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RHAPSODY IN BLUE (Warner Brothers, 1945), directed by Irving Rapper,
subtitled "The Story of George Gershwin," is a tribute to America's
most original composer of the twentieth century. It's an entertaining
musical biography if one could overlook its faults. Made at the time
when movies of this type dominated the screen, beginning with YANKEE
DOODLE DANDY (1942) with James Cagney as actor and songwriter George M.
Cohan, Warners later contributed another using a song title to
personify the subject matter, Cole Porter in NIGHT AND DAY (1946) as
portrayed by Cary Grant. Obviously YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is the best of
the three, however, while NIGHT AND DAY offers an added plus with
Technicolor, it makes RHAPSODY IN BLUE better than what it is. Unlike
the two mentioned bio-pics, RHAPSODY IN BLUE is not headlined by a
major name, but a newcomer named Robert Alda, who, unlike Cagney and
Grant, never became a top rank star. One thing going for Alda is his
resemblance to George Gershwin, and how acceptable he is in what has
become his best known film role. Unfortunately, that's where the
Gershwin legend ends. Hoping for another YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, Warners
reused its co-stars, Joan Leslie as the fictitious girlfriend, and
Rosemary DeCamp as the mother, the sort of roles they've done before.
The result: the music that outscores an episodic story.
The story of George Gershwin, according to an original story by Sonya Levien, opens on the lower East side of Manhattan with brothers George and Ira Gershwin as boys (Darryl Hickman and Mickey Roth) watching men delivering a piano to their apartment. The piano was ordered for Ira to take lessons, but their mother, Rose (Rosemary DeCamp) can't help but notice George's natural talent for the piano without a single lesson. Years pass, the now adult George (Robert Alda), develops a new method in piano playing, lands a job playing songs for customers, getting himself fired for going against management by demonstrating his own songs. In time, he gets his big break when publisher Max Dreyfus (Charles Coburn) introduces Gershwin's latest composition, "Swanee," to Broadway entertainer Al Jolson, who likes the song so much that he introduces it in his next Broadway show, SINBAD. Jolson's delivery to "Swanee" elevates Gershwin into an exceptional and most original composer. Collaborating his songs with Ira (Herbert Rudley), Broadway shows featuring one hit song after another, along with George's on and off romances with Julie Adams (Joan Leslie), a singer who loves him, and Christine Gilbert (Alexis Smith), a socialite/ divorcée who knows she'll be nothing more than a backdrop to his life. In spite of fame and fortune, especially with his masterpiece, "Rhapsody in Blue," George is not a happy man, and strives to improve himself, doing everything in such quick pace as if he has some premonition of an untimely death.
The supporting players feature Julie Bishop as Lee Gershwin; Albert Basserman as Professor Frank; Morris Conovsky as Morris Gershwin; Johnny Downs as a tap-dancer; with Paul Whiteman, George White, Tom Patricola, Hazel Scott guest starring as themselves. A pity that Fred Astaire, whose best known for introducing some classic Gershwin tunes, didn't appear. The highlight of the program is Al Jolson singing "Swanee." This became Jolson's final contribution to the motion picture by which he takes part in the plot, but this would not be the last time his voice would be heard on screen. Jolson appears in two key scenes, each in his black-face trademark, first from his dressing room on the telephone and later on opening night. While age has caught up with Jolson physically, his delivery to "Swanee" proves he still has that old magic. A pity he didn't contribute more to the story. Oscar Levant, playing his usual droll self, provides some amusing moments as Gershwin's close friend, as well as his piano solos.
Of the many songs composed by George Gershwin, the ones selected for the soundtrack include: "Smiles," (not by Gershwin); "Swanee," "S' Wonderful, S' Marvelous," "Somebody Loves Me," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," "Lady Be Good," "Blue Monday Blues" followed by "My Joe" and "Mother Mine," "Rhapsody in Blue" (conducted by Paul Whiteman); Braham's "Lullaby" (background score); Hazel Scott's piano playing and vocalization of "The Man I Love" (in French); "Clap Yo Hands," "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "I Got Rhythm" and "Yankee Doodle Blues"; "Liza," "Bidin' My Time," "Embraceable You," "An American in Paris" (instrumental); "Cuban Rhapsody," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "Delicious," "Summertime" from PORGY AND BESS; "Concerto in F", "135th Street Blues," "Love Walked In," "Concerto in F" (reprise); and "Rhapsody in Blue"(reprise/finale).
