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William A. Seiter
Prof. Joseph Elsner guides his protégé Frydryk Chopin through his formative years to early adulthood in Poland. At a recital in a duke's home Chopin insults the new Russian-installed governor, and must flee the country. The professor takes him to Paris, where he eventually comes under the wing and influence of novelist George Sand and rises to prominence in the music world, to the exclusion of his old friends and patriotic feelings towards Poland. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Knowing that this was Liberace's favorite film should give you an idea of what this film is like--in fact, his trademark candleabra on the piano was taken from one of the most memorable moments in the film.
This was a high profile production for Columbia in 1945, with lots of money thrown at the sets and costumes, and actually filming in color (remember, Columbia was still a second-rank studio during World War II--usually only spending major money on its Rita Hayworth films). Consequently, this biography of Chopin is beautiful to look at--but a bit overboard at the same time. It's certainly not minimalist!
As if competing with the lavishness of the design, the acting (particularly by Paul Muni) is waaaay over the top, and the storyline refashions Chopin's life into a very heavy melodrama. The dramatics are so ham-handed that the Harvard Lampoon in 1945 gave the film an award for the "ketchup on the keys" sequence. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the film (other than its campiness) is how this costume biography is inflected with aspects of 40s film noir. Merle Oberon as author George Sand is the film's femme fatale, potentially drawing Chopin down the wrong creative path. And, since the film was made while World War II was still being fought, the film has to make allusions to patriotic duty (especially since Chopin was Polish, and World War II officially broke out when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939).
So--you have tons of visual excess, some sumptious renditions of Chopin pieces, and a weird discussion of gender relations and wartime responsibilities. All in all, it's a wild piece of gorgeous junk.
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