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Durbin and Price are in top form; both are charming, and hit just the
right light note in their acting style. Dick Haymes sings very well,
but lacks charisma and spark as an actor. The actor playing Durbin's
Irish father is strictly from the Barry Fitzgerald school of ersatz
Contrary to what another reviewer said, this 100% soundstange shot film shows all to clearly that Universal didn't spend much money on it. Sets are unusually limited in scope for a musical. One example: In one number immigrant Durbin on the deck of a boat coming to America sings about the new countries glories. Not only is the boat deck tiny with the only backdrop a painted sky, but there is not one shot showing what she is singing about, what is supposedly inspiriting her song.
The plot and characters are hardly realistic, but work just fine for a musical. The dialog is well written, better than in the majority of musicals of this era.
The music, what there is of it, has big, well written orchestrations, and the fidelity is excellent on the VHS tape. Johnny Green is credited as composer- music director, and I believe he was head of MGM's music department at the time, so I suspect Universal farmed out musical duties to MGM (L.B. Mayor was father in law to Universal's chief). If so, it was a good decision.
As was standard practice in this era, only a few of the songs written for the stage show on which the film was based made it to the film. The glaring omission is "We'll Be Close As Pages In A Book", which I believe is the only song from the theater production to become popular and have a life outside of the show. It's not in the film, but is very prominently featured in the instrumental title music and is the music which closes the film. Makes me suspect they filmed the song, but cut it before the film was released.
The dialogue and the overflowing production values of 'Up in Central
Park' are two pleasurable surprises so many years afterwards to someone
who is only just discovering the legacy of Deanna Durbin.
What never ceases to amaze me is the high standard of her films. They were, actually and in the flow of things, pretty run-of-the-mill, but the majority of them work incredibly well today, and 'Up in Central Park' is one of the most delightful. It has a magnificent script about a magnate, in actual fact a kind of dictator of New York City who whitewashes his money through Central Park, has the puppet mayor elected by bribing immigrants just off Ellis Island to vote in the names of dead constituents, and is just overall a very bad guy. He is played by Vincent Price, of course, soft-voiced, seductive and insinuating. An utter gentleman even at the end. "I wish more patriots like you would come to this country", he says, debonairly and hilariously. Deanna Durbin is the young Irish girl with dreams of becoming an opera star. She has just arrived in New York with her illiterate father who is given the position of superintendent of Central Park, because Vincent Price thinks his daughter overheard his evil plans for the city. Then enters young, ambitious reporter Dick Haynes with his lovely tenor voice, and he wants to bring the mighty down.
So we have young budding love, we have the older lecher, we have filial duty, and we have scathing political satire, believe me. "If you're strong enough to take something, it belongs to you", Vincent Price says, and the film takes him seriously as it well might, and the jokes aside Price's character is not too far off the mark.
The music is pleasant, the acting a sheer joy, and the pacing admirable.
Question: Who is the most famous/infamous political boss in U.S. History? I
suspect that out of ten informed people, the name pops up is William M.
Tweed, Tammany Hall Sachem from 1863 to 1874 (when circumstances forced him
to resign). Tweed held many important posts in his years of ... public
service. He was a city Commissioner, an alderman, a New York State Senator.
He was even (for only one term in the middle 1850s) a Congressman in
Washington. He was also a bank director and a corporation director. He is,
of course, best remembered for supposedly looting the city of New York out
of between forty and two hundred million dollars in fraudulent contracts and
kickback schemes. Tweed was sent to prison in 1874, escaped in 1875, was
recaptured in Spain in 1876 and returned to the U.S., and died in prison in
There have been dozens of political bosses in our nation's history. Senator Marcus Hanna, who helped make his friend William McKinley President, can be an example of a successful boss (although a relatively honest and honorable one). Matt Quay of Pennsylvania was another. But only historians remember Hanna or Quay or Frank Hague of New Jersey or Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island. Tweed stands out because of one man: the cartoonist Thomas Nast. Nast was a genius in political cartooning (even now his best work is still effective, 102 years after his death and 133 years after his Tweed cartoons got really underway). He took the fat, somewhat vulgar looking Tweed and made him look like the human image of greed (it helped that the name and the word rhymed). It immortalized cartoonist and subject no matter what. Tweed had three or four successors as head of Tammany Hall. At least two of them, Richard Croker and Charles Murphy, were more important and powerful than Tweed ever was. Nobody thinks of them when the term "TAMMANY HALL" comes up - they think of Tweed.
