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"On his fingertips, the Love of Music...and on her lingering lips, the Music of Love." "She FELL IN LOVE...and trouble...with a MUSICAL GENIUS!" With advertising taglines like that, how could anyone have taken Song of Love (1947) seriously? Based on an unproduced play by Bernard Schubert and Mario Silva and with the great virtuoso Artur Rubinstein dubbing the piano performances, the film might have been a hit ten years previously, even without the star power of Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid. But it was 1947, not 1937, and World War II had changed not only audience tastes but the entire film industry.
Paul Henreid had been making films with Warner Bros. since Now Voyager in 1942. Now, Henreid wrote in his autobiography, "My contract with Warners had one more film to go when MGM offered me Song of Love with Katharine Hepburn as the female lead. Clarence Brown, a man I admired tremendously, was to direct, and Artur Rubinstein to play the piano for Katy and me. I was to get $115,000 for making it, a top salary in those days. It was a fabulous deal because Warner Bros. was paying me $75,000 a picture. I realized that, although Warners had no current assignment for me, if I asked Jack [Warner] to release me I would take a chance on his refusal. What I decided to do instead was buy back my contract for $75,000. What actually happened was that Warners simply did not pay me the last $75,000 they owed, and I did the picture for MGM instead. The film, the life story of Robert Schumann, the composer, was a delight to make. Brown, the director, was thoroughly professional and exciting. Katharine Hepburn was lovely and radiant and, in those days, much less mannered as an actress than she is now. She was fun to work with, and working with her introduced me to Spencer Tracy, her intimate friend. He would come to the set each morning, say hello, and then, with a half-smile, ask me, "Is she behaving herself?" Without smiling, I'd say, "Oh yes, Spence. She's being marvelous." "Good. Good." He would turn to Hepburn "Now, Kate, have you learned your lines?" Rather demurely, she'd say, "Yes, dear." He'd go on: "Now, don't forget. Say the lines loud and clear. Don't grin and make faces just say the words." And, grinning at him like a child, she'd say, "Yes, Spence, I will."
Hepburn's film career may have become problematic in the late 1940s but as Charles Higham wrote in his biography of Hepburn Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn, "In the mid-1940s, Kate's career had sunk as low as it did in the mid-1930s. But she was so buoyed up by her mutually adoring relationship with Spencer [Tracy], and by the massive MGM studio machinery, which gave her a feeling of enormous confidence, that she never allowed her weaker vehicles to depress her. She did not even balk at an incredibly complicated and foolish script by four writers, Song of Love. MGM must have been firmly in Hepburn's camp, as Darwin Porter in his book Katharine the Great noted that "At the box office, Song of Love fared poorly, both with its critics and with the general public. Even before the film's release, the president of the American Legion called Mayer to inform him that his then powerful organization was going to boycott the film, "because of Hepburn's pinko [Communist] leanings. Don't ever cast Hepburn in another movie, or you'll be sorry you did." Hepburn, as Paul Henreid wrote, had become a supporter of Henry Wallace's Presidential campaign. "Henry Wallace, considered by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution as a flaming red, was picketed by both organizations, and through the then rampant policy of "guilt by association," our movie, when it opened, was also picketed in Los Angeles. The box office there was poor, but fortunately it did well in other towns. It was a good picture, but not a smash hit."
Politics seems to be the only thing left out in Bosley Crowther's New York Times article, in which he excoriated Song of Love in one of his most hilarious reviews: "A foreword admits that "certain liberties" have been taken with biographical fact. "Certain liberties," indeed! The basic romance of the Schumanns has been reduced to cloying clichs and the brilliance of Brahms and his acid nature have been sloughed off for just a "good-old-Charley" type. Most of the inspirational contact between the Schumanns is coyly explained in saccharine-sweet little glimpses of episodes in their domestic life-familiar troubles with the servants, laughing anxieties over the kids and touching necessities of rebuffing the romantic advances of "Uncle Brahms." According to Hollywood's concept, the greatest of Schumann's works-at least, the one he held the highest-was his now hackneyed "Traumerei" because (that's right, you've guessed it) it was the "theme song" of his and Clara's love. And Brahms' apparent inspiration was the great fondness which all the Schumann's had for him. More vulgar, however, than this story is the persistent way in which Clarence Brown has directed his actors and his camera to achieve the most tear-drenched effects. Not content to let beautiful music, plus a sugary drama, do the job, he has pushed the weepy face of Katharine Hepburn and the St. Bernard orbs of Paul Henreid right up against the eyes of the audience and practically said, "Look, they're suffering! This is sad!" Music becomes but an accompaniment to a succession of close-up "moods." Also Miss Hepburn's performance is one of her familiarly agonized jobs-a compound of soulful expressions, fluttered hands and prideful lifts of the head. And Mr. Henreid's performance of Schumann is stock "tortured-genius"-in spades! As for Robert Walker's solemn posturing as Brahms-well, it's good for a guffaw. And Henry Daniell's Franz Liszt is reminiscent of the Phantom of the Opera on a night out. All of the other performers, including the children, behave as such people always do in Hollywood movies which reduce greatness to banality-which is what this one does." It is not surprising, then, that The New York Times put Song of Love on its list of the "Ten Worst Films of 1947."
Producer/Director: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Ivan Tors, Irma von Cube, Allen Vincent, Robert Ardrey, based on the play by Bernard Schubert & Mario Silva
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Music: Bronislau Kaper, Artur Rubinstein
Film Editing: Robert Kern
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett, Valles
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Clara Wieck Schumann), Paul Henreid (Robert Schumann), Robert Walker (Johannes Brahms), Henry Daniell (Franz Liszt), Leo G. Carroll (Professor Wieck), Gigi Perreau (Julie), Elsa Janssen (Bertha).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The New York Times: Song of Love,' With Hepburn and Henreid as Schumanns and Walker as Brahms, New Bill at Radio City Music Hall by Bosley Crowther, October 10, 1947.
Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn by Charles Higham
Katharine the Great by Darwin Porter
A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn by Anne Edwards
Ladies Man: An Autobiography by Paul Henreid and Julius Fast