Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Young Man With a Horn (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

A "jazz noir" double feature at the Noir City Film Festival Wednesday night kicked off with Frank Sinatra in MEET DANNY WILSON (1951).

That most entertaining film was followed by a 35mm print of YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950), starring Kirk Douglas, Doris Day, and Lauren Bacall, directed by Michael Curtiz.

I had very mixed feelings about YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN. I felt half of it was terrific, and half of it was...not.

Lonely young Rick Martin (Orley Lindgren) falls in love with jazz. He's taken under the wing and taught to play a trumpet by one of the top musicians in the business, Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez); as Rick becomes an adult (Kirk Douglas), he begins to see career success, working with people like band singer Jo Jordan (Day) and a pianist named Smoke (Hoagy Carmichael).

Rick's star is rising, but then he marries the Wrong Woman (Lauren Bacall), and the failure of his marriage and the death of his mentor lead to a breakdown.

The first half of the movie was powerful stuff, with a depiction of the jazz world which felt authentic. The power of music to cross the racial divide in that era, with a black musician becoming a father figure to a young white boy, was marvelous. Art and Rick's relationship was touching without being cloying.

Doris Day can never do any wrong as far as I'm concerned, and she's tops as Jo. It just doesn't get any better than Doris singing one of my favorite songs, "With a Song in My Heart," accompanied by Harry James (dubbing Douglas). Sheer magic. Unfortunately, though, Day was woefully underused in the film.

The movie also has a superb performance by the great character actor Juano Hernandez, one of a string of wonderful roles in films such as STARS IN MY CROWN (1950) and TRIAL (1955). There's also the always-excellent Hoagy Carmichael, a terrific actor as well as musician; his filmography is short but choice. The reliable Jerome Cowan has a brief but effective turn as an orchestra leader who gives Rick one of his big breaks.

Unfortunately, the movie falls apart with the entrance of Lauren Bacall as Amy, a strange friend of Day's who ends up in a relationship with Rick. I like Bacall just fine in other films, but here her arch performance as a rude, disturbed woman has an air of unreality to it which contrasts starkly with what has led to that point in the movie, nor is she done any favors by a script which has her do oddball things like invite Rick in for a drink, then abruptly go to bed, telling him to turn out the lights on his way out the door. There are some curious overtones about her feelings for another woman thrown in for good measure, but her character is never really explored or explained.

At this stage of the movie it descends into Melodrama with a capital "M." I'm not a Douglas fan but he'd done a fine, understated job for much of the movie. Once he starts staggering through the streets it was all just a little much for me; it felt silly rather than sincere, and the film wore out its welcome as it tried a little too obviously to be dramatic and "important."

All in all, I was left feeling there's a part of a superb film in this movie; if only some sections could have been scripted and edited differently.

YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN was filmed in black and white by Ted McCord. It runs 112 minutes. The supporting cast includes Nestor Paiva, Mary Beth Hughes, and Walter Reed. Dress extra Bess Flowers, who also appeared in MEET DANNY WILSON, was in this one too!

YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN is available on DVD as a single title or as part of a multifilm Kirk Douglas set. It also had a release on VHS. May 2017 Update: YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

It can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

I'm not really partial to Jazz or Kirk Douglas, so I've never seen this one... after your review, chances for a viewing got even slimmer (lol).

The most likeable and believable I've seen Douglas was in MAN WITHOUT A STAR. It's a good western, with a great title song sung by Frankie Laine. You should certainly see it if you get the chance.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I'm glad to see you're a fan of Hoagy Carmichael too, Laura. The music he wrote and performed was wonderful. Plus, as you say, a fine actor, always good in anything he did.

I know I have 'banged on' on various favourite blogsites for some time now about a favourite (of mine) TV western series, 'LARAMIE' but I don't know if there are any other fans of this good series out there as no one ever responds. BUT....did you know that Hoagy was one of the stars in Season 1 of that series? I felt he added a great deal and missed him when he left.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin, it just so happens that my dad's copy of MAN WITHOUT A STAR recently went into my "watch soon" stack. Thanks for the recommendation!

Jerry, Hoagy's great, and what a string of wonderful movies, including TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and CANYON PASSAGE. He also was exactly how I pictured Tom from the book version of BELLES ON OUR TOES.

I'm glad you keep the recommendation of LARAMIE "front and center," I'd forgotten Hoagy was in it but that definitely ups my interest.

Best wishes,

11:48 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Hi Jerry, your post struck a (half-way?) Laramie fan this time! I've seen all of the first two seasons, and a smattering of 3rd and 4th season episodes. I definitely like the first season cast arrangement best... while I enjoyed the 2nd season very much, I felt that the almost entire absence of Andy took away an important factor in both Slim and Jess's interactions, and, of course, Jonesy's complete and unexplained departure was disappointing too (as a result, I find it hard to warm to Daisy and Mike, they feel like such blatant replacements for the other two characters.)

A funny coincidence, Laura! I hope you enjoy it:-)

3:28 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Maricatrin! Good to talk to a fellow "LARAMIE" watcher. I am old enough to have seen the series on its introduction in 1959 and followed it (pretty avidly) as it unfolded over the next few years. Then caught up with it again via the Timeless sets many years later.
Fully agree with your assessment - Season 1 was great because the balance of the four characters was really well done. As you say, Jonesey's unexplained absence at the start of Season Two left a hole and when Andy was sent off to college that was a further loss. Nonetheless though, the action-packed episodes continued to delight a traditional western fan's needs very well. The introduction of colour in Season Three was welcome but I never got on with Daisy and Mike at the time, and still don't BTW.
Still, it was one of the best TV westerns, produced by John C. Champion, co-produced by writer Dan Ullman and directed most often by either Lesley Selander or Joe Kane. With those credentials, it had to be a winner.

11:36 PM  
Blogger jwr said...

I share your mixed feelings about the movie, Laura. But I highly recommend the soundtrack, especially as you're a Doris Day fan. It captures everything good about the movie and leaves out the weaknesses!

7:36 AM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Hi Jerry, nice to find that we share the same views on the show. Good point about the "traditional western" approach the series took... LARAMIE had characterization and drama, but they remembered to balance it with action and gunplay. Some western shows come across more as soaps which happen to have a western setting, than actual "westerns."

Winning credentials is right. Besides the behind-the-scenes crew and the leading players, you had a great assortment of guest stars and supporting actors passing through... Rod Cameron, Jock Mahoney, Edgar Buchanan, James Griffith, Roy Barcroft, Claude Akins, John McIntire, etc.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

And did anybody look more comfortable in the saddle or with a gun in his hand than Robert Fuller as Jess Harper, Maricatrin!!

1:48 PM  

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