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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Magnificent Obsession

Talkie of the Week: Magnificent Obsession

USA 1954, 104 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Robert Blees and Wells Root, Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas. Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Agnes  Moorehead, Otto Kruger

Plot summary: When Bob Merrick learns that he survived an unnecessary accident that indirectly took the life of celebrated humanitarian Dr. Phillips, the millionaire decides to change his life and follow the doctor’s example of taking care of others and their struggles. Rejected by Dr. Phillips’ family for his attempt to help them in times of hardship, Bob ultimately manages to prove his sincerity and falls in love with Helen, the late doctor’s widow, despite her initial rejection.

Review: Based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsessions had already been adapted for the silver screen in 1935 when Douglas Sirk decided to pick up the story for his technicolor remake. Originally starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, Sirk’s version from 1954 presented Jane Wyman and and a practically unknown Rock Hudson in the leading roles. Commercially successful in theaters, the film received mixed reaction from critics for the emotional story and the director’s choice of material. While Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson conquered the screen with a chemistry that resulted in another collaboration of the two stars in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows one year later, reviews often stressed the sappy quality of the motion picture, a fact that didn’t stop the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences to nominate Jane Wyman for an Academy Award for her performance.

Recorded for radio several times before Magnificent Obsession re-entered with stars such as Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and Myrna Loy, the story itself grew into a classic story about loss, love, grace and altruism. Rock Hudson’s first significant movie role brought him well-deserved recognition and kicked off a career as one of Hollywood’s most charming leading men. It was the fourth Oscar nomination Jane Wyman received for her portrayal of Helen Phillips, an honor Grace Kelly in The Country Girl ended up winning that year.

Magnificent Obsession is a film that works the emotional scale of its audience by