he feels in the air. The music darkens, however, when he remembers his former partner, only to build again as he tries to convince Nina to work with him.
19. Nina’s Story
She agrees, and they train together. During a break, she tells Pierre that she understands his feelings of guilt because she herself unwittingly caused her husband’s death in a Nazi concentration camp. Knowing that he planned to escape, she had written a letter advising him to wait because the war was almost over. The intermediary to whom she entrusted the letter turned it over to the authorities instead, resulting in her husband’s execution. After a brief but forceful reminiscence of Pierre’s motive, her own theme is introduced by solo oboe over a plaintive, two-note keening phrase (a symbol of mourning used by composers since the Renaissance), weighty with regret. It seems incapable of escaping the heavy tread of its own sorrow, repeatedly succumbing to the falling triplet figure at the end of each phrase.
20. Man
The man Nina had asked to deliver her letter comes to see her. He explains he was tortured by the Nazis and asks her to forgive him. Shaken by this encounter, she takes to her bed, refusing to speak. The orchestra’s impassioned statement of her theme eloquently communicates her despair.
21. Nightmare
Pierre sleeps by Nina’s bedside. A nightmare about his accident makes him realize that he was, indeed, responsible for his first partner’s death. Eerie orchestral effects provide a frightening background for Pierre’s theme on muted trumpet.
Pierre admits his guilt to Nina, and she tells him about her visitor and the news he had brought with him. They each realize that they must forgive and forget the past to forge a future together. He promises to give up the act for her sake, even though his agent has secured them an audition with a prominent American circus manager. Here, Rózsa cunningly blends elements of both their themes (the opening dotted rhythm of his with the closing triplet of hers) to create a new musical idea, which builds to a passionate climax (violins with horn counterpoint) in support of their growing hope.
22. Decision
Pierre finds he is still drawn to the trapeze, however, and—to his surprise—Nina decides to be his partner for the upcoming audition. Solo clarinet and warm strings play their combined theme as she enters the ring. A short flute solo as she climbs the ladder to join him on the trapeze leads to achingly beautiful high violins sealing their partnership and their love.
23. Finale
At the audition, Nina agrees to have the safety net removed for the final, most dangerous part of the act. All goes well, and the American is impressed. Walking slowly from the arena, however, Pierre and Nina turn their backs on the accolades and the possibility of future acclaim in the circus for the security and happiness of a less dangerous life together. The scene changes back to the ocean liner, where Nina joins Pierre on deck and the orchestra swells with their theme. Rózsa inserts a slight hint of the Rachmaninov into the final phrase, rounding off one of his most economical, yet passionate and colorful scores.

Bonus Tracks (“The Jealous Lover”)

24. Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Main Title Pt. 1—Extended)
This is not necessarily an alternate main title but requires a little explanation: The “Main Title” from the finished film (track 1) is actually a combination of two recordings, the edit being at 1:10. Rózsa recorded a variety of excerpts of the Rachmaninov at his “pre-recording” sessions for “The Jealous Lover” (on February 21 and 29, 1952), more than would be used in the finished film, and more than can be presented on this disc. This track is the full-length version of the recording that comprises 0:00–1:10 of the “Main Title”: the first two Rachmaninov variations in their original orchestral versions are here followed by the two-piano rendition of variations 6, 8 and 9 (plus the first four measures of the 10th).

Bonus Tracks (“Mademoiselle)

25. Viso Perduto
After his transformation into an adult (“The Miracle,” track 10), Tommy returns to the hotel bar. He does not know how to respond when a woman (Zsa Zsa Gabor) flirts with him, and makes an awkward exit. To set the appropriate, smoky atmosphere, Rózsa provides a “piano bar” arrangement of the love theme from The Light Touch (see disc 2, track 26).
26. Romance (alternate)
This earlier version of “Romance” (track 12) uses the full violin section rather than a soloist as heard in the film.
27. Madame Bovary Waltz
When young Tommy tries to escape Mademoiselle (after “The Eternal City,” track 7), he runs into the hotel bar, where he is promptly asked to leave since they do not allow children. Playing in the background is the waltz from Rózsa’s previous Minnelli film, Madame Bovary, arranged for a chamber ensemble. (This track is placed out of sequence so that it would be adjacent to the other cue re-recorded from Madame Bovary, track 28.)

Bonus Tracks (“Equilibrium”)

28. Le Joli Tambour
After his first visit to Nina in the hospital (track 15), a despondent Pierre sits in a movie theater. This Rózsa arrangement of a French folksong (which he also used in Madame Bovary) accompanies newsreel footage of planes in flight and has the appropriate character of a military march.
29. Dark Is the Night
Pierre’s friend and aerial partner, Marcel (Richard Anderson), throws a party and entertains his guests by playing and singing for them. M-G-M recycled this song by Nicholas Brodszky and Sammy Cahn from an earlier film, Rich, Young and Pretty (1951); Rózsa supervised the recording on June 19, 1952. In the film, this cue appears between “Balance” and “Fate” (tracks 16 and 17, respectively).
30. Electrical Café Piano
After Nina’s mysterious visitor has upset her so much (track 20), Marcel finds Pierre in a bar and tells him he must come home. This source cue, derived from the major-mode refrain of “La Java de la Seine,” plays unobtrusively in the background.

The last five bonus tracks are a series of source cues—traditional circus pieces that Rózsa used to accompany the final sequence where Pierre and Nina audition their act for the American circus manager.

31. Big White Top
This effervescent march by Victor G. Boehnlein plays as Pierre and Nina enter the ring.
32. Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite
One of the most famous tunes associated with the circus, this march (written in 1913 by Karl L. King) plays underneath the first part of Pierre and Nina’s act.
33. Over the Waves
Rózsa arranged this waltz tune by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas (1868–1894) for the middle part of the aerial act.
34. Memphis the Majestic
This circus march by Russell Alexander (1877–1915) precedes the final and most dangerous part of Pierre and Nina’s audition.
35. Fanfare/Boccaccio March (von Suppé, arr. Rózsa)/Finale
After Pierre and Nina’s successful completion of their act, the circus band breaks into this arrangement by Rózsa of a march from Franz von Suppé’s once-popular operetta Boccaccio (1879). It is followed here, exactly as in the film, by Rózsa’s “Finale.” —