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The Warner Bros. musical drama Young Man With a Horn (1950), adapted from the novel by Dorothy Baker, was inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, a cornet player who hit jazz-age heights before sinking into alcoholism and dying in 1931 at age 28. Kirk Douglas stars as Rick Martin, a tormented trumpeter who suffers through a disastrous marriage with neurotic socialite Lauren Bacall before being redeemed by the love of "good girl" Doris Day. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, 1943) directed a cast that also includes Hoagy Carmichael, who actually knew Beiderbecke, and Juano Hernandez as Rick's jazz mentor.
Under the musical direction of Ray Heindorf, the film has an outstanding jazz/pop score. Day warbles standards including "With a Song in My Heart" and "Too Marvelous for Words," while Harry James provides the hot licks mimed by Douglas on trumpet for "The Man I Love," "Ain't She Sweet" and several other tunes. James (again mimed by Douglas) and Day team up for "The Very Thought of You," and Carmichael joins in on some numbers including "Limehouse Blues."
Ironically, Douglas and Bacall (friends from their early years in New York City) got on famously, while Day and Douglas would each write later that they found the other remote. Douglas had this to say about Day: "That face that she shows the world - smiling, only talking good, happy, tuned into God - as far as I'm concerned, that's just a mask. I haven't a clue as to what's underneath." Day, in turn, wrote that, "Kirk was civil to me and that's about all. But then Kirk never makes much of an effort toward anyone else. He's pretty wrapped up in himself...Young Man With a Horn was one of the few joyless experiences I had in films."
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Carl Foreman, Edmund H. North, from the novel by Dorothy Baker
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Editing: Alan Crosland Jr.
Original Music: Max Steiner (uncredited)
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Rick Martin), Lauren Bacall (Amy North), Doris Day (Jo Jordan), Hoagy Carmichael (Smoke Willoughby), Juano Hernandez (Art Hazzard), Jerome Cowan (Phil Morrison), Mary Beth Hughes (Marge Martin).
by Roger Fristoe