Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Let's Make Music (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

LET'S MAKE MUSIC (1941) is a slight but pleasant "big band" musical released on DVD earlier this year by the Warner Archive.

The oddball story has elderly music teacher Malvina Adams (Elisabeth Risdon) trying to bring a little excitement to her school's music program, so she writes a school fight song.

Malvina is sad her students aren't receptive to it, especially as the principal (Louis Jean Heydt) has told her she must build up the enrollment in her elective course. Malvina's niece Abby (Jean Rogers), herself a teacher, sends the song off to a music publisher in New York, where it comes to the attention of bandleader Bob Crosby (himself).

Crosby makes the song a novelty number for his band and it's a hit. Malvina and Abby travel to New York at Bob's invitation, where Malvina even sings her song with the band. Abby, meanwhile, is a bit embarrassed and concerned her aunt isn't acting in a "proper" way for a schoolteacher, especially one of "a certain age." But when Abby and Bob fall in love, her attiude begins to change...

This is a rather strange film, one of the last things written by Nathanael West before he was killed in a 1940 car accident. One of the movie's peculiarities is that Malvina is a hit with audiences when performing her song; honestly, she really can't sing, nor is the song all that good.

Rogers' character is all over the map, building her aunt up one minute, tearing her down and chastising her the next. She loosens up as the film goes on, but although she's pretty, it's a bit hard to fathom any connection felt between the steely schoolteacher and the easygoing bandleader.

Crosby is cute in a low-key way, with the performance of "The Big Noise From Winnetka" a highlight, but he's missing that special something which made his more famous brother Bing such a huge star. That said, Bob is enjoyable and he had a long and successful career himself, including appearing in many films over a quarter century, beginning in 1934.

The music performed by Crosby and his orchestra are the highlights of the film, yet unfortunately most of the tunes just aren't that memorable. I love a number of lesser-known musicals of the era, such as Monogram's LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944) and Republic Pictures' HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1940) and BRAZIL (1944), but compared to those this RKO musical is quite minor, with the chance to see Crosby as the leading man its main draw.

The movie was directed by Leslie Goodwins and filmed in black and white by Jack Mackenzie. The supporting cast includes Joyce Compton, Frank Orth, Joseph Buloff, Benny Bartlett, and Grant Withers. The film runs 84 minutes.

Though the film didn't wow me, kudos to the Warner Archive for making this slice of musical history available to viewers in a good print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


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