Of Glocca Morra, Ireland, Finian McLongeran, who has his own unique belief system of Irish legends, uproots himself and his adult daughter, Sharon McLonergan, and heads for the mythical ... See full summary »
A boy from the streets of New York finds music tickets to a Heifetz concert, which rekindles his earlier interest in the violin. He subsequently runs away from home and happens across a music school for children (played by members of the Peter Meremblum California Youth Symphony Orchestra). He is taken in by kindly Professor Lawson, the head of the school and resumes violin study while sleeping in the basement of the school. Despite the best efforts of Peter and Ann to raise money, the school is about to be foreclosed upon by Flower and associates. The kids in the school, led by Frankie, try to raise money themselves, and run across Heifetz in the process. After many more well-trodden cinematic paths have been navigated, Heifetz finally is convinced to sponsor the school. Written by
This is a remarkable and wonderful film. In 1939, the classical violinist Jascha Heifetz (generally regarded by common consent in the classical music world as the greatest violinist of the 20th century, which is certainly my view) was actually a popular icon in America. So far have cultural standards declined that such a thing would be impossible to imagine today, in a world contaminated by Madonnas and Kylies and other such low life characters who prance around showing off their tits and bottoms and think of themselves as 'musicians'. And so Samuel Goldwyn decided to make a whole feature film around Heifetz, admirably directed by Archie Mayo. The story is first rate, and Heifetz is portrayed as a stratospheric and inaccessible concert star who happens to run into a poor kid in New York, through a series of amusing circumstances, and thereby becomes involved with the fate of a music school for disadvantaged urban children. The school is continually threatened with closure through lack of funds, but no one dares tell the idealistic head of the school, played by the endearing Walter Brennan, that there are drastic debts owing and angry creditors at the door. In one hair-raising scene, a ruthless music instrument supplier has removal men seize all the instruments from the children of the school's orchestra when they are in the middle of a concert. Joel McCrea is very good as the cheerful beau of Brennan's daughter, sympathetically played by Andrea Leeds, who cheerfully loses his job in order to help support the school and the cause of encouraging poor children to learn music. The star of the film is Gene Reynolds, who plays the poor boy Frankie at the centre of the story who enters the school because he has perfect pitch (or 'a good ear', as Brennan modestly puts it). Reynolds is admirably supported by one of the finest canine actors of the period, a little dog called Zero, who plays the character Sucker, a dog who is Frankie's inseparable companion. Child actor Terry Kilburn is also extremely good as Frankie's younger friend Limey, so named because he is British and sounds it. He is such a cheerful little chap. This film was entitled RAGGED ANGELS in a re-release at a later date in America, but in Britain was called MELODY OF YOUTH. Jascha Heifetz plays numerous extended virtuoso pieces in this film, such as RONDO CAPRICCIOSO by Camille Saint-Saens. No trouble is spared to film him from every angle, with plenteous close-ups of his fingers, his bowing technique, and views of him of every description. He also speaks and briefly 'acts' in a few scenes. From the point of view of the history of music and the violin, this film is a 'must-see' because of the extensive coverage given to Heifetz, around whom the whole film revolves. It was the first time he had appeared in a film. As all who have ever seen archive film of him playing know, Heifetz showed absolutely no emotion when he played, but while remaining as formal as a Greek statue, he could wring more emotion out of his violin than anyone since Paganini, and more than anyone since. He was simply the greatest. And what a treasure this film is, to contain such an early record of his performing. As for the film itself, it is charming and delightful, and most entertaining. It is most emphatically not just a story strung carelessly together to provide an excuse for getting Heifetz on screen. In fact, it is a pity that young people interested in music today cannot all be shown this film in school. I would recommend most strongly to any parents with a child serious about classical music that they show this film to the child. It also carries an important message about the power of music to uplift those who are in unfortunate circumstances and in great poverty. The scene where the mothers of the children block the entrance to the school to stop the men coming in to seize the instruments is touching testimony to how hard times produce backbone and determination. The social lesson is the need to spread classical music more widely through all levels of society. After all, it is such a civilising influence, and there are not many civilising influences left, are there? Isn't it better to be taught to play an instrument and to take part in a student orchestra than to sit at home playing computer games in which you kill people until you are so brutalised that you then pick up a gun from your father's gun cabinet yourself and carry out one of those school massacres? All of those student atrocities I blame on the parents, by the way, since the kids who carry them out are always the spoilt brats of spineless affluent upper middle class families, whose parents should be locked up as incompetents and enablers of their psychopathic offspring. Anyone in search of a bit of sanity in a world full of bad parents and vicious spoilt kids should watch this film, to remember that there was an innocent time when the worst entertainment to which children used to be exposed was likely to be the insipid charms of cowboy heroes like Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers, or perhaps a highly unconvincing monster from outer space invading the earth. Today all the monsters are here already, and do not need to be imported from other worlds. The 'other world' of today is the world of yesterday.
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