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Jerome Kern died while MGM's bio-pic TIL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY was still
in the pre-production stage--and while Kern had been more than willing
for MGM to tell all, his estate was considerably more reticent. In
order to avoid any legal issues, MGM scrapped their original
intentions, wrote up a fluffy script that bore little similarity to
Kern's life, and crammed the film with every musical star available in
a non-stop series of drop-dead-stunning production numbers.
The result may be extremely bad biography, but leading man Robert Walker and co-star Van Heflin keep the sentimental story moving--and the musical numbers are piled on top of each other so quickly that one doesn't really question it. The film opens with a lengthy montage from SHOWBOAT, Kern's innovative masterpiece, that features knock-out performances from Lena Horne, Katheryn Grayson, and Virgina O'Brien, and then quickly segues into a series of star-solos that feature June Allyson, Gower Champion, Cyd Charisse, Angela Lansbury, Dinah Shore, and Frank Sinatra.
Along the way we are also treated to an extended cameo by Judy Garland, performing "Look For The Silver Lining" precisely as Marilyn Miller played it on stage and singing "Who?" to a staircase of chorus boys--which Garland was said to find most amusing, considering that she was pregnant at the time. Also notable is Lucille Bremer in the role of Robert Walker's stage-struck ward; although her star quickly faded, Bremer is an attractive performer and shows her talent for song and dance here by teaming with Van Johnson for a spirited version of "I Won't Dance." TIL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY will not appeal to most casual viewers, for the story line and script are much too weak. But musical fans will love this one all the way from Lansbury doing a Cockney "Spoon With Me" to Sinatra belting out "Old Man River." As a Jerome Kern song-and-dance fest, the movie can't be beat, and it should have a place in every musical fan's collection.
Unfortunately, TIL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY has slipped into public domain. DVD releases abound, but none seem to offer respectable picture or sound; if you can find the original MGM video release, grab it.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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
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.
Jerome Kern is the subject of this biopic that MGM put together as an
after thought because even though it's about the great composer's life,
little is learned about him. The movie was directed by Richard Whorf as
a great spectacle, one in which the magnificent talent employed by the
studio is showcased interpreting Mr. Kern's music.
The composer is seen arriving in New York and being referred to a man who is supposed to be the best in arranging songs. The fictitious James Hessler is seen as an influential figure who worked close with Mr. Kern and acted as his mentor and collaborator. By his own admission Mr. Kern was not an exciting figure, but he left behind a body of work that still is vital and has survived the passing of time, as his songs became standards.
The main reason for watching the film is to enjoy the MGM stars doing what they did best, singing and dancing for our benefit. In a spectacular and colorful finale, we are treated to a wonderful production number involving Jerome Kern's best known songs.
Robert Walker's take on the composer makes a bland figure out of Mr. Kern. Van Heflin as Hessler proves to be much better. In the musical numbers we are treated by Lena Horne, June Allison, Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse, Lucille Bremen, Van Johnson, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury and others.
Although the film doesn't break new ground, it's a wonderful way to catch up with the stars in the background in some great renditions of Jerome Kern's beautiful songs.
Biography of song writer Jerome Kern played by Robert Walker. I'm not sure
how factual this is but my guess is not very. It just seems an excuse for
MGM to trot out all their musical and dancing stars out in bright, billiant
Technicolor to belt out Kern's tunes. As for the non-musical numbers the
"drama" is trite and everybody is so nice and squeaky clean you want to
scream--and Walker seems VERY uncomfortable in the title
Still it looks just great and there are many musical highlights: the mini-production of "Showboat"; Lena Horne singing "Can't Help Loving Dat Man"; young, beautiful and bosomy Angela Landsbury belting out a dance hall song; the title tune; Judy Garland sings two numbers and Van Johnson singing and dancing (!!!). The other numbers are good but just lack that spark to make them memorable.
So...see it for the music.
I have always liked this movie and as time goes on it seems to be a bit dated but if you like Technicolor and musicals you will like this movie. Most of the stars are unfamiliar to audiences today and you must suspend your belief in this being a true story of Jerome Kern and just enjoy the music and dance. Great Judy Garland sequences and great color. Unfortunately, the movie's copyright has lapsed and you can only get inferior versions on DVD. Occasionally, TCM will show this film with a good print. Jerome Kern, by his own admission, was not very exciting, so having Robert Walker play him didn't harm the man's reputation. Good job by Van Heflin. The worst performance has to be the woman who plays Kern's wife. All musical numbers are well done and great entertainment. I recommend this for anyone who wants to see an old 40's musical, keeping in mind what audiences in those days liked and expected.
This film has a cast of Giants of the Silver Screen, Frank Sinatra looking like a baby face who was American's Top Male Singer of the 1940's, every young ladies heart throb! Robert Walker(Jerome Kern) "Stranger's on A Train" '52 played a great role as the composer of "Show Boat" and many other great musicals. The cast of June Allyson, Van Heflin and Lena Horne "Stormy Weather" '40s and even Angela Lansbury, of "Murder She Wrote" appeared in this great film. Vincenti Minnelli, Judy Garland's husband at the time made this a must see film for all generations to enjoy. If you love good romantic music which will live on forever and ever, see this wonderful refreshing film which will warm your heart and soul!
