Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Music for Millions (1944)

LOST ANGEL (1943), which I enjoyed last weekend, whetted my appetite for more MGM, Margaret O'Brien, and Marsha Hunt, so I pulled MUSIC FOR MILLIONS (1944) off my DVD shelves.

MUSIC FOR MILLIONS also stars June Allyson and Jose Iturbi. Somehow, despite my love for MGM musicals and the cast, I had never seen this one. I can happily say it pushed all my "MGM" buttons; I thoroughly enjoyed it and will return to it again in the future.

June plays Barbara Ainsworth, a pregnant symphony bass player anxiously awaiting overdue mail from her soldier husband.

Barbara's little sister "Mike" (O'Brien) shows up out of the blue to stay with her. Barbara is happy to see Mike, although Mike inadvertently creates complications, including walking on stage during a concert! Mike initially annoys Jose Iturbi, the conductor, but soon he's taken with her and her attempts to help her frail sister.

When bad news for Barbara arrives in the form of a War Department telegram, Barbara's friends, headed by harpist Rosalind (Hunt), fear she will miscarry and determine to hide the news from her until after the baby is born. The women are well-intentioned but also weighed down with guilt and worry. And as the symphony tours military installations, Barbara can't understand why no mail has ever been forwarded to her by the landlady...

MUSIC FOR MILLIONS is 117 minutes of polished MGM filmmaking. It's true that Allyson and O'Brien weren't called "the Town Criers" of the MGM lot for nothing, and they do more than their share of weeping in this one; additionally, O'Brien's denseness at times is just a little too much to be cute. But really, those are my only complaints.

It's most enjoyable watching the four leads, and Allyson in particular was at her loveliest in this. As always, Hunt is a very appealing screen personality herself, and Iturbi displays a nice touch for comedy along with his musical talents.

They're ably supported by Helen Gilbert, Marie Wilson, and Madeleine LeBeau as symphony musicians. Also in the cast are Jimmy Durante, Hugh Herbert, Harry Davenport, Ethel Griffies, Connie Gilchrist, Willie Best, Arthur Space, and Byron Foulger, to name just a few of the familiar faces.

Producer Joe Pasternak was known for presenting beautiful music in appealing ways in his films, and this movie is a great example. Harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler plays a lovely version of Debussy's "Clair de Lune," later reprised by Iturbi on piano. Symphony concert highlights include Herbert's "March of the Toys." My favorite scene in the movie was the finale, a beautifully staged rendition of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" which knocks it out of the park in terms of both music and dramatic story impact.

Incidentally, I believe the movie uses the same MGM concert stage set as Pasternak's very different but equally musical SONG OF RUSSIA (1944), released earlier that year.

Like Pasternak, director Henry Koster had worked on Deanna Durbin musicals for Universal before coming to MGM; this was the first of three mid-'40s films Koster made for MGM, followed by Allyson's TWO SISTERS FROM BOSTON (1946) and O'Brien's THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947).

MUSIC FOR MILLIONS was filmed in black and white by Robert Surtees. Myles Connolly was Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

MUSIC FOR MILLIONS is available on DVD in a very nice print from the Warner Archive. The disc includes the trailer.

It's also shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies; the trailer is on the TCM site.


Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I enjoyed this too—I found O'Brien and the story itself to be a little too "cutesy" at times, but I absolutely loved all the wonderful classical music scenes!

(And it was also fun, as with every Marsha Hunt film, to see "live" all the costumes I was familiar with from pictures in her book.)

6:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That seems pretty on target to me, Elisabeth! O'Brien needed to be reined in a little in this one...but all in all, good movie!

I haven't pulled Marsha's book off the shelf in a while, thank you for reminding me! Would be a good time to flip through it again, having seen her in a few titles this month. It's a remarkable volume, isn't it? Here's a link for anyone interested. It's a gorgeous coffee table book with an incredible array of photos printed on glossy paper.

Best wishes,

11:38 AM  

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