The Sun Comes Up

Based on the 1936 short story “A Mother in Mannville” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yearling), The Sun Comes Up (1949) stars Jeanette MacDonald as a widowed opera singer who retreats to the Georgia mountain community of Brushy Gap following the death of her son. Wanting only to be left alone with her grief, she is confronted daily with the presence of Lassie (whom she blames for her son’s death) and a local orphan teen, Jerry (Claude Jarman Jr.), whom she hires to help around the house. As her internal wounds heal and her chilly exterior thaws, Helen’s maternal love for the boy grows. When she makes plans to return to Atlanta and resume her singing career, Helen feels guilty about leaving the boy behind, wanting to provide for him financially and reunite him with his mother in Mannville. She travels to Mannville to meet Jerry’s mother, but cannot bring herself to follow through with her plans. She rushes back, only to find out Jerry had lied about the existence of his mother all along. Overcome with emotion, Helen offers to take her place as Jerry’s new mother.

The film features MacDonald’s final screen appearance and the first onscreen credit for 20-year-old composer André Previn. “The story was pure insanity,” Previn wrote in his autobiography, No Minor Chords. Yet, “what did I care that it wasn’t Dostoyevski? It was my own movie, my name was on it, and besides, it was tailor-made for music, since the dialogue was sparse in favor of a lot of barking in picturesque meadows.”

Previn’s main title contains a yearning theme that represents the growing bond between Helen and Jerry. The second main theme is a soaring string melody for Lassie herself, arguably the finest of the series, although it does not strictly serve as a leitmotiv for the dog. Even with his first (credited) score, Previn’s style is unmistakable, especially his trademark use of strings and French horns and his sophisticated harmonic language. The two-measure chord progressions in Lassie’s theme became a signature of Previn’s style later found in many of his more familiar film scores and concert works.

Previn “is proud only that Sun rarely comes up, even on the late-late show,” wrote Martin Bookspan and Ross Yackey in their 1981 biography of the composer, “and that his contribution to it is therefore rarely remembered.” But even under the barking, Previn’s talent shines through.

Below, asterisks (*) designate those cues taken from the music-and-effects track that contain sound effects, while a dagger (†) denotes bonus tracks containing dialogue.

1. Main Title*
The main title sequence is set against, appropriately enough, a sunrise sky. French horns play the first five notes from the score’s main theme under the roar of Leo the Lion, followed by a full-bodied rendition of the theme on strings. The bridge, with its stepwise intervals, will later serve as a conflict motive.
New Trick for Lassie*
The film opens in the living room of Helen Winter (Jeanette MacDonald), a widowed opera singer, practicing René Rabey’s “Tes Yeux” with her pianist in preparation for a return to the concert stage. She interrupts the rehearsal to open the French doors leading to the terrace and watches her son, Hank (Dwayne Hickman), playing in the backyard with Lassie. Woodwinds cavort as Hank teaches the dog to leap over patio furniture. A brief quote of the main theme on solo violin underscores Helen’s overly protective plea to be careful.
Hank’s Death*
After a triumphant performance (see track 30), Helen and Hank leave through a stage door. Lassie jumps out of a waiting car across the street to come meet him, but as Hank runs out into the middle of the street, telling her to stay back, a truck hits Hank, killing him. Brass growl for the honking truck, then strings quickly descend as Helen faints on the sidewalk. A muted trumpet closes the brief cue with a three-note motive taken from Lassie’s theme.
2. Helen Leaves Her Home*
Prostrate with grief and unable to bear the sound of neighborhood children playing outside her window, Helen decides to pack up and leave the big city to spend time in the country. While she says goodbye to her maid (Esther Somers), Lassie barks and scratches at the front window. Realizing that Helen might leave her behind, Lassie lifts the window with her snout and jumps out, running to the car. Even though Helen still blames the dog for Hank’s death, she agrees to take her along. This emotional cue brings the first quiet hints of Lassie’s theme in the strings, followed by a brief swell of the theme at the end.
Sleep in the Car*
Helen drives, underscored with traveling music powered by sixteenth-note motion in the clarinet. Stopping at a hotel for the night, Helen finds out she cannot bring Lassie inside, forcing her to sleep in the car.
The first full statement of Lassie’s theme accompanies a stop for a stunning view of a mountain valley. Helen drives through the little mountain community of Brushy Gap, until she finds an isolated house with a “For Rent” sign nailed to the mailbox.
Rabbits for Rent*
Compound-meter figures on woodwinds accompany a visual montage of the various country critters that Lassie encounters outside her new home.
That’s a Bargain*
After a local teen, Jerry (Claude Jarman Jr.), saves Lassie from a rattlesnake, Helen realizes that, as a city girl, she might need assistance in the country and hires him to help around the house. In this brief cue, the music gallops gaily as Jerry skips off.
3. I Had a Boy*
Jerry drops by the house one night, entranced by Helen singing Dvořák’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” Op. 55, No. 4 (see track 31). Helen invites Jerry inside to warm up before going home. Teaching her how to light the oil lamps, Jerry explains that he gets “a kind of full feeling” from hearing music—“like the feeling you get when the sun comes up.” Helen begins the Dvořák again, but her emotions overcome her and she stops in the middle. She apologizes and explains that she cannot continue singing, because Jerry reminds her of her dead son. In this unused cue, tender strings play a quiet arrangement of “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”
Jerry’s Wages*
Helen pays Jerry his wages for helping with the lamps, underscored by oboe interpolating a variant of Lassie’s theme, followed by a viola solo of the main theme.
4. Adoption*
After meeting Jerry’s friends, Helen agrees to drive them all back to their homes (see track 32), but because there is not enough room in the car, Jerry and Lassie stay behind. Helen is surprised (and moved) to find that all the boys (including Jerry) live at the county orphanage, and even more shocked to learn that the other children assume she is going to adopt Jerry. A mournful cello, later joined by strings, plays the main theme as Helen drives back to the house. Mimicking the scene of Hank and Lassie playing from earlier in the film, some lighthearted music accompanies Jerry and Lassie cavorting. The scene is too painful for Helen and she drives off, accompanied by the conflict motive on seesawing strings.
5. Long Walk*
Helen and Jerry go for a walk, during which she tells him that she is proud to be his friend, but that she is going away soon. Jerry is hurt and tells her that he will not be there if she comes back. Much to her surprise, Jerry says he is going back to Manville to see his mother. This subdued cue consists of developments of the main theme and the conflict motive, primarily in the strings.
Tears for Two*
Jerry agrees to watch Lassie while Helen travels to Atlanta overnight. Although he is upset and does not want to get further attached to the dog in case she will be leaving as well, Jerry ditches his chores to play with Lassie instead. The cue begins with the conflict motive on violins before the music takes on a more playful tone (the French horns suggesting that the young Previn already knew his Stravinsky—at least Pétrouchka) as Jerry and Lassie run through a nearby stream.
Lassie Herds the Cows*
Jerry, coming down with a fever, realizes that he forgot to herd the cows and brings Lassie with him to help, while a gentle development of the main theme urges them on. When they get back to the orphanage, Jerry closes Lassie up in the barn and then goes to eat dinner, while violins play Lassie’s theme and oboe develops the theme’s melodic line.
6. Storm Over Jerry*
Jerry disobeys an order from Mrs. Pope (Hope Landin), who runs the orphanage, to send Lassie home immediately. Later that night, after the boys have gone to bed, the dog sneaks into the orphanage. Mysterious woodwinds accompany Mrs. Pope checking on Jerry but failing to notice Lassie hidden under his blanket. A fever-ravaged Jerry sneaks the collie back to Helen’s during a raging thunderstorm. Soaked to the bone, he collapses on the front stoop. Previn creates a musical maelstrom in the strings, while brass play descending two-note “danger” intervals.
Helen Meets Tom*
The next morning, Helen drives up to the house and notices a strange car parked out front, underscored by the conflict motive heard in the cellos. Inside, she meets Tom Chandler (Lloyd Nolan), the owner of the house.
I’m Going to Manville*
Helen finds Jerry lying sick in bed. Accompanied by the main theme on solo violin, she tells Jerry that she is going to Manville to bring his mother back to be with him. The conflict motive underscores Jerry’s fearful reaction to the mention of his mother.
Harp, celesta, muted trumpet and high strings accompany a visual montage of doctors and medical ministrations as Helen nurses Jerry back to health.
7. I Always Eat It*
Helen stops at the house of gossipy busybody Mrs. Golightly (Margaret Hamilton) with a thank-you gift of chewing tobacco. In an attempt to be neighborly, Helen takes a pinch of snuff and accidentally swallows it. A sly clarinet duet, belching brass and muted trumpet accompany this brief comic moment.
I Can’t Take Jerry Away*
Mr. Williegood (Percy Kilbride) stops by to deliver Helen’s train tickets. Hurt, Jerry leaves with him to assist with the harvest back at the orphanage rather than remain and help Helen during her last few days in Brushy Gap. Lassie’s theme underscores the scene as Helen explains to Tom that she must go away. She does not fit in and she cannot take Jerry away from his mother. When Tom leaves, Lassie tries to console a tearful Helen as the orchestra builds to a climax, hinting at the collie’s theme.
Fare You Well*
On her last day before leaving, Helen has Tom drive her to the orphanage to see Jerry, who has not come around to say goodbye. The main theme plays quietly in the background as the two of them remember their favorite moments spent together. The music crescendos with the conflict motive and Jerry says goodbye to Lassie, marked by a moving statement of the Lassie theme from full orchestra. When Helen drives off, Jerry locks himself in the attic, accompanied by Lassie’s theme and the conflict motive.
8. Tom & Jerry*
After Lassie saves Jerry from a fire at the orphanage, Tom agrees to take Jerry back home with him. Helen promises to pay for Jerry’s upbringing if Tom will make the arrangements with Jerry’s mother. When Tom refuses, she storms out of the house to drive to Mannville. Jerry learns where Helen is headed and confesses to Tom that he does not have a mother. Helen’s departure (2:01–2:43), which includes brief quotes of the conflict motive and Lassie’s theme, is the only part of the cue used in the film. The remainder of the cue is a patchwork of other themes and motives from the score—including “Songs My Mother Taught Me”—put together by the studio (for the music-and-effects track) after the film was released. The film version, complete with dialogue, can be found on track 34.
9. Jerry Runs Away*
Helen returns from Mannville, where she could not bring herself to go through with seeing Jerry’s mother. Unable to face telling Helen the truth, Jerry runs away. Tom and Helen run after him and Helen yells at Lassie to trip him. This cue was also edited for the music-and-effects tracks after the film’s release. It begins with the “play” music from “Adoption,” followed by a quiet rendition of the main theme on violin. For the film version, complete with dialogue, see track 35.
One Dog’s Family & End Title*
Although Jerry explains to Helen that he does not have a mother, she says she will be his mother if he wants her. Like the preceding cue, the music-and-effects track used a different version, beginning with Lassie’s theme. From 0:12 to the end, however, the music matches the film version (track 35), as the strings play one last statement of the main theme.
End Cast
French horns and strings play a brief quote of the main theme over the cast list and a bright sunny sky.

