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A piano teacher believes that her fiancé was killed on the battlefield. When he miraculously returns, they decide to marry, but are threatened by a wealthy, egotistical composer the piano teacher started dating on the rebound after she became convinced her love had died.
Paul Boray comes from a working class background. He has been interested in the violin since he was a child, which his father disliked since he felt it a waste of money, but which his mother supported. Into his adult life, Paul wants to become a concert violinist, and although he shows talent, he does not have the right connections to make it into the concert performance world, much like his longtime friend, virtuoso pianist Sid Jeffers, and cellist Gina Romney, both who, like Paul, train with the National Institute Orchestra. Gina and Paul have a connection with each other, Gina who confesses her love for him. While performing at a party with Sid, Paul meets Helen and Victor Wright, their hosts. Victor is a perceptive but self-admittedly weak man, while his wife Helen is strong minded but insecure which manifests itself as neurosis. She constantly tries to forget about her unhappy life by excessive alcohol consumption. Helen becomes Paul's benefactress, which ultimately results in a ... Written by
For the scene where Helen falls off the horse, Joan Crawford performed the stunt herself. Relieved that it had gone well, she nevertheless was forced to the stunt again when it was decided that Paul (John Garfield)'s rushing over and laying on top of her was too racy. It was reshot, and instead, Helen lies on top of Paul. Crawford later remarked: "I couldn't really understand what was the difference, him on top of me or me on top of him. Well, the difference was I had to fall off the horse again. I did, and I lived to tell the tale." See more »
Don McGuire plays Teddy, the proprietor of Teddy's Bar, although his character is listed in the closing credits as Eddie. See more »
In many ways, HUMORESQUE represents the Hollywood movie working in terms of both dream and nightmare. The opening section, with its deep shadows and highly stylized line delivery, has nightmarish overtones. From here, the film enters flashback, nearly always a dream-like experience for the viewer (and an important reason why many films from this period are so compelling). This film is the 'dream' of having one's wishes come true. Because it is a dream that purports to take place in a 'real world' (the Warner Bros.' version of that world), it also incorporates darker aspects of wish fulfillment. Young Paul (very well realized by Robert Blake) achieves his fantasy of becoming not only a real violinist, but a world-class one. But there are prices to be paid: his mother's frustration, a childhood girlfriend's disappointment, the self-destruction of a lonely, love-starved woman, and his own tragic realization of these costs. John Garfield's naturalistic acting contributes to one of this actor's legacy of memorable performances. There is never any doubt that this character is real. And this is an important factor, since the entire film can be viewed as Paul's dream/nightmare.
The film pivots on one brilliant sequence: as Paul performs the Lalo, with Helen (Joan Crawford), Gina (Joan Chandler) and the mother (Ruth Nelson) in attendance. We see Helen in an obvious sexual ecstasy, alone, high up in her privileged box. Her face is magnified to full-screen size as she is engulfed by the music. Meanwhile, Gina is the pained witness of this performance from below. She is unable to stand it, and must flee. Mother, on the other hand, observes it all with a troubled understanding. It could be seen as in psychological terms as the 'mother' divided into three parts, none of which can be satisfied. The only result can be tragic, or at least unfulfilled.
HUMORESQUE contains Joan Crawford's best performance. Only the next film she made, POSSESSED can equal it. Watching after MILDRED PIERCE reveals a more nuanced, intelligent kind of acting, something she learned while playing the Oscar-winning role: we can see the influence of both Zachary Scott and Garfield in the bar scenes. And the scenes with Helen's husband (Paul Cavanagh) are among the most adult, intelligently acted moments in the film. They are also a testament to the talent of director Jean Negulesco.
Besides the three-way 'mother' pull on Paul is his ambiguous relationship with Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant), who is, in a sense, also a 'mother' figure: nurturing Paul's talents and accompanying his entire career in one way or another. The two men live together, first out of financial necessity, then out of an unspoken, mutual emotional need. Sid's attachment to Paul remains undefined throughout. Oscar Levant is a major part of the film's effect: he has the perfect style for sarcastic, but not mean, line-delivery. And the frequent humorous interjections help to prevent the film from becoming weighed down by the intense main narrative.
Music in this film adds a great deal to its dreamlike qualities. Even though little of the music, before the end, has the sensuality associated with a dream experience, the virtuoso pieces used are perfect vehicles for the 'dreamer' to act out his role as the center of this closed universe. He performs, and the other characters can only accompany (a very secondary role here) or react by applauding. In the end, a rather odd arrangement of music from TRISTAN UND ISOLDE--which culminates in the 'Liebestod' ('Love-Death')--brings the film into the realm of pure dream. Helen's self-destruction is played out against music of pure sensuality and psychic release. Only the deep waters of oblivion can provide a conclusion.
HUMORESQUE is a fine example of why Hollywood film from the classic period can have a lasting fascination and appeal.
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