Notes and Editorial Reviews
Feature film made in
Carnegie Hall, in English. (1947).
DVD Region 0 (all regions)
Edgar G. Ulmer, director. Starring Marsha Hunt, with Walter Damrosch and Olin Downes. Performances by Jascha Heifetz, Harry James, Vaughn Monroe, Jan Peerce, Gregor Piatigorsky, Ezio Pinza, Lily Pons, Fritz Reiner, Artur Rodzinski, Artur Rubinstein, Risë Stevens, Leopold Stokowski, Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic.
Original 1947 versions of
Carnegie Hall differed from one another. Some were released with certain musical selections abridged or omitted; some omitted portions of dialog. Bel Canto Society pieced together this print from four
sources to include all the material. See track listing below. Additional material includes: M. & W. Portnoff, "57th Street Rhapsody"; Gregory Stone, "Sometime We Will Meet Again"; and portions of Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1, First and Third Movements; Schumann, Piano Quintet, Second Movement; Mendelssohn, Midsummer Night’s Dream, "Wedding March"; Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, Second Movement; Haydn, Sonata in F for Piano (Hob. XVI:23); Mendelssohn, Songs Without Words, "Spinning Song." The film includes piano recordings by Nadia Reisenberg, Dorothy Eustis, Walter Gross, David Saperton and Rosa Linda. Popular musicians include: Vaughn Monroe and Sam Coslow, "Beware, My Heart" and Frank Ryerson and William Moore, "The Pleasure’s All Mine"; plus Harry James and Charles Previn, conducted: Hal Borne performing "Brown Danube."
R E V I E W:
Marsha Hunt (
); William Prince (
); Frank McHugh (
); Walter Damrosch (
); Edgar Elmer (director)
BEL CANTO SOCIETY BCS-D0791 (DVD: 144:00)
Bel Canto’s restoration of this 1947 classic is unique in that it is more complete than other versions. When the film was released there were different versions, with different musical numbers or dramatic scenes edited out to shorten its two-and-a-quarter-hour length. Bel Canto has pieced together its print from four different sources, to include everything. While there are jumps in quality as something from a different version slips in, the overall visual and audio quality is certainly more than adequate for all but those who must have only modern technology.
The film is a classic, and not because of its flimsy storyline. The story is merely a hook on which to hang more than a dozen performances by some of the greatest artists in music at the time, including a complete first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Reiner, which alone is worth the price of the DVD. Obviously, Bel Canto didn’t think much of the movie beyond its musical content, since except for Marsha Hunt and Walter Damrosch, the company does not list any of the actors. I had to go to the Internet Movie Database in order to find them for the headnote. Truth to tell, Bel Canto is right—this is barely watchable as a story. It deals with an over-the-top mother who works at Carnegie Hall and wants her son to be a classical pianist there, but in fact he prefers jazz. She is appalled, he runs off to play with Vaughan Monroe’s orchestra, but makes a triumphant return to Carnegie Hall as a pianist and composer, with a concoction called
, a poor man’s
Rhapsody in Blue
for trumpet, piano, and orchestra (Harry James plays the trumpet solos). Mother and son reunite.
But the point of the story is merely to permit the music to happen, as mother exposes son to the great musical experiences one could have at Carnegie Hall, in order to prepare him for his career. Bel Canto conveniently inserts chapter points at the beginning of each musical number, so you can even skip the movie’s allegedly dramatic content if you wish. We begin with a good chunk of the Prelude to
with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bruno Walter. Then Lily Pons sings Rachmaninoff’s
(a bit too forcefully) and the “Bell Song” from
(brilliantly). Gregor Piatigorsky is exquisite with “The Swan” from
Carnival of the Animals
and Risë Stevens gloriously seductive in arias from
Samson et Dalila
. Artur Rodzinski conducts the finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Artur Rubinstein plays Chopin and Falla with his usual flair, Jan Peerce sings
O sole mio
, Ezio Pinza elegantly sings Mozart and Verdi, Leopold Stokowski conducts the New York Philharmonic in the slow movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, and there is the aforementioned Heifetz/Reiner. Most of the performances are complete movements or arias. It is odd to have things like the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth played as if it were a complete piece, with audience ovation and bowing by Stokowski after it ends, but one makes allowances. There are other musical snippets along the way that are more integrated into the storyline.
Despite the laughable plot, I sat through the film mesmerized by the level of music-making, and the chance to actually see as well as hear these greats from the 1940s. The highlight is that Heifetz/Reiner performance—mostly for musical reasons, but also for the experience of watching two of the greatest musicians of the 20th century who were also known for their complete unwillingness or inability to ever crack a smile! The film is black and white and the sound, obviously, is monaural. Production is bare bones, with minimal notes, but notes aren’t needed. Just put it in the DVD player, sit back, and be transported to a great era of music-making.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
Works on This Recording
'O sole mio by Eduardo Di Capua
Jan Peerce (Tenor)
Written: 1898; Italy
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