Bonus Tracks

29. Tes Yeux
After interrupting her rehearsal in the film’s opening scene, Helen picks up and finishes the song with her onscreen pianist. This recording (made April 20, 1948) features André Previn at the piano.
30. Un Bel Di
Helen returns to the stage, performing Puccini’s “Un Bel Di” from Madame Butterfly, while Hank and her manager (Lewis Stone) watch from the wings. Both this and the preceding track come between “New Trick for Lassie” and “Hank’s Death” (track 1).
(MacDonald also recorded “Ah! Gran Dio!” from Act III of Verdi’s La Traviata—with tenor Armand Tokajan—but that performance did not appear in the film and the recording is lost.)
31. Songs My Mother Taught Me
Although MacDonald appears to accompany herself in her onscreen performance (see track 3) of this classic art song by Antonín Dvořák, Previn is, in fact, the accompanist. The young composer/pianist (credited as “arranger” on the studio’s recording logs), abandons the Czech master’s original accompaniment in favor of a more contemporary 1940s ballad style.
32. Cousin Ebeneezer
While driving Jerry’s friends home (see track 4), Helen joins the boys singing Previn’s idea of a hillbilly song, “Cousin Ebeneezer,” (lyrics by William Katz), with guitar and harmonica accompaniment.
33. If You Were Mine
After the scene with Mrs. Golightly and the snuff (see track 7), Helen sings “If You Were Mine,” a song credited in the cue sheet to Previn (lyrics by Katz) but actually adapted from Anton Rubinstein’s “Romance,” Op. 44, No. 1. The sound fades as the scene moves from the living room to the front porch, where Tom, Jerry and Lassie listen approvingly.
34. Tom & Jerry*† (film version)
This cue begins with somber low strings after the fire at the orphanage as Mr. Williegood figures out how to split up the orphans among the local folks. The main theme begins as Tom and Helen arrive back at her house and put Jerry to bed. The conflict motive underscores Tom and Helen’s argument about how to take care of Jerry. Helen leaves to go visit Jerry’s mother in Mannville (2:00–2:43)—the only part of the cue that matches the music-and-effects track. As Jerry wakes up and confesses to Tom that he does not have a mother, the cue continues to alternate between the conflict motive and Lassie’s theme.
35. Jerry Runs Away*† (film version)
Syncopation and running figures in winds and strings underscore Helen’s plea to Lassie to trip Jerry. Oboe plays Lassie’s theme as Jerry confesses the truth about his mother.
One Dog’s Family & End Title*† (film version)
Instead of Lassie’s theme, which was used on the music-and-effects track, the finished film uses a stinger chord and sustained strings to create more tension as to whether or not Helen will offer to be Jerry’s mother. —