Monday, March 24, 2003


Among the studios that were regularly releasing musicals in the 30's and 40's, Fox comes in pretty much dead last behind MGM, Warners, and RKO. This movie is a good example of why. It's not terrible, and it has some talented people and some great songs, but it's just so bland and mediocre. This might well be the first of the fictional show biz bio musicals that became so popular in the 40's. Later ones, like MGM's TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (which I reveiwed 11/02) and WORDS AND MUSIC, were based very loosely on real people; this one, though filled with the music of Irving Berlin, is completely fictional and painfully predictable, and the production numbers are not spectacular enough to overcome the film's dramatic problems. Tyrone Power plays Roger Grant, a "serious" musician who decides he'd rather take a shot at making a living playing popular music, much to the dismay of his guardian (Helen Westley) and mentor (Jean Hersholt). As he and his band make the audition rounds, they cross paths with ill-tempered singer Alice Faye, who happens to have a new song sent to her by Mr. Berlin. The song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," gets them a job and provides the band with a name. The rest of the film charts their rise and fall, together and apart. Piano player Don Ameche falls for Faye, but after an initial spell of rubbing each other the wrong way, she falls for Power. Soon the feeling becomes mutual--it happens while she sings a song written to and for her by Ameche--but she is discovered by a Broadway producer and she leaves without the band.

Over time, Ameche and Faye work together and get married, though the coupling is clearly a passionless one on her part. Meanwhile, Power enlists Ethel Merman to sing with his band; they're half-heartedly attracted to each other, but we know that somehow, Faye and Power will wind up in each other's arms by the last song. The plodding story is punctuated with solid renditions of Berlin songs like "Blue Skies," "Easter Parade," "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," and "My Walking Stick," but few of the numbers have the razzle-dazzle of the Busby Berkeley or Fred Astaire films of the time. I hate to say this, but it might have stood the test of time better if it had been filmed in color. Power and Faye are fine, Merman is in great voice, and the supporting cast features Jack Haley, John Carradine, and Douglas Fowley. The climax occurs at a swing concert the band gives at Carneige Hall (probably patterned after similar real-life events by Benny Goodman or Paul Whiteman), but it doesn't help that the music is neither ragtime nor swing!

No comments: