Rhapsody in Blue

Ring a Ding Ding

Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

     George Gershwin is probably my favorite composer after Cole Porter, so I was naturally interested in Rhapsody in Blue, a docudrama about his life. I can honestly say, however, that my conclusion of this film’s worth is independent of whatever favorable bias I might have. It’s a really darn good movie.

     I have found that with nondocumentary features about someone’s life, one has to take the story with grain of salt. I think this is especially true for older movies of this sort, and I point directly to Night and Day about Cole Porter, which was referenced in the contemporary Delovely as being quite the fanciful take on the homosexual composer’s life. That being said, I cannot attest to the accuracy of Rhapsody in Blue as I have not read up on the actual life and times of the great Gershwin. In fact, TCM.com calls the movie a “fictionalized” account of his life, so who knows what was taken from reality.
     Robert Alda plays George, who grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan with his parents and older brother Ira (who would eventually become a lyricist and contribute to a great number of his brother’s scores). He has an early knack for piano playing and works his way through various teachers until sticking with Professor Frank (Albert Basserman). He tries various jobs including substitute pianist for Chico Marx (yet to be seen on screen) and pianist at a shop selling sheet music. It is in the latter job that he meets Julie Adams (Joan Leslie) when demonstrating sheet music, including something of his own.
     George eventually has his music published after Al Jolson, playing himself, sings “Swanee” in a show, and he starts to write songs for a variety of stage productions thereafter, ever growing in popularity. He eventually strives to compose a concerto and “Rhapsody in Blue” is born. Now George goes to France to study music, but ends up fawning over an artist, Christine Gilbert (Alexis Smith) and brings her back to New York where girlfriend Julie is crushed. Nevertheless the new woman eventually goes her own way leaving George to live the single life. Next up is an opera, which becomes “Porgy and Bess”. George dies rather suddenly after trying to reconnect with Julie.
     Perhaps the best part of this movie was the performers playing themselves. Oscar Levant plays himself, apparently a close friend and frequent arranger of Gershwin’s tunes. Bandleader Paul Whiteman was instrumental in bringing some of his songs to success, and the aforementioned Al Jolson. Also showing up were Director George White, jazz pianist/singer Hazel Scott, and Anne Brown, the original Bess from “Porgy and Bess”.  I’ve always enjoyed Levant for his dry humor. He makes a great addition to any picture.
     The flick nicely highlights some of the most notable Gershwin classics. The movie plays the full 10 minute orchestration of “Rhapsody in Blue”, which one would expect to get dull, but it sure is riveting.
     I also must point out that Alexis Smith plays Gershwin’s love interest in France. She also played Linda Porter, wife to Cole, in Night and Day, which is a strange coincidence.
  • Rhapsody in Blue is set for midnight ET April 30 and 1:30 p.m. ET May 9 on TCM.

The Corn is Green

Ring a Ding Ding

The Corn is Green (1945)

     Someone said to me recently that Bette Davis never made a bad movie, and as I move further into her repertoire, I am inclined to agree. Even a movie with such an uninteresting title as The Corn is Green (which, of course, has its source in something said/written in the story) is a great piece of work. Unfortunately, audiences did not flock to see the film at the time.

     A now 37-year-old Davis assumes the part of a spinster school teacher in The Corn is Green. Her character moves into a mining town in Wales in 1895 after inheriting a home and some property, which she intends to transform into a school. The trouble is, children are sent to work in the mines at age 12, so Davis’ Miss Moffat must fight the powers that be to have children attend. She stumbles upon a particularly bright teenager who has a flair for writing, even if his grammar and spelling are foul. She works with Morgan (John Dall) individually as the school becomes progressively more popular, but when she pushes him too hard, Morgan returns to the mines.

     Also in the mix is Miss Moffat’s housekeeper’s daughter, who can only be described as an unruly tramp. Not only is she generally disrespectful to all adults (her mother confesses to never liking the girl) but she seduces Morgan, which later results in the forthcoming of “a little stranger.” By this point, Morgan has returned to school and nervously sits for a written admission test to Oxford. Miss Moffat manages to silence the pregnant Bessie (Joan Lorring) by sending her away and paying to support her. A glamorous Bessie –hellbent on stirring trouble– returns just as Morgan arrives home from an interview with the university and learns of his acceptance. 

     Based on a play of the same name, Davis took up a role occupied by Ethel Barrymore on the stage.  The story could have been thoroughly heartwarming and interesting if it had only focused on Miss Moffat, Morgan and the school. Instead, the plot adds the additional element of Bessie. The young woman gives a sharp performance as a girl who has developed an antisocial mind of her own. Dall is absolutely splendid as Morgan. His amusing accent and good looks add to the pleasure of watching him so perfectly convey the natural emotions and reactions a young man in his position would endure. Both Lorring and Dall received supporting role Oscar nominations. Despite pressure from Warner Bros., Davis failed to receive a nomination from the Academy.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

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