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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.
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
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.
The absence of this brilliant film on DVD has been rectified with Warner's beautiful new transfer. Though there are several scenes in which fine details slightly shimmer, the overall quality of the picture will surely please. The gray scale has deep, solid blacks, very clean whites and a remarkable amount of fine details realized throughout. The audio is mono but has been very nicely cleaned up. An all too brief featurette 'The Music of Humoresque' is all we get in the way of extras. It is a genuine shame that no audio commentary has been included.