Wednesday, January 13, 2016


This heavily fictionalized biopic of Italian violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini begins in Genoa when the young struggling musician is paid to play violin in front of a prisoner's cell. The prisoner's lovely and wealthy daughter, Jeanne de Vermond (Phyllis Calvert), tells Nicolo (Stewart Granger) that her father loves violin music, but actually he uses the sound of the music to cover up the sound of him filing away the bars in his window so he can escape. Nicolo goes to Parma, wins a Stradivarius in a contest by playing a difficult piece of music, and meets up with Jeanne who invites him to play at a party, but he is mostly ignored by the partygoers and he leaves in a huff, but not before the sexy singer Bianchi (Jean Kent), an old flame of Nicolo's, renews their relationship. The rest of the film charts the ups and downs of Nicolo's career and love life. He wants to marry Jeanne, but she is commanded by Napoleon to marry an army officer (Dennis Price). The two men duel over her and the wounded Nicolo loses her, but winds up taking up with Bianchi for a time until fate conspires to have Jeanne enter his life once more.

This is not terribly exciting, but as a piece of typical Hollywood biofluff (even though it's a British film), it's not bad. Granger is OK as Paganini, and does a very good job of faking playing the violin in several scenes—actually played by Yehudi Menuhin with some close-up shots of violin-playing hands supplied by David McCallum’s father who played violin for The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The movie has the feel of a B-plus budget, but generally the sets are fine and the number of extras in any given scene adequate; most impressive is the scene in which Napoleon's soldiers march into town during a concert by Paganini. What truly kept me entertained throughout was the performance of Cecil Parker as Germi, Paganini's manager—he's designed as a comic relief character, but Parker fleshes him out as much as he can to the point where I really cared more about him than either of the two women in Paganini's life. Favorite line, spoken to Jeanne by her mother, who disapproves of Paganini: "We de Vermond women never kiss anyone of lower station." [Netflix streaming]

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