Thursday, April 02, 2015


Carnegie Hall cleaning lady Nora Ryan (Marsha Hunt) sees pianist Tony Salerno get in an argument with a conductor over how to play Tchaikovsky. Salerno is fired but Nora befriends him that night and tells him how, as a child, she was present at the opening of the Hall to see Tchaikovsky himself conduct his own symphony. Nora and Salerno fall in love, get married, and raise a child, Tony Jr., but one night, the alcoholic Salerno falls down the stairs and dies. Over the years, Nora works her way up to become a concert supervisor at Carnegie Hall and becomes dismayed when Tony Jr. (William Prince), trained in the classics, takes a liking to jazz, hooks up with a big band singer, and strikes out on his own playing in what his mom sees as disreputable clubs. Of course, by the end, jazz and classical meet up as Tony successfully debuts his jazz concerto (with Harry James) at, you guessed it, Carnegie Hall, with Nora in attendance.

The plot takes up probably less than half of this film's two and a half hour running time; much of the movie consists of performances of classical pieces by famous musicians of the day, performed (I assume) in Carnegie Hall. This was a project close to B-movie director Edgar G. Ulmer's heart, and though it may not quite rise to A-grade filmmaking, it is nicely shot in a striking, almost film-noir style. The acting is so-so, and Hunt (pictured at right with Prince) isn't helped by her rather poor old-age make-up. Among the real-life musicians appearing in the film are conductors Walter Damrosch and Bruno Walter, singers Rise Stevens, Ezio Pinza and Vaughn Monroe, pianist Artur Rubinstein, and violinist Jascha Heifetz. In the middle of the movie, I thought, man, these musical interludes are so long that they hurt the momentum of the narrative, but then I realized that Ulmer probably wished he could have discarded the plot altogether and done a Fantasia-style movie. Interesting if not essential viewing, except for Ulmer fans. [TCM]

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