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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.
It opens with a close up of John Garfield and that, already, gets you going. The intensity and power of the man. A from rags to riches tale with an extra something. The extra something here is Clifford Odetts, the language is as pungent as its pace. The truth in John Garfield's face rises everything several notches but, perhaps, the biggest surprise from a 2007's standpoint, is Joan Crawford's performance. She's never been one of my favorites, I always thought impossible to warm up to her and her tough lady from the wrong side of the tracks left me cold but here, she's rounded and brilliant, torn between who she is and who she would like to be. Great lines, fantastic close ups - wearing eye glasses, removing the glasses and squinting - At moments you feel the camera devours her. The director, Jean Negulesco - Three Coins In The Fountain, How To Marry a Millionaire - never flown this high. This 1946 Warners melodrama has the stuff that great works of art are made of. Thrilling
As Helen Joan Crawford gives her greatest performance and she should have been nominated for Best Actress that year. She certainly gave a better performance than Olivia De havilland gave in "To each His Own". John Garfield is also at top of his form and he certainly is a good match for Miss Crawford. What a shame that in a few short years he would be backlisted. Oscar Levant gives a typical Oscar Levant snide performance but he is a bit more serious in this role as the best friend of Mr. Garfield. the use of the "Liebestod" from "Tritan und Isolde" coupled with the waves rushing in might appear to some as camp but Miss crawford's handling of the scene is nothing short of magnificent. One usually overlooked performance is that of then billed Bobby Blake who has been much in the news lately. He portrayed Mr. Garfield's as a boy and did a good job of it without the ususal winey voice and mannerisms that made him so easy to hate in the "Our Gang" comedies. I have always thought that the adult robert Blake would have been an excellent choice to portray John Garfield in a biopic of his life. By all means see "Mildred Pearce" which won Miss Crawford the Oscar but don't miss "Humoresque".
Crawford was great but not my favorite actress..Bette Davis was.. but this performance in Humoresque can only be portrayed by Crawford! She was absloutely perfect for the role of Helen Wright.. and yes was brilliant..To me this is her best role: not sudsy or sappy... beautiful,sophisticated, society bitch who sexually longed for a man & did everything in her power to control & possess him..I feel the chemistry between she & co star John Garfield was ELECTRIC!! He portrayed the violinist,Paul Boyar so well.. the man she lusted for and wanted to possess for herself... The score, the photography the direction Brilliant..Ive seeen this film many times & each time it gets better... Im very critical of Miss Crawfords work but 5 or 6 of her films are outstanding.. This is a notch above Mildred Pierce for me because the character she is portraying is so similar to herself (according to bios etc)..& her beauty & class are unquestioned..the closeup of her ,as she observes Garfield in the rehearsal hall..is comparable to Garbo's closeup ,final scene , of Queen Christina!!! This is a film that never ever bores me..I rate it a 10 !!! Watch It....
That sentiment sums up the frustration and disappointment of Joan Crawford about her love for and obsession with violin virtuoso John Garfield in an excellent film blessed with great acting and beautiful music. Crawford and Garfield are well-matched in this movie, as Crawford becomes Garfield's patron and gives his career a financial boost but becomes hopelessly drawn to her protégé as his concert career takes off. The two principals circle each other warily, sizing up the other and lashing out verbally with accusations of ingratitude and selfishness with Garfield holding fast to his dedication to his music while Crawford begins a slow but steady decline into drinking and depression. Garfield's tunnel vision concerning his instrument does not allow him to appreciate the love a young woman has for him, nor can he grasp his mother's sage counsel and warning about his involvement with a married woman. The film has generous servings of music by Sarasate, Dvorak, Lalo and a brief but excellent recital of Franz Waxman's adaptation of "Carmen".
"Humoresque" is Joan Crawford's and John Garfield's best movie. It is one
of the best tortured love stories ever made. It is about two misfits - one
rich idle lady and one poor talented male violinist, who fall in love and
make everybody including themselves miserable. Even though the movie is in
black and white, it is very glamorous looking. Joan Crawford and John
Garfield never looked better. Too bad they never worked again. As a favor,
Mr. Garfield appeared briefly as an extra in Ms. Crawford's next movie with
The supporting cast was superb. As the parents, J. Carrol Naish and Ruth Nelson were never better. Unfortunately, Ms. Nelson was blacklisted for thirty years so she did not have the career she should have had in the movies. The other supporting actress was Joan Chandler, who played Mr. Garfield's childhood sweetheart. This is the only performance I can remember her in. She was terrific. It seems Ms. Crawford did not mind other actresses getting good parts in her movies. Hurrah for Joan!
The film is over 2 hours long, but Crawford only has about 1 hour of film time in it, and it is surely one of her finest performances and finest films in her lengthy career. She plays a married socialite who takes particular interest in a rising concert violinst (played by Garfield). This is one of my favorite movies of all time and yes the ending is one of the greatest of all times. ***1/2 out of ****.
Jean Negulescu, a director of Rumanian origin based in Hollywood since 1930s
was responsible for several good films and "Humoresque" is one of them.
It's a good drama starring Joan Crawford who gives here one of her finest performances as Helen Wright, a cynical and selfish society woman who set her sight at a young talented violinist Paul Boray (John Garfield), offers help in making his carrier and later becomes concerned with his love, almost an obsession with his work - music, that comes to the point of neglecting (as she thinks) their relationship and herself personally - "I'm tired of playing the second fiddle!"
Significant part of the film has to do with New York, that is "all full with all kinds of animals, and not all of them are born here" as says the most cynical character in the film Sid Jeffers played by Oscar Levant. It's there that we witness several tribulations in Helen - Paul's relationship resulting in a tragic ending.
Wittiness of the script is probably the most important ingredient of "Humoresque" (besides Joan Crawford's performance) which turns it into a good classic film that stands repeated viewing. 8/10
It's fun sometimes to watch a movie, and mentally juxtapose it in your
mind with another you've seen. In "Humoresque," for example, watch the
part where Paul (John Garfield) is delivering his major violin
performance, while his wealthy, possessive patron, Helen (Joan
Crawford), sits in her expensive box (his mother and "girlfriend" are
in the cheaper seats) in a sensuous, almost orgasmic state as she
watches him. This scene is depicted as graphically as the constrictions
imposed on films in the mid-40's would allow - narrow boundaries
compared with even daytime television today. Now visualize Michael
Douglas and Sharon Stone from "Basic Instinct." Instead of being a
detective and author/murder suspect, respectively, Michael is on-stage
like Paul, playing his heart out, and Sharon is the wealthy patron in
the audience. Now imagine what Sharon might do, and the camera show, in
"her" sensuous reaction to his performance: not a bad vision, eh?
This film IS an outstanding example of the "noir" qualities which were a hallmark of the 30's to the early 50's - from the earlier stages of talking pictures, through the depression and post-WW II years. Joan Crawford was one of the two best (along with Bette Davis) at portraying this type of cold, possessive, and thoroughly selfish, powerful female presence. From later revelations about her real life, it was probably due less to her acting prowess than one imagined at that time. And Garfield played the tough, yet easily-manipulated, handsome male "pawn" to perfection - as the fore-mentioned Michael Douglas has done in the present.
