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Monday, September 29, 2008

WORDS AND MUSIC (1948)

The quality of bio-pics on musicians from Hollywood’s Golden-Age grow proportionately worse in direct relation to the quality of their subjects. And those films don't get much worse than this nonsense on the great team of lyricist Lorenz Hart & composer Richard Rodgers. Poor Tom Drake, who plays Rodgers, gets eighth billing, go figure. And the musical numbers, which can save these things, rarely hit their mark. (Gene Kelly gets the booby prize for tossing out George Balanchine's choreography for his own ideas on an abridged SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE.) It was common practice to ignore proper song chronology, but M-G-M also manages to send Rodgers off to see Garbo’s CAMILLE/’37 as a silent movie circa 1927! They even show a clip with the sound turned off before a stage show troops on to perform songs from ON YOUR TOES which actually was on B’way . . . in 1937! The finale features Perry Como, handsome, but bland playing a fellow named Eddie Anders. That is, during the film story he had been Eddie Anders, now he’s suddenly being intro’d as . . . Perry Como! Earlier, Judy Garland shows up to sing at an early ‘30s Hollywood party, not as a character, but as her 1948 self. Wha? Maybe it’s all some Brechtian distancing device. In the film, Hart drinks himself to death because he’s too short to get laid. (Forget that the notoriously priapic Mickey Rooney’s ‘ex’ was Ava Gardner!) The true story of Rodgers & Hart is one of the great heartbreakers of backstage Broadway and could make a superb film. Yet even in this mishmash, Hart’s true fault-line can be seen ever so briefly during an early scene between Rooney & Drake as they play "Manhattan" at the piano. It happens fast, but watch as Rooney makes a quick pass at his young colleague (more than a pass, it's love) and then for Drake’s delicate, but complete rejection. The times wouldn’t let them go into the real story behind the story, but they knew the score.

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