Is this image fair? Most historians follow Gustavus Myers account of the Tweed Rings rise and fall to this day (from Myers book on Tammany Hall). Only recently has a dent been put into this account. In 1977 TWEED'S NEW YORK was written by Leo Hershkovits, and he pointed out that Tweed was working for the interests of all the newly arriving immigrant groups struggling to get settled in the U.S. He was also backing civic improvements like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Prospect and Central Parks, the first attempt at a New York Subway system. His enemies suggested that his interest was in the boodling contracts he and his cohorts gave out, but those same enemies were quite hostile to immigrants (many were former Know Nothings)and most came from the rich part of society. Also many were Republicans, or ambitious Democrats with shady pasts they tried to hide (Samuel Tilden, the future Governor of New York and Presidential Candidate, had been a supporter of the southern Democratic views of slavery and states rights in the Civil War. Tilden and Tweed were enemies). Herkovits may overstate the case but he does reduce the legend a bit. The nature of political life in Tammany was to make profitable deals, and they depended on the immigrants for votes. However the evidence of the large scale thefts is simply not there. The worst example of it, the "Tweed" Courthouse behind City Hall in Manhattan, overran the original two million dollar cost estimate by thirteen million dollars more. It still suggests great corruption, but not the two hundred million losses Myers throws out. I might add that Tweed Courthouse more than has repaid it's original costs. If you watch LAW AND ORDER in one of its various guises, scenes in the courts are shot in that building.
Believe it or not there have only been two films dealing at all with Boss Tweed. More recently Jim Broadbent played Tweed in Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK. He played him as in cahoots with powerful thug (and nativist!) Bill the Butcher Cutter (Daniel Day-Lewis). Bill the Butcher was based on a real thug and killer, Bill "the Butcher" Poole, who was killed by rival gangsters at the Stanwix Hall Saloon in 1857 (six years before the Civil War Draft Riots the film presents). Tweed would never have been allied with Poole, as Poole belonged to the American Party, not the Democrats. However, Broadbent's Tweed at least looked more like the genuine article physically than his one predecessor.
Tweed weighed over three hundred pounds (his death was hastened by diabitis). The actor playing Boss Tweed in UP IN CENTRAL PARK was Vincent Price, playing him like a handsome, powerful (and powerhungry) man. In his dressing gown, entertaining Deanna Durbin (an Irish immigrant lass with education, who learns that Tweed is out for his own good before anyone else), Price is smooth and cultured. No doubt Tweed was intelligent, but his taste in art and literature probably did not match Price's characterization. One wishes Price had tackled the role later in his career (say about the time he did Matthew Hopkins in THE CONQUEROR WORM), and possibly he could have fit the role properly. It is hard to say. He did not match the real Tweed. This is not to say that he is acting poorly. His performance gives the film some zest, and even honesty (when he falls he admits to Durbin that he was brought up to believe that you took what you want). And to be fair, Price's Tweed has enough guts to remain and face the consequences while his accomplices, Governor Motley (Thurston Hall) and Mayor Oakley run off. By the way, Tweed's allied Governor was Governor John T.Hoffman (the last New York City Mayor to rise to the state's Governorship) and the Mayor was Mayor Oakley Hall.
The Sigmund Romberg score for UP IN CENTRAL PARK is not one of his best, and parts of it have been deleted. There was a number about Central Park (where Durbin's father has a job through Tweed) called, "It's the Big Backyard of the City". Price also has a song, "Would You Like to See MY CURRIER & IVES" which is reduced to the song cue in the dialogue, before a scene ends. Durbin does her best, but it is not her best film. It is a mediocre movie, which is best seen to remind oneself of the story of Tweed and his fall, and how it still needs a master film maker to tell it properly.
Up In Central Park marked a successful return to Broadway for Sigmund
Romberg as this musical about the Tammany Hall era of Boss William
Marcy Tweed ran for 504 performances during the 1945-46 season on
Broadway. Instead of the elegant Vincent Price as the powerful Boss of
Tammany Hall Civil War and post Civil War, the part was played by Noah
Beery, Sr. Now that certainly would have called for a different kind of
Musically what Universal Studios gave us is a half baked version of the Broadway Show. Dick Haymes and Deanna Durbin are in good voice for th Sigmund Romberg-Dorothy Fields numbers still left, but because the music is cut the emphasis of the film turns to Price.
