Friday, August 31, 2012

"Deep In My Heart" - A classical musical film review by Robert Steven Mack

Once Upon A Time, during the mythical era  known as classic Hollywood, it was discovered that one could take the life of a well-known song writer and transform it into a heavily-financed motion picture. Such films would be brimming with popular tunes and ballads, lavish costumes, revered stars and the most talented directors money could transport. Nothing short of a star-filled musical extravaganza which nearly every major studio would try to produce.

Many such pictures were created: Words and Music, based on the team of Rogers and Hart; Night and Day, with Cary Grant as Cole Porter; Danny Thomas played Gus Kahn in I'll See You In My Dreams; Three Little Words based on the team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby played by the incomparable Fred Astaire and Red Skelton, respectively, These have been perhaps only a few of the most remembered and revered movies of this era. Indeed, when strolling along the vast road the land of classic films, encounter with these films is probable.

Characteristically, these films come off as sweet, dramatic-not to mention lavish-musical productions and maybe contain a light dose of comedy, if lucky. I recently came across one of those masterpieces in Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory Volume 3. This MGM collection actually contains relatively unknown musical romps and adventures the common audience is unlikely to be familiar with. One of the films is the collection is Deep in my Heart. What would a collection of classic musicals be without such a film?

I must note that these "exaggerated" musical biographies have been decried as cliche in some circles. After seeing just how many in Hollywood were made (No small number either!) I must admit to their disregard for unquestionable facts. Of course, this has never bothered me and I would suggest to anyone who rejects everything but omnipresent reality to read a book. Films are bigger than life  (environmentalists and other documentary-makers in general know this all to well)

"Deep In My Heart" mystically tells of Sigmund Romanoff, the legendary composer of operettas and broadway musicals who composed such works as The Student Prince and Maytime. Jose Ferrer heads the film's cast as Romanoff, narrating part of the story. Best remembered for his 1950 Academy Award winning potrayal of Cyrano de Borgrac, the Puerto Rican actor played the role beautifully as the  stoic, idealistic composer who encounters one trial and romp after another.
Sigmund is a young man, he works in an uneventful little café. The film slides along with comfortable ease. The first half of the movie was particularly focused on his early successess on Broadway, and humorously portraying the mis-adventures of a young man who wanted to compose only distinguished works and vies for creative control. Though he himself quits after plenty a show, being utterly disgusted with the vulgar, unsophisticated work he is forced to do by a demanding public and his boss, and despite his dislike for the productions, however, the fame and mouth-wateringly sizable checks alway convince him to do another.

One time he managed to convince his producers to put on an operetta he wrote, Maytime. It turned out to be a tremendous hit with companies playing it all over the US.

His wish for creative control plummeted toward limit and turned down the production of Jazza-Doo with Al Jolson to go on his own to produce his kind of show: dignified, sophisticated, probably even philosophically motivated. Nobody liked it. So the production bombs, leaving him in debt, his idealist values hurt, and marching into his producers office and nobly apologizing and offering his services for Jazza-Doo. The producers rapidly accept.

To work on their new masterpiece, they go skipping to the country-side, and vow never to cease slaving on it. So much for that! Sigmund meets love...and her stiff, snobbish mother who disapproves of Sigmond's unpolished work.

During one of the most memorable moments in the film-my personal favorite-he performs the show all himself while an over-joyed producer and an utterly shocked mother and daughter duo sit frozen watching. It's hilarious and truly one of the most delectable segments I've ever seen in a musical. Jose did a good job pulling it off.

His romance doesn't go as planned and so we drift forward a year where he is still a success, still vies for the same girl...who shows up and takes over his narrative part.

This pivotal moment is an interesting element showing great change and flexibility in Romanoff's own out-look on life. We see an eagerness to go on doing what he has been doing all his life. From hereon, the film takes on a heavy tone and samples the composer's mature, darker works.

The death of a friend, a rumor he is getting out of style, lead the film into deeper territory exploring the physiology of an aging artist, the depth and emotion in his music, and its influences. The film culminates as the aging Romanoff performs a concert at Carnegie Hall. This is reminiscent to the ending in The Benny Goodman Story.

I have concluded that he film was indeed nicely done, as only classic Hollywood could pull it off. In a fitting tribute, it will inspire in the viewer, respect for the man, and a deep, satisfying appreciation for the music!
A capital supporting cast worth mentioning includes Walter Pigeon, Paul Henried (Casablanca), Merle Traubel, and Jim Backus, among others. Out of 22 of the hit tunes and eleven Broadway shows they were borrowed from, MGM gathered some of its greatest stars to share the the tunes Romy penned. Guest stars include no less than Gene & Fred Kelly (his brother-he dances too), James Mitchell, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, Jane Powell, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Rosemary Clooney (Ferrer's wife), and Howard Keel. Holy cow! What stars! Each had a number they could perform with flawless effort.

To rap up, Deep In My Heart is a sweet, funny, ultimately tender musical to be enjoyed by everybody, and I wish it could. It is a true delight!

Copyright 2012, 2014 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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