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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
This is not a great movie. It isn't really a very good one, frankly. I can't imagine any reason to watch it other than to see John McCormack. If you like McCormack, however, it is not to be missed and, while he's on screen, very enjoyable. Unlike so many other opera singers who have taken a turn on the silver screen, McCormack is very natural and relaxed. He's fun to watch and, when he sings something good - which is too often not the case, alas - a joy to hear.
Much of what he sings is, in fact, forgettable. But there are two numbers that make time stand still. The first is the Rose of Tralee. It's not great music, perhaps, but McCormack makes each note a perfectly polished gem in one perfectly arranged necklace. It is nice music elevated by great art to a very moving moment.
And then there is I hear you calling me, the most successful of all McCormack's many successes. This is beautiful music set to a perfect text. And then performed as no song has ever been performed before or since. Yes, perhaps one of his 78 rpm versions is even better, but the version in this film is already great enough to make time, and breath, stop. The song tells a story, and you follow it as it unfolds. In the last verses, when he goes up to the suspended high note on "I hear you CALLING me," you would think that you in fact heard his beloved calling him from beyond the grave. It makes you understand why Caruso envied McCormack his pianissimos.
The rest of the movie is a forgettable hodge-podge. There is a love story between O'Sullivan and a handsome young man. You don't care, because O'Sullivan, who speaks with perfect English diction that makes you wonder what she's doing in Ireland, keeps looking at the camera instead of the people whom she is, in principle, addressing. There is also a pair of Irish comedians - who aren't at all funny. And there's a nasty old spinster aunt making life difficult for orphans. The only thing other than McCormack worth any notice is the actress who plays Mona, generally pleasant and extremely enjoyable when she tells off Aunt Elizabeth - in a speech that will come back 9 years later when Auntie Em tells off Elvira Gultch in the Wizard of Oz.
So, if you like McCormack, make sure to catch this. If you have no idea who he is but want to see the original "Irish tenor," you might enjoy it as well. Otherwise, it's just another forgettable piece of celluloid.
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