Young Deanna Durbin and her father Albert Sharpe are freshly arrived from Ireland and immediately as was the tradition back in the day, welcomed to the shores by the Tammany political machine. Sharpe takes to the repeat voting the way that Brian Donlevy did in The Great McGinty, but his rise only consists of becoming the superintendent of Central Park which the Tweed Ring plans to 'improve' with many kickbacks for themselves.
In the meantime Durbin comes to the attention of Price, but she also comes to the attention of crusading reporter Dick Haymes. They make beautiful music together and apart in what little is left of the Romberg-Fields score.
If Up In Central Park had been done at MGM it surely would have gotten the production needed for this musical. Unforgivably the big hit song of the film Close As Pages In A Book was not performed and it's a duet which I'm sure Haymes and Durbin would have been great at. I'm betting it ended on the cutting room floor. Close As Pages In A Book is heard on the soundtrack as background music
There's another nice song called It Doesn't Cost You Anything To Dream that was also cut. But what I was most disappointed in was a number called The Fireman's Bride that was not included. It's a rollicking number that I have a recording of Jeanette MacDonald and Robert Merrill doing and I'm sure it must have been great on stage. When it wasn't in the film I was truly disappointed.
Casting Vincent Price as Tweed was a stroke of genius. I truly think that a young woman's virtue would have been far more in danger from him than from Noah Beery. Remembering the villains Beery played on screen, he would have to get really overbearing and physical which he must have on stage.
As a musical Up In Central Park is disappointing, but fans of Vincent Price will appreciate this actor displaying the fact he could do far more than horror films.
As far as I know, this was the last time Deanna Durbin stood before the
cameras (even though For The Love of Mary was released some months
later, having been shelved for a while). She has gained a few extra
pounds, but her voice has also gained weight: the one short operatic
excerpt proves that she was becoming a proper soprano with rich, full,
operatic voice. It's a pity she doesn't sing more in this film, and
also a great pity she didn't pursue career in opera as she quit movies.
Why Universal didn't shoot this in full color and why they cast Dick Haynes, are beyond me. This shouldn't have been a project to save money with, but to spend spend spend! It's very well written and just plain interesting. The story runs smoothly and is quite multidimensional - you can understand most of the characters and their motives, and even the smooth villain becomes rather sympathetic once he explains his views on life to Deanna whom he really seems to cherish. But then again, Vincent Price is at his very best here, sexy and handsome as the Devil, and their scenes with Durbin are really sizzling, so one might turn a blind eye to his evil nature and be lulled into sleep by his silky voice and seductive manners. With Dick Haynes the things get to a halt - he's obviously miscast and seems rather uncomfortable. There's no electricity between him and Deanna.
This film would work well even as a straight picture. The musical numbers are only a few and even though not very memorable, they blend in well with the action. Not at all a bad pastime for Durbin / Price fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sigmund Romberg and Dorothy Field's mid-tier score (Decca recorded
eight numbers but only used two of the four leads on their "cast
album") but first tier wartime Broadway hit (504 performances at the
New Century and Broadway Theatres from 27 January 1945 to 13 April
1946, which the movie trailer inflated to "a thousand") made an unusual
but surprisingly pleasing transfer from stage to screen under the
banner of Universal International.
Because the stage show blended a tale of Irish immigration and crusading reporting with the graft and corruption of New York political boss William Marcy Tweed (made infamous by editorial caricaturist Thomas Nast, who more or less invented the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey) and "improvements" to New York's "big back yard," Central Park, Universal promoted one side of the central love triangle between the reporter (Dick Haymes), the female lead (an Irish colleen, Rosie, played by Durbin) and one of Tweed's nefarious henchmen (who on stage MARRIED Rosie only to desert her when the inevitable scandals came, but died in a street brawl to free Rosie to marry her true investigative reporter love) to an affair between Rosie and the already married TWEED (played with suave assurance by Vincent Price at his best - but looking *nothing* like the famous Nast caricatures.
While the trailer proclaims the movie boasts "ALL THE SPECTACLE AND SONG OF BROADWAY'S HAPPIEST MUSICAL," the claim is typical Hollywood hyperbole. Much of the best known music from the show has been omitted. Although the biggest hit from the show, "Close As the Pages In A Book," is prominently played through out the Overture under the opening credits, it was cut from the film itself - apparently the robust seduction song for the rich baritone of Wilbur Evans on stage was felt wrong for the lighter instrument of big band singer Dick Haymes who was wrapping up a mid-level 40's film career. Because of video releases, he may be best remembered for the films of STATE FAIR and ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, but he does a nice enough job with Evans' other hits, "Carousel In The Park" and "When You Walk In The Room," here.
