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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES (1941)


It’s fun to compare Paramount’s loose story structure on this Bing Crosby starrer with the ‘well-made’ twists, turns & romantic rivalry of ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND/’38 made in Darryl Zanuck-Land over @ 20th/Fox. As the similar stories roll out, the earlier, carefully plotted film sinks under its storylines while this bit of tomfoolery grows on you. Perhaps its casual sense of made up fun is a better fit for its subject, New Orleans Dixieland Jazz. Bing’s a clarinet man (and singer, natch), trying to put together a new kind of band, a band of white guys who can play like the black musicians he grew up emulating. He meets-cute with Mary Martin who turns out to be great at smoothing things over with white audiences who can’t pick up on the new rhythms, and then winds up fighting with his cornet player (Brian Donlevy) over her. (Don’t punch him on the lip!) It’s all studio nonsense, in plot & setting; but there’s a lot of great players in the band; a good bit of live singing from Bing & Martin in a few scenes; and some nifty production touches, like the hand-colored slides at the silent movie theatre in this otherwise b&w pic. Nobody pushes the drama or their cleverness at you. And if Victor Schertzinger’s helming is a bit too relaxed, you won’t really mind. Be sure to watch close for Bing’s reaction when he finds a joint on one of his musicians.

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