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Broken hearts in Ireland. Sean is a great tenor, in semi-retirement, living in a village close to Mary, the woman he's always loved. Mary's aunt convinced her to marry a man for his money; he's has recently deserted her, leaving her penniless. She and her two children, Eileen and Tad, move in with the selfish and austere aunt and are miserable. Eileen is falling in love with Fergus, a young man who's off to Dublin to seek his fortune. Sean is drawn out of retirement and goes on tour in America. At his first concert, he's nervous and out of sorts until the last song, when peace descends on him like a gift. What has happened, and can family life be set right? Written by
John McCormick's selection of Frank Borzage as director for this film was announced on June 15, 1929. See more »
Mind you, I admit he's a good singer, but there's somethin' lacking... He hasn't got that certain 'ny-aah' in his voice.
[sings a folk tune]
Now there's a 'ny-aah' for you in all its glory... and til he has that, he'll never be a great singer.
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A victim of the time period in which it was made...
1929-1930 were not great years for musicals, though Hollywood made a ton of them around that time. I think most of the reason was because sound was such a novel thing, the film producers thought the best way to show off this medium was to make musical after musical. Unfortunately, but today's standards most of them are pretty poor and stiff. Part of this is because sound technology has improved. In 1929-1930, orchestras literally sat next to the actors just off camera to provide the music as the film was being made--producing less than satisfactory results. In addition, sound technicians often ordered actors to stay in one place so they could adequately record what they were saying. Additionally, the film makers hadn't yet learned that there is more to a musical than playing music and having people sing. Many of these films didn't integrate the songs into the film well at all and the film lacked style. "Song O' My Heart" is a prime example, as it makes many mistakes that you'd never see in musicals just a year or two later.
--There is no incidental music. Films of 1929-30 were strangely quiet and devoid of background music and songs were only used when people were singing.
--People are amazingly stiff and dancing simply wasn't done. A lot of this was due to poor sound equipment but also because I really don't think they thought to do this.
--Song after song after song after song are sung without regard to the pacing of the film or plot. Simply put, at times this film overwhelmed the audience with singing. In one case, at a concert, it goes on and on and on. And, when the leading man is supposedly at home in the village, people keep stopping him again and again to ask him to sing--and it looks more like a vaudeville review than real life or a film!
--There is no variety--just lots and lots and lots of Irish ballades...which is great if you love this type of music. If you don't, it's a chore despite John McCormack's lovely voice.
So, as a musical, this movie really stinks. However, there are other things to admire. The look of the Irish village is terrific and the film, when there is no singing, is very sentimental and sweet. The director, Frank Borzage, showed his skills in every way except when it came to the singing. And, as a curio, it's nice to see Maureen O'Sullivan in her first film. It's interesting to see how much she changed in subsequent films--here she is far from glamorous and it's hard to recognize her at first.
I would say by today's standards this film earns a 3 (at best). And, compared to other films of the day, it earns a 5--perhaps a 6. My score of 4 is in line with how much true film nuts would like the film--particularly those who are fans of classic Hollywood.
By the way, the DVD from Fox includes both the full sound version and the version that is mostly silent along with singing portions (which was much like the original "Jazz Singer"). I must admit that while I am a real film nut myself, I just couldn't bring myself to see both versions--it just wasn't that good a film.
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