Let’s wrap this puppy up

Posted: January 13, 2019 in music, Record reviews
Tags: ,

emma blizzard 04

Right you film fans. Our look at movies about music concludes with Category D: Old biopic crud from Hollywood, by which I mean everything from before Hollywood discovered that not all people are white.

I was mainly thinking of the ’50s and before, but once I seriously got into this, I found I didn’t want to revisit these old music flicks. They’re too restricted, racially (you couldn’t make a story about a black entertainer, but you could black the face of a white one) and technologically. Also, I want to move on to something else. These six will stand for all the rest.

The Jazz Singer (1927)
Scholars have written books about this one, so I’m not going to touch it, except to say that the soundtrack is an example of how musical tastes change. No one alive today would choose to spend one minute with “April Showers,” “There’s a Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder,” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” or that ultimate in cultural appropriation, “My Mammy,” and their incredibly hammy performances. The auditory quality is, of course, dreadful. What else? It was 1927!

The film was remade in 1980 with Neil Diamond and no blackface.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was placed on the National Film Registry for being “the most obvious film ever made.” James Cagney won the Best Actor Oscar, and he earned it – he’s in every scene except the one where his character is born and the Civil War reenactors fire off a cannon because it’s a boy. He never stops talking, singing, dancing, cajoling, bantering, butting in, and exploding off the walls. Jimmy Cagney was a one-man bouncy castle.

I have this suspicion…and I apologize for expressing a negative thought about the film that won the war…that Yankee Doodle Dandy does not accurately portray the life of a working vaudeville entertainer from the early 1900s. I think they fudged some of this stuff. Like maybe all of it.

The official soundtrack wasn’t released until 1989.

Young Man with a Horn (1950)
Kirk Douglas falls in with some African-American musicians who sense his white power and bless him with their black magic. Daring at the time. Even if you can get past this, you’re still stuck inside a Kirk Douglas movie from 1950. Do you believe Douglas as a Roman slave? A Viking berserker? An Australian gold miner? How about as a trumpeter? I wouldn’t hire him to play a green tambourine.

The Glenn Miller Story (1954)
Jimmy Stewart, who flew more than 50 missions over Nazi Germany, plays band leader Glenn Miller, whose plane disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel in 1944. I know I saw this picture several times on the “Million Dollar Movie” rerun channel in the ’60s, but all I remember today is that Stewart looked good in a uniform. The soundtrack is a passable big band compilation. You can find better ones.

The Eddie Duchin Story (1956)
The forgotten Tyrone Power massacres this portrait of forgotten pianist and band leader Eddie Duchin, with music by the forgotten Carmen Cavallaro. Cavallaro’s readings of Duchin’s works are overwrought, about what you’d expect from Liberace. They probably hired him because he was cheaper than Liberace. One grace note: Cavallaro’s “Chopsticks.” Must be heard to be believed.

The Benny Goodman Story (1956)
Suggested by Loyal Reader Wm Seabrook. Good thought, Bill. Steve Allen (“Steverino”) plays Benny Goodman, who made musical history in the U.S. with the first integrated orchestra. “If a man’s got it, let him give it,” Goodman declared. “I’m selling music, not prejudice.”

Whether Allen as Goodman says that in The Benny Goodman Story, I can’t recall. I know this was another “Million Dollar Movie” rerun, which is where I saw it when I wasn’t watching Get Smart! or 12 O’Clock High. I wonder how serious they were about tackling the integration issue: there are nine real musicians in this film, including Steve Allen, but only two are African-American, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson. (There’s one African-American dancer: Sammy Davis, Sr.).

Nevermind the quality of the film. The soundtrack is a must-have collection of Benny Goodman performances, most of them live, and as I type this you can buy it on Amazon for $1.66 or just 1,500 Euros.

Thank you for reading along this past week as I meandered through movie history. I received super suggestions from Loyal Readers mikenr (“I put forth the fantasy biopic Yellow Submarine for your ridicule”) and Darwin (Across the Universe, “one of my favorite movies ever”). In time, gentlemen. Those will be a pleasure to rewatch.

And here’s something I never thought I’d write: Thank you, Queen.

Notes: The photo is of Emma, Boise, Idaho, 2004. She was mesmerized by a bone and didn’t notice when it started snowing. The title is from Loyal Reader lizkatz, who said this toward the end of one of our Passover seders.



  1. mikener says:

    Thank you, Queen.

    You know, Homer Simpson once sang a similar sentiment, rephrasing Frank Sinatra’s “A Very Good Year”:

    When I was 17
    I drank some very good beer
    I drank some very good beer
    I purchased with a fake I.D.
    My was Brian Mcgee
    I stayed up listening to Queen
    When I was 17

    Now, I’ll always think of this as Bryan’s Song.
    Thank you, Queen.

  2. lizkatz says:

    And I’ve said this toward the end of many a project. 🙂

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