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Night Song (1947) is an improbable piece of romantic hokum about embittered blind composer Dan (Dana Andrews) and the wealthy music lover Cathy (Merle Oberon), who pretends to be blind and poor in order to get close to him. The movie gets even more melodramatic when Dan wins the music prize that Cathy sponsors, uses the money for an operation to get his sight back, and woos his benefactress. But Night Song has elements that lift it above mere soap opera level: elegant production values, the wit and astringency of the performances by Ethel Barrymore and Hoagy Carmichael, and the playing of piano virtuoso Artur Rubinstein and the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Eugene Ormandy.
Oberon had been an international star since the mid-1930s, thanks to her exotic beauty and to her movie mogul husband, Hungarian-born producer Alexander Korda. By the mid-1940s, Oberon, now in her thirties, was divorced from Korda. She was freelancing at various studios, and her stardom had begun to fade. Night Song, made at RKO, was her only 1947 release. Co-star Dana Andrews's breakthrough film was Laura (1944), and he'd recently scored a major hit as the aviator returning to civilian life in The Best Years of our Lives (1946). As a result, Andrews got top billing.
Both Ethel Barrymore and Hoagy Carmichael were also recent movie stars, though both had had distinguished careers in other areas. Barrymore had made an occasional film starting in the silent era, but had primarily worked on the stage. It was not until she retired from the theater in 1944 that she moved to Hollywood and dedicated herself to working in the movies, where she was handsomely paid and could be counted on to add class to a film. In Night Song, Barrymore plays Miss Willey, Cathy's aunt and confidante, who gets some of the best lines in the film, such as "My heart's an old wastepaper basket, filled with unpaid bills and paperback novels" uttered in her distinctively husky voice. Barrymore biographer James Kotsilibas-Davis writes that she was paid "her customary $100,000" for the film, and that she and Oberon had the two best dressing rooms on the lot, "which reportedly peeved Maestro Eugene Ormandy."
Carmichael was a popular composer, pianist and singer, best known for the pop standard "Stardust." Beginning with To Have and Have Not (1944), Carmichael acted in films, usually playing a laid-back musician, not a stretch for the affable Carmichael. In Night Song, he plays Dan's sidekick, and plays and sings a nonsense ditty he composed, "Who Killed 'Er."
In one of the key scenes of the film the piano concerto written by Andrews's character (actually composed by Leith Stevens) is played at Carnegie Hall by Artur Rubinstein and the New York Philharmonic. Even though Night Song received mostly negative reviews, Time magazine noted that the film "earns a modest but honorable corner in movie history on two counts. A piece of music is played straight through without cuts or that customary desperate wandering that suggests that it hates music and is bored sick. And for once a movie set of Carnegie Hall does not look like a set for Dante's Purgatorio sculptured out of Ivory Soap...With electrifying effectiveness, it looks just like Carnegie Hall."
The sumptuous cinematography for Night Song is by Oberon's then-husband, Lucien Ballard, who had learned lighting as an assistant to the legendary Gregg Toland, and had worked with director Joseph von Sternberg. It was Ballard who had designed a lighting technique that camouflaged facial scars that Oberon had gotten in a car accident. The film's producer was Harriet Parsons, daughter of gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
Director: John Cromwell
Producer: Harriet Parsons
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen, Frank Fenton, Dick Irving Hyland, based on a story by Hyland
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Editor: Harry Marker
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Dana Andrews (Dan), Merle Oberon (Cathy), Ethel Barrymore (Miss Willey), Hoagy Carmichael (Chick), Artur Rubinstein (himself) Eugene Ormandy (himself), Jacqueline White (Connie), Donald Curtis (George), Walter Reed (Jimmy).
BW-103m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri