From The Warner Archive: Rhapsody In Blue, 1945 (dir. Irving Rapper)
Although fictionalized (including adding two romances), Irving Rapper’s sweeping biopic of George Gershwin – whose contribution to the Great American Songbook is perhaps rivaled only by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter – is highly entertaining and this newly remastered edition, available at the Warner Archive, is a must for classic film and music lovers alike.
I’m more of a Cole Porter man myself (or woman, I guess), but I can’t deny I really love the titular song as well as Someone To Watch Over Me. I actually didn’t know much about Gershwin, aside from the whole working with his brother Ira thing, before I watched this film. Keep in mind, like I said earlier, there is a lot of fiction in this biopic (not one, but TWO made up romances), but it does stay relatively true to the story of his rise as one of America’s most beloved composers (or perhaps, at least, his spirit). It also features several cameos by real-life friends/colleagues of Gershwin, like Al Jolson, Oscar Levant, Paul Whiteman, George White, Hazel Scott and Anne Brown.
Robert Alda (father of Alan), does a wonderful job playing the driven musician. If you look at pictures of Gershwin, you’ll notice they did a pretty great job with this casting looks-wise, as well. There are several shots of Gershwin playing the piano and it made me wonder if it were a piano double or Alda really was that good.
Regardless, the film, like many a musical biopic of the era, is chock full of song performances – some of Gershwin alone and others reenactments of his Broadway songs.
Most of the Broadway numbers – save the one where a much too old Al Jolson sings Swanee (in blackface, of course) – are sung by Joan Leslie playing the fictional Julie Adams. Boy does she have a beautiful voice. This was the one of the two fictionalized romances I actually like (the other was a rich expatriate he meets in France, played by Alexis Smith). Leslie was in a handful of films during her career – including a small role in 1941’s High Sierra – but this may well be her crowning achievement.
Hazel Scott, playing herself, sings snippets from several Gershwin tunes, including “The Man I Love”,”Clap Your Hands”,”Fascinating Rhythm,” “Yankee Doodle Blues,” and “”I Got Rhythm”. Her rendition of the latter may well be my favorite I’ve ever heard.
Oscar Levant is a hoot playing himself as well. Caustic as ever, Levant keeps Alda’s Gershwin grounded throughout the film. His mourning for the loss of his friend at the end is truly heartbreaking. Especially when you realize he is playing himself, thus the emotions on his face are likely caused by remembering his actual grief.
I can’t not mention Charles Coburn as publisher Max Dreyfus. Coburn – who won an Oscar for his role in 1943’s The More The Merrier – is one of the great character actors in all of cinema’s history. If you see his name in the opening credits you know, at the very least, he will be worth the admission price (or, I guess in this day and age, time you spend away from the internet).
I wish they had spent a little more time with the relationship between George and Ira, though. Herbert Rudley is perfectly cast as the straight man Ira to George’s manic genius; he’s the big brother through and through.
Lastly, I just have to mention the dog Tinker (real name or not, I am unsure), because he is so damn cute. He doesn’t do any tricks or anything, other than being cute. But being cute is really enough sometimes.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.
Posted on February 25, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged 1945, Charles Coburn, George Gershwin, Hazel Scott, Herbert Rudley, Irving Rapper, Joan Leslie, Oscar Levant, Rhapsody In Blue, Robert Alda, the Warner Archive. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.