The casting of the still satisfying Durbin (in her last filmed role - if next-to-last released) in the lead was another minor problem. Romberg was a fine composer for her, and added an excellent opening number for her character, the proto-patriotic "I Like What I See," as her ship enters New York Harbour, but the film ALSO adds an aria for the colleen with operatic singing ambitions (Tweed will open the door for her in addition to getting her father - Albert Sharpe, "star of the Broadway stage hit, FINIAN'S RAINBOW"; a decade later, Sharpe was "Darby O'Gill" for Disney - a job as his henchman had on stage). The number is there to show off Durbin's excellent voice, and it does, but since Rosie is dramatically supposed to be unready for a big opera break, Durbin's obviously BEING ready undercuts Haymes' plot important contention that we need to earn what we receive.
On another level however, UP IN CENTRAL PARK preserves a significant part of the hit stage production it rarely gets credit for: Universal International hired famed Broadway choreographer Helen Tamaris to recreate some of her Broadway staging and to judge from the production photographs of the original production, she did that admirably. Tamiris is only credited on two Hollywood films; this and 1952's JUST FOR YOU, a Bing Crosby piece based on a Stephen Vincent Benet story. Veteran of 16 Broadway shows (UP IN CENTRAL PARK was her fourth), this film probably represents her best preserved work. While the delightful stage song "Currier & Ives" (as Tweed puts the moves on Rosie) is reduced to a mere song cue in the film, it still introduces Tamiris' excellent "Skaters' Ballet," one of the highlights of the show, and her energetic (occasionally to the point of silliness - as at Boss Tweeds' party near the end) stage based dances are well woven all through the film.
At barely 88 minutes, Universal International and screenwriter Karl Turnberg found it surprisingly easy to trim down a two plus hour stage story for the screen merely by cutting the main comedy subplot (Rosie's social climbing friend who sang about "The Fireman's Bride" is nowhere to be seen) and the time needed to dispose of the husband Rosie doesn't acquire in this version - the ever suave Price/Tweed frees her with gracious honor when the scandals come. What remains is a surprisingly pleasant, even satisfying postcard to a past not as much more "innocent" than today as we might like to think.
One last interesting note in the film's trailer included in the VHS release: there is a brief clip of an audience supposedly applauding the stage show just before the original Broadway Playbill cover is shown, and most audiences will assume it is merely a stock film clip of a generic audience and theatre, but if you look closely at the clip and surviving photos of the New Century Theatre, the undoubtedly staged clip appears to be of that long vanished Broadway house where UP IN CENTRAL PARK played the first six months of its New York run! It's a nice touch.
For a film of a significant Broadway hit, UP IN CENTRAL PARK doubtless should have been in color and more respect should have been given to the real hits in the score (little though they may be remembered by many today), but the film remains an enjoyable curio and well worth a look - especially for fans of any of the four leads.
Not a bad film, in fact quite good, just a little underwhelming at the same time. It has a lot of things to like, there are a lot of omissions(We'll be close as Pages in a Book- though it's used as a cue at the end- and Fireman's Bride being the glaring omissions) but the music is still absolutely beautiful, the sprightly Oh Say, Can You See standing out. Pace, Pace Mio Dio from La Forza Del Destino is beautifully sung and is one of Verdi's best but most difficult soprano arias. The script is delightfully witty, and the story while not the most exceptional in the world is compelling. The choreography and dancing is professional and danced with elegance. In terms of scenes, Durbin's and Price's scenes are a joy but the highlight is the great Currier and Ives ballet. Deanna Durbin is just radiant and brings girlish naiveté to good effect, she's in great voice too, love the richness. Vincent Price is perfectly cast, while he's at his best in the menacing yet sympathetic roles he'd take on later it's easy to love how suave, handsome, smarmy and charismatic he is. Albert Sharpe is also good. Other than the omissions of some of the best songs of Up in Central Park or reducing them to musical cues, the scant length and Dick Haymes' at times likable but stiff performance(he does have a nice voice though and in all fairness his material is not as juicy as Durbin's and Price's), it's in the production values where Up in Central Park falls down most on. The costumes are fine, but the sets are rather stuffy and the use of locations are far too restricted, any opportunities of seeing the locations properly are not used to full effect and the likes of the zoo and carousel are only seen in as much as a few shots. In conclusion, a pleasant film and a good vehicle for Durbin(essentially what it was billed as)- though Price comes extremely close to stealing the show from under her- but at the same time it's disappointing. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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