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Virtually creating the musical biopic genre with their 1936 super production The Great Ziegfeld (1936), MGM regularly returned to these highly fictional cinematic accounts for sure fire box office, and this version of the Jerome Kern story was no exception.
While the facts of Kern's life may have been heavily rose colored (as they had been with Ziegfeld), they nonetheless ably fulfilled their purpose - providing a springboard for the wall-to-wall lavish production numbers, featuring the top echelon of the studio stable: Judy Garland, June Allyson, Dinah Shore (whose rendition of "The Last Time I Saw Paris" became a smash hit), Cyd Charisse, and in the picture's sock finale, Frank Sinatra, donned in white, surrounded by the Metro orchestra, as he belts out "Ol' Man River," the highlight of the legendary Kern and Hammerstein collaboration, Show Boat. Lena Horne, likewise performing magnificent lip service to the play's "Can't Help Loving Dat Man," should have made her a shoe-in for the role of Julie La Verne in MGM's 1951 re-make (Ava Gardner was cast instead).
A superb slice of post-war escapist fare, this top notch Arthur Freed production, smoothly directed by Richard Whorf, virtually drips in drop dead Technicolor, courtesy of Harry Stradling and George Folsey's stupendous camerawork. The vocal arrangements by Kay Thompson add another big plus to the proceedings, most notable in the witty Garland segments, specially designed and directed by the star's husband Vincente Minnelli. Regarding the aforementioned "Ol' Man River" climax, it was Kern himself who thought Sinatra perfectly suited for a recording of his famous tune. According to Collier's, he advised the singer, "My idea with that song was to have a rabbity little fellow do it - somebody who made you believe that he was tired of livin' and scared of dyin.' That's how you do it, Frankie." Sadly he never lived to see the praiseworthy result.
Director: Richard Whorf
Producer: Arthur Freed
Screenplay: Myles Connolly, Jean Holloway
Cinematography: George J. Folsey, Harry Stradling Sr.
Editor: Albert Akst
Art Direction: Daniel B. Cathcart, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Jerome Kern (songs)
Cast: June Allyson (Specialty), Lucille Bremer (Sally Hessler), Judy Garland (Marilyn Miller), Kathryn Grayson ('Magnolia'), Van Heflin (James I. Hessler).
C-136m. Close captioning.
by Mel Neuhaus