Biography of songwriter and Broadway pioneer, Jerome Kern (Robert Walker). Unable to find immediate success in the U.S., Kern sought recognition abroad. He journeyed to England where his dreams of success became real and where he met his future wife Eva Leale (Dorothy Patrick).
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Paul Whiteman and Orchestra
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>
[Scrolling Prologue] This story of Jerome Kern is best told in the bars and measures, the quarter notes and grace notes of his own music - - that music that sings so eloquently his love of people, love of country, love of life. We who have sung it and will sing it to our children can only be grateful that he gave his life to music - - and gave that music to us.
On December 27, 1927, the curtain went up on the most exciting night of his life - the opening of his immortal "Show Boat." And there we join him - See more »
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.
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