The Benny Goodman Story

Talkie of the Week: The Benny Goodman Story

USA 1956, 116 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Valentine Davies, Written by Valentine Davies, Cast: Steve Allen, Donna Reed, Bertha Gersten, Herbert Anderson, Robert F. Simon, Barry Truex, Hy Averbeck, Sammy Davis Sr., Dick Winslow, Shepard Menken, Jack Kruschen, Wilton Graff, Fred Essler, David Kasday, John Erman

Plot summary: As a boy, Benny Goodman studied the clarinet and discovered his love for the world of music, a world he took by storm and redefined as an adult.

Review: The film industry has always loved a good story that’s rooted in real life: Al Jolson, Tom Edison, Glenn Miller – the dream factory’s fondness for biopics reaches back to its early days when Hollywood itself was still a land.
The Benny Goodman Story is one of those biographical films – not as successful as its predecessor, The Glenn Miller Story from 1954, but every bit as musical and entertaining. Starring Steve Allen as Benny Goodman, the famous clarinetist, the film starts in the musician’s childhood and follows his path from his roots in Chicago to his ultimate success in California and the rest of the United States. Throughout the film, Allen gave a quiet performance of a man whose sentiments became tangible in his music. He was supported by a lovely Donna Reed whose character underwent a believable transition from a true skeptic to a woman who fell in love with Benny Goodman and his revolutionary music.

Although already blessed with two strong, experienced performers, the real excellence of this pictures lies in the performances and appearances of many real, contemporary artists, Ben Pollack and Gene Krupa to only name two. It is their music and enthusiasm that makes this picture special and papers over the cracks of a wildly fictitious story, another biopic tradition Hollywood continued with the production of The Benny Goodman Story. For anyone who can’t help but swing it to Goodman’s rhythm and tunes, this film is a real treat. Fifty-six years after its original release, the movie still has what it takes to attract a music-loving audience of all ages.

The film is available on DVD. You can watch The Benny Goodman Story trailer here.

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A Radio Treat

Two days ago, I listened to a radio broadcast from 1950, a live recording from March 23 to be exact, the day of the 22nd Academy Awards. Presented by Paul Douglas at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with radio comments by Ken Carpenter, Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan, the show was a good two hours in length and filled with lots of joyful moments.

The show – although already exciting for any classic movie buff without great names such as James Cagney, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Anne Baxter and John Hodiac, Cole Porter, Ruth Roman and Barbara Hale – was entertaining from the start and blessed with a beautiful score presented by Gene Autry, Dean Martin and other wonderful performers. Despite the many differences in presentation compared to the lengthy ceremony I’ve long stopped watching each year, it amused me to find one announcement already existed back in 1950: the request for the winners to cut their thank you’s short. And trust me, the few people who said more than a heartfelt thank you, didn’t take center stage to present a short story about their lives. How refreshing to hear there once was a way to go about this differently, when recipients were in tears about their accomplishment without dwelling on it. How surprising to hear a young boy thank his parents and God – at least by today’s standards.

I know not everyone will share my sentiment, but I loved the mix of glamor and simplicity, such a charming combination. Stars and winners aside, the radio hosts also won my heart for their lively presentation and supportive attitude. Without making a fuss, they added to the style of a show that still showed signs of gratefulness and modesty towards their peers and audience. A different world, Hollywood in 1950, both good and bad, and so much fun revisiting with your eyes closed.