Not historically accurate as one would like it to be, although the costumes and hair styles do fit into the time frames, RHAPSODY IN BLUE should be a delight for Gershwin fans, considering how it concentrates more on his songs than on his personal life. Running more than two hours, the narrative includes several scenes that drag on, but as long as there's enough Gershwin music to fill in the void, it shouldn't appear endless.
RHAPSODY IN BLUE, may not be the success in the tradition of YANKEE DOODLE DANDY nor Robert Alda as legendary as James Cagney, but George Gershwin's contribution to American music, jazz, blues and/or folk opera, remains legendary. RHAPSODY IN BLUE formerly available on video cassette, is shown on Turner Classic Movies. Running time: 142 minutes - "a very important piece." (***1/2)
Thank God the film-makers trusted in the power of Gershwin's music to allow
almost complete versions of the title composition, and "An American in
Paris" to be included in the film - as well as many complete songs. All the
music is superbly orchestrated and the songs sung beautifully by a wide
variety of artists, many of whom were really the first artists to sing them.
The film is excellently directed and photographed, with musical scenes well
realised visually. The montage of Gershwin wandering about Paris as we hear
"An American In Paris" is excellent - and the use of lights and shadows to
film the orchestra playing "Rhapsody in Blue" is magnificent - would that
contemporary films of orchestras were this imaginative.
Yes I know it is largely fiction - but so what? This is a tribute, not a documentary. And Alda is fine in the lead, backed by an excellent supporting cast. I loved this film from start to finish.
The "Gershwin Years" were very exciting times, and the life and career of
George --and his brother, Ira--are well captured in this memorable classic,
"Rhapsody in Blue." Tackling this subject was a difficult one, and it
manages to reveal the composer's exuberance for his art, his trials and his
successes. Robert Alda is a perfect choice for George; others making fine
contributions are Oscar Levant and Alexis Smith. A host of great artists,
many playing themselves round out a star-studded cast. A wonderful selection
of Gershwin's works are represented, some in near-complete versions. This is
one of the most successful of classical composer bios ever brought to the
screen. It is a cherished part of my video library, and I thoroughly enjoy
watching and listening to this recreation of the life, times, and music of
one of American's great composers.
This is a fabulous movie tracing the life and times, struggles and successes
of composer George Gershwin. Fictional characters and events are used to
move the story along; and the music is wonderful. This is a very easy to
watch movie. A classic in black & white.
Beginning with childhood, this movie shows the closeness of the family and especially with brother Ira. Major compositions are featured: Swanee; The Cuban Overture; Somebody Loves Me; Fascinatin' Rhythm; An American in Paris and several versions of the title masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue. Max Steiner proves his own greatness.
Robert Alda is excellent as George Gershwin and Herbert Rudley as Ira. Also in the cast are Rosemary DeCamp, Alexis Smith and Joan Leslie. Playing themselves are Paul Whiteman, Oscar Levant and Al Jolson. Levant is refreshing, comical and talented.
The music is the main attraction; this film is well worth multiple viewings.
George Gershwin was perhaps, America's greatest composer. Judging by
his output of popular songs, as well as some of the serious music he
left behind. George Gershwin was a man that got his inspiration by a
lot of the popular and black music he heard when he was growing up and
mixed it with some of the classical music that he learned as a young
piano student. The result is a body of work that is not easy equaled by
any of his contemporaries.
In "Rhapsody in Blue", his biographical picture, director Irving Rapper has recreated that period in the young composer's life with the help of the screen play writers, Howard Koch, Sonya Levien, and the uncredited Clifford Odets, as he takes us along to witness a account on this original music man.
We get to see the ambitious George, who could play anything on the piano his parents intended for his brother Ira to study music. It was clear from the start George was a natural who had no problem composing some of the best melodies that became standards during the 20th century and continue to delight us after so many years.
Along the way there is the story of the man who falls in love with the lovely and sophisticated Christine Gilbert, who he met in France. Julie Adams, the girl who was to become the star in many of his shows, loved George in silence. Of course, these two women are a product of the writers imagination, or a composite for the real women in his life.
