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Light bio-pic of American Broadway pioneer Jerome Kern, featuring renditions of the famous songs from his musical plays by contemporary stage artists, including a condensed production of his most famous: 'Showboat'. Written by
Stewart M. Clamen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
During the circus horseback sequence in the show "Sunny" Judy Garland was doubled by a professional rider from the Ringling Brothers Circus. The switch is made when the extras crowd around her just before she enters the ring and goes to the horse. The camera is far enough away for the rest of the sequence that the face of the double is not clear. See more »
A close up the Playbill shows the number "Till the Clouds Roll By" is the 3rd song in Act One, yet when the number is over, the curtain comes down and everyone leaves the theatre. See more »
[congratulating Jerome Kern on his composing ability]
My boy, you've got a song to sing.
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Back in the day when Hollywood was doing biographical pictures of some of our most famous popular composers, it was generally acknowledged that they were nothing more than an excuse to string musical numbers together. Till the Clouds Roll By is the best example of that tradition.
Jerome Kern wrote some of the best music ever heard in the world. But he was a pretty dull fellow in real life. He married the love of his life, had one daughter and was never linked with any of the famous stars he wrote for.
He actually did have two incidents in real life that would have made great screen drama. He had a heart attack that almost took him in 1938 where he was actually dead for several minutes. Kern always claimed after that any music he did write was due to heavenly intervention.
When he did die in 1945, he collapsed on the street near Carnegie Hall in late 1945. He was back in New York after several years in Hollywood to negotiate with Rodgers&Hammerstein who were going to produce a musical about Annie Oakley. Of course we know who got that assignment eventually.
His wallet must have fallen from his pocket and gotten lifted because Kern remained unidentified for a few days and was in a charity ward at a NYC hospital when he died. Kern in fact died while production plans were being made for Till the Clouds Roll By. Still those two true incidents would have made great cinema.
The film opens with a montage of melodies from Show Boat, his greatest musical success. In fact that whole sequence could have been released as a short subject. The rest of the film is Kern in taxi giving a fictional flashback of his life up to Show Boat which premiered in 1927. We fast forward through the next several years when in fact he wrote his best music for stage and then the screen. And there is a musical finale.
Curiously enough MGM had two guys on their lot at the time who actually had sung Kern songs on the screen, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and neither of them got in this film. Kathryn Grayson later did full adaptations of Show Boat and Roberta, but hadn't sung anything of Kern's up to that point. The only one in the cast actually performing a song he actually was identified with was Tony Martin. He sang Make Believe with Grayson during the Show Boat sequence, but also had made a hit record of one of Kern's best songs All the Things You Are which came out in 1939. Martin sang it beautifully during the finale.
You certainly can't complain about the vocalizing here though. With such additional folks as Lena Horne, Van Johnson, June Allyson, and Judy Garland contributing their talents who could complain.
Caleb Peterson who is a black baritone sang Ol Man River in the Show Boat sequence. During the finale, it's sung by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra sings it great, but given the song's identification with Paul Robeson it should have been done by him. Of course Mr. Robeson was having blacklist problems then. Still and all the white suited Sinatra was out of place to say the least.
If you're a fan of Jerome Kern as I am, just put the plot out of your head. Sit back and listen to the music.
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