Friday, 12 February 2010

Words and Music (1948)

I was watching a film programme on television and the reviewer said that the new release "Valentine's Day" had the starriest cast ever. I nearly fell on the floor! So many of today's "big" names are unlikely to endure or to be of much interest to film buffs in not-so-many years from now. It's not as if all-star casts are anything new. Just look at the later Robert Altman movies like "Short Cuts" or "The Player" or war extravaganzas like "D-Day, the Sixth of June".

However if you really want to find examples of starry casts, look no further than the various music biopics like "The Ziegfield Follies", "When the Clouds Roll By", and the film I am considering today. Among the cast (some of whom are playing themselves) are Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Perry Como, Cyd Charisse, Vera Ellen, Mel Torme, Lena Horne (singing my all-time favourite song "Where or When"), June Allyson, Ann Sothern, and Janet Leigh. I think that line-up beats the Jessicas Alba and Biel.

This movie is the very sanitized bio of composing team Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers, better known for his later collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein. Rooney plays the talented yet unreliable Hart, while Tom Drake (the rather boring boy-next-door from "Meet Me in St. Louis") plays the equally boring Rodgers. Their true story could not be told when the film was made since Hart was a flamboyant homosexual and the staid Rodgers had his hands full dealing with him. In this film Hart is portrayed as mooning over his unrequited love, Betty Garrett. However the dull storyline fades into insignificance when the bulk of the movie is taken up with a stream of classic popular hits, celebrated in both song and dance by the amazing cast. Apart from the wonderful music, Hart was as clever a lyricist as Cole Porter, and the words receive their full due.

I'd be hard pressed to claim that this is a great bit of movie-making from director Norman Taurog, but I would argue until the cows come home that it is a wonderful record of fondly-remembered talent, now largely lost to us.
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