Watch this movie for the outstanding performances of two icons of the film's era. It also represents, in my opinion, one of the three best films for the lead characters' music, presented within 10 years after WW II - each with characters meeting unhappy ends. There is, of course, the great Isaac Stern's music here. Ten years later, another matinée idol, Tyrone Power, starred as the title character in "The Eddy Duchin Story," with the gorgeous Kim Novak, and Carmen Cavallero's talented piano offerings. In about the mid-point between these two movies, in 1950, Kirk Douglas was Rick Martin in "Young Man With a Horn," based largely of the meteoric, talented career of the great trumpet player, Bix Biederbecke, whose life ended at age 28 - but who was so talented he is well-remembered nearly 75 years later; Harry James' playing in this film is comparable to Stern's and Cavallero's in the other two, and Lauren Bacall and Doris Day are there as Kirk's love interests, the naughty girl and good girl, respectively. Watch these three movies in the order made; you'll be exposed to great music, and three all-time great performers providing music via their respective instruments - as well as some of the great stars in cinema history. And the musical finale from the Duchin movie will bring a tear to virtually anyone's eyes.
"Humoresque" is a 1946 film based on a novel by Fanny Hurst, and is
actually a remake of a film made in 1920. This "Humoresque" boasts a
great cast, beautiful music, melodrama, and gorgeous violin playing by
John Garfield stars as struggling violinist Paul Boray who finally gets his big break with the help of a socialite, Helen Wright (Crawford), when his pianist friend (Oscar Levant) brings him to a party at her home. Helen is a beautiful married lush who is nearsighted, so when Paul starts to play the violin, she asks for her glasses. She has a lot of attractive male hangers-on, one of which is Monte Loeffler (a mustached Craig Stevens). It takes a while, but Helen and Paul at last declare their love and give into their lust. Paul's mother (Ruth Nelson) takes a dim view of the situation, fearing it will hurt her son's career as Helen is a demanding woman and won't take a back seat to his music. In one scene, which to anyone in theater or music is hilarious, after she practically has an orgasm as she watches him play during a rehearsal, Helen sends Paul a note saying that she must see him immediately. Since he's going over music with the conductor and rehearsing with a full orchestra, he doesn't leap off the stage and into the audience in order to rush to Helen's side. She's devastated and gets drunk. I ask you, if she doesn't understand why he didn't stop rehearsal, what chance have they got? This is a wonderful film, reminiscent of the family all living together in "Golden Boy" (not to mention the violin aspect) and the wealthy patron angle in "Serenade," the Mario Lanza film that was based on a novel by James Cain. Helen Wright is one of Joan Crawford's best performances, too.
The film is not without some problems, but you can't fault the incredible music played by Isaac Stern, including the title piece by Dvorak, and music of Sarasate, Lalo and Bizet's Carmen as magnificently adapted by Franz Waxman. The love theme from "Tristan und Isolde" was a post-war favorite in movies evidently, showing up in a few films - it is used here to good, if heavily melodramatic advantage.
My big problem is the end of the movie. The last two scenes between Paul and Sid (Levant) seem completely unnecessary. To have put THE END in what to me was the natural place would have been much more dramatic and compelling. It wasn't done, I think, because the story is actually told in flashback - at the beginning of the film, we see a CANCELLED sign over a poster announcing a performance of Paul's, and the story unfolds. There wasn't any reason really for it to start in flashback either.
As for Crawford's big finale, it is very well done and Crawford performs the actions beautifully, but once you've seen Catherine O'Hara do the same scene on Second City, there's just no way to watch it with a straight face, I'm afraid. Even if you haven't, it is pretty borderline over the top - what saves it is Helen's anguish.
Paul Boray is a perfect role for the talents of John Garfield, a wonderful actor, though for my money he had a limited range. The sexual tension between Garfield and Crawford is tremendous, and it's a credit to both actors how their scenes clicked. There are other wonderful performances as well, particularly from Paul's parents, played by Ruth Nelson and J. Carroll Naish. Levant is given a lot of wisecracks, as is Tom D'Andrea as Paul's brother. Joan Chandler is the long-suffering girlfriend who's been brushed aside for Helen, and she's very good.
The script is solid with some great dialogue and the direction by Jean Negulesco is very crisp. Highly recommended - just don't get a DVD of Second City where they parodied this movie before you've actually seen it.
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