We are also shown the world in which George lived. There is Prof. Frank, who taught the young man the best of the classical piano repertoire. His parents, Morris and Rose, who adored their sons. We also meet some of the men that shaped his life like Max Dreyfus, his manager, Oscar Levant, his friend and best interpreter, along with some real figures like Paul Whiteman, George White, Al Jolson, Hazel Scott, among others.
Robert Alda resembled the real George Gershwin; his take on the man rings true. Joan Leslie is Julie Adams, and Alexis Smith is Christine Gilbert, the women in George life. Charles Coburn plays Max Dreyfus. Morris Carnovsky and Rosemary DeCamp are seen as the parents.
The best excuse to watch the film is the glorious music one hears in it. The movie is easy on the eye, and while it might not be accurate, it still makes for a pleasant view of this genius of some of the best American popular music of all times.
Rhapsody in Blue, is a true black and white American classic. I bought the tape because of the title, which is one of the pieces written by George Gershwin. I had the privilege of going to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and xeroxing some of Gershwin's hand written sheet music with his own signature in it. Wow! Just like he signs his name in the movie. The movie starts with his and his brother, Ira's, childhood, when they get the piano for Ira to play. Turned out that George became the pianist and Ira the lyricist. George never married but the movie is a love story between George and singer "Julie Adams" Joan Leslie (Yankee Doodle Dandy), who truly loved him. He was also romantically involved with Alexis Smith "Christine Gilbert" (The Age of Innocence). She was a socialite painter who lived in Paris. George would have married Julie, but he somehow was married to his music and ended up never marrying Julie, due to his early death. Each scene of the movie has the rhythm of Gershwin's music and the music played is a piece which corresponds that period of his life. To my surprise Al Jolson plays himself where he sings and dances. Remember him the guy that Warner Brothers decided to star him in their first partly-talking-picture, "The Jazz Singer" in 1927. The two Gershwin's had a wonderful relationship with their parents and Ira became their parent's caretaker because George traveled a lot. I love the fact that "George Gershwin" is played by Robert Alda (Imitation of Life), a great actor and singer and also father one of my favorite actors Alan Alda (M.A.S.H., Same Time, Next Year). Talent runs in the families in the cases at hand, (the Aldas and the Gershwins) and Robert and Alan Alda they looked a lot alike. This is a must see for anybody to see, specially Gershwin fans such as myself. It has an imaginable body of their work in this movie, their music is vibrant and happy. Favorite Scenes: Gershwin's parents getting their first piano to their apartment I believe up to the sixth floor of the building where they lived. George getting fired when he meets Julie because he gives her his own work to sing. Favorite Quotes: Ira: "Good Night Mr.Music." George: "Thank you Mr. Words." George: "It is only with music that I can prove my right to live." Dad Gershwin to George: "Take time to be happy, George." This is a great old fashion movie I think that you will love it as I have.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
this biopic is pretty typical. A lot of it was of course fictionalized.
The Joan Leslie Character was in fact a composite of many loves of
Gershwin's life. These included the composer Kay Swift and the actress
Paulette Goddard. "Swannee" was not in fact Gershwin's first published
tune as implied, nor did Ira Gershwin write the words to that song as
further implied. By the time "Swanee" appeared, Gershwin had already
contributed to, or written the scores for several Broadway productions.
And in fact, "Swanee" was not heard for the first time in Jolson's
"Sinbad" but had an inauspicious debut in a New York bordello where
Jolson heard it.
Ira was not the only lyricist Gershwin worked with. He also wrote songs with Buddy DeSylva who is mostly seen as a Broadway producer in this film. In fact, the one act opera "blue Monday" featured in this film was written by Gershwin with DeSylva doing the libretto. Whiteman had nothing to do with the orchestration as implied in this film. "Rhapsody in Blue" was originally scored for a much smaller jazz orchestra rather than the symphonic size orchestra seen in the movie. More over it was Ferde Grofe and NOT Paul Whiteman who did the scoring for symphonic orchestra.
Other than these snipes, one can get a glimpse into the actual personality of Oscar Levant, who appears as his normal sour self with his own dialog for good measure. ("Tell me George, if you had it to do all over again would you still fall in love with yourself?"... "An evening with George Gershwin is a George Gershwin evening.") Actually Levant and Gershwin did not meet until the 1930s..later in fact than implied in this film.
Still, "Rhapsody in Blue offers a unique glimpse into the music of one of America's most beloved composers.
This film presents many Gershwin tunes in great fashion with several
great settings and great production numbers. Yes, it's unfortunate that
the story line is so heavily fictionalized and even misleading. But,
the sets are honest to the periods covered, several sequences are very
tastefully done and fun, the show excerpts are good, and did I mention
the music? As several other commentators have indicated, the music is
faithfully recreated in long segments that bring you much or all of the
If you come to this film to hear some wonderful Gershwin performed by some great artists staged with a lot of character and splash (my favorite set is Hazel Scott's Paris show), you won't be disappointed. The story line is simply a convenient string to tie together the thread of music.
The music was wonderful, I enjoyed watching the father of Alan Alda in the title role & I got one "mini surprise"! That was the solo song of a very young, enchanting Hazel Scott, accompanying herself on the piano. She was a musical prodigy on the piano from the age of 4 and the youngist student admitted to the Julliard School of Music at age 16. This was the last of her early film appearances, as she focused more on musical recordings and a TV series, until the late 50s. She also married Adam Clayton Powell Jr., noted congressman from Harlem & civil rights activist. Her 1955 album, "Relaxed Piano Moods," recorded with Charles Mingus and Max Roach was recently reissued on CD & named Album of the Month by National Public Radio.
Of all our famous Tin Pan Alley composers George Gershwin alone managed
to bridge that gap between the old masters of Europe and our own
American musical traditions. I've always had a particular affinity for
his music, maybe because he and I share the same birthday, 49 years
apart though. He did so much in his life of 38 years and left so much
unwritten and unsung it's impossible to comprehend all this beauty
could have come from the mind of one man.
Rhapsody In Blue is no better or worse than some of the other Hollywood biographies of our composers. The idea was to make a musical picture and story is always sacrificed, especially in the accuracy department. Joan Leslie and Alexis Smith play a compilation of characters of many women involved in George Gershwin's life. It is true however that Gershwin sacrificed all for his art. He wanted to attain heights that no American composer ever did and he succeeded.
There is also the problem of contracts and copyrights in making these kind of films. Certain Gershwin standards you won't hear because either Warner Brothers didn't have the rights or Jack Warner was spending way too much money for the Gershwin songs to begin with.
Al Jolson, Paul Whiteman, and Oscar Levant all appear as themselves in this, the story of Gershwin could not be told without them. Jolson introduced Gershwin's first hit song of Swanee, he interpolated it in one of his shows which he always did. Paul Whiteman, the King of Jazz, took that crown with his concert at Aeolian Hall of Rhapsody In Blue from whence this film gets its title. It maybe the most well known instrumental piece of music by an American composer ever.
And certainly no life of Gershwin could have even been filmed without Oscar Levant whose friendship and abiding affection for George Gershwin was well known. Levant's wit was devastating, even upon himself and his friend George. But he worshiped at the altar of that music.
But a real treat for me was Anne Brown, the original Bess from Porgy and Bess singing Summertime. That alone is worth seeing this film.
Hazel Scott, singer, jazz pianist, and outspoken civil rights advocate plays a Josephine Baker type role and does several Gershwin numbers while he's in Paris. The film sadly makes no mention of Fred Astaire or Gertrude Lawrence both of whom are very important in George Gershwin's career. And it would have been nice to see Victor Moore playing Throttlebottom from Of Thee I Sing which got a one line mention about it winning a Pulitzer Prize and that was it.
Robert Alda plays the title role and he did get good reviews and to the limited extent the script gave the character, he does capture the essence of the driven Gershwin. Stardom in Hollywood would elude Alda however, he'd have to wait for Broadway and Guys And Dolls.
I was sorry to see the role of Ira Gershwin by Herbert Rudley given such a short shrift. Ira was an interesting man in his own right. He wrote lyrics with several other name composers both before and after his brother's demise. In fact he wrote with others specifically to establish his own credentials so no one would think he was just riding on brother George's coattails.
Gershwin's one man who could use a new biographical film. Maybe we can get a better idea of his life, have his songs done in proper chronological order and see him from another century's perspective.
Until then Rhapsody In Blue will give you a general idea.
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