This movie, about the life and times of stage composer Jerome Kern works best when it showcases pieces of his famous musical productions such as SHOWBOAT, LEAVE IT TO JANE, SALLY, OH BOY amongst others. The story of his life just proves a lot less interesting...no that's not the right word I'm looking for...I mean a lot less captivating than his music. When we see stars such as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin, Angela Lansbury, June Allyson, Lena Horne, Katherine Grayson, Cyd Charisse, Ray McDonald amongst others singing and performing on stage, there's magic in the air. Robert Walker as Kern does prove likable enough in the lead role and there's an innocent charm at work in these proceedings but things do run on perhaps a little too long.
Well this is an interesting film from the times when MGM was simply an
enormous studio pouring out more film then, it seems we could ever
I have to say this film is simply boring and the length is far too long. The idea of the film is great and there's one more factor that makes it memorable.
They say MGM had more stars then were in the galaxy. They have plenty in this film and some still stand today. Judy (Garland), Angela (Lansbury) and Frank (Sinatra) all gave the film zest with their musical numbers. However the only problem with the film is, it's very hard to watch in just one showing.
However if you like the history of MGM, watch the studio with power, zest and plenty of stars to pass the time as those clouds roll by.
When MGM in its heyday made so-called biographies of musical figures such as
Jerome Kern, Rodger & Hart, and Sigmund Romberg, the story is about as
consequential as they were in those early Broadway musicals. So out with
the story, and on with the songs.
The film opens with a montage of numbers from "Show Boat"; Kathryn Grayson (who would later be seen in the 1951 film version) sings the role of Magnolia with Tony Martin as Gaylord Ravenal; Their rendition of "Make Believe" is alright; Grayson had a more charismatic partner in the film with Howard Keel; Martin had little screen presence which weakens the duet in spite of his fine voice. Virginia O'Brien sings a sassy "Life Upn the Wicked Stage" in a version I much prefer over the later Marge & Gower Champion version; Lena Horne as Julie beautifully sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", making one wish the studio had cast her in the later version. (Note: Gardner wasn't bad, but Horne would have brought more sympathy and historical significance in the role). Worst of all in this 15-minute montage is Caleb Peterson's off-key rendition of "Old Man River", which is just unbearable to listen to.
Other musical numbers I want to comment on: "Till the Clouds Roll By" with Ray MacDonald is a catchy tune that is well staged and performed. "How'd You Like to Spoon With Me?" is also a catchy English music hall number with the wonderful Angela Lansbury; Set with girls on swings, it is also well staged, and if Lansbury sang the song herself, she did a good job. (Note: She did sound an awful like she did on cast albums of her future Broadway shows). Pregnant with Liza Minnelli at the time, Judy Garland (as Ziegfeld diva Marilyn Miller) is fist seen singing "Look For the Silver Lining" with dirt on her fact and hidden by a pile of dishes. A beautiful song, but not a memorable setting for MGM's most memorable musical diva. Better off for Garland is the circus-set "Sunny" (a true camp-fest) which meshes into the show-stopping "Who?". Garland has a few dramatic sequences here, trying to convince spoiled Lucille Bremer that her songs were taken away from her for the good of the show. Bremer simply pouted and acted like a bad seed; she gave a performance totally lacking sympathy. Hense, when she turns up later singing "I Won't Dance" with Van Johnson, you want him to respond "I didn't ask you".
I won't make any comments about Robert Walker's performance as Jerome Kern; Let's just say he was better than Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart in "Words and Music". As Walker's mentor (and bratty Bremer's father), Van Heflin seems to have no reason to be there other than to add a star name. Fortunately, there are enough star performers doing musical numbers to make this interesting. Let me not forget to mention June ("Depends") Allyson singing "Cleopatterer" in a sequence from "Leave It to Jane". Allyson, never a looker, still could sell a song, do a dance, and make the audience cry. Here, she does the first two very well; It's nice to see her in a performance not dependant on manipulating audience sympathy. Add Dinah Shore (briefly) singing "The Last Time I Saw Paris", which leads into a finale badly started out by having Bremer's character, now a star at MGM, singing a tribute to Kern. At least we get to glimpse Grayson, O'Brien, and Horne again before "Ole' Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra comes on to croon "Old Man River". Skinny enough to where he almost fades into the white background, Sinatra still knows how to deliver a song. This was MGM's big Christmas release for 1946, so you can bet it was major box office. For audiences fighting the post-war blues, it was the perfect remedy. Today, it satisfies, but leaves one hungry for more an hour later.
Visually colossal and musically thrilling spectacular made in the lush money years at MGM with the full chocolate box of Technicolor resources shoveled incessantly at the audience. Van Heflin and Robert Walker are rather uninteresting as composers (Walker as Jerome Kern) but as a monster musical with lavishness beauty and great dance numbers, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY is up there with the best. One song "They Didn't Believe Me" sung by Dinah Shore in this film is an exquisite rendition, and rarely heard in any musical, so it is a sublime treat here... and of course one of many. Musical fans will enjoy seeing the source film for a lot of THATS ENTERTAINMENT clips. Any film that allows more of the "Roberta" score is a hit with me anyway. In the late 1960s, a new technicolour print of CLOUDS was found in a vault in Sydney. It received a cinema reissue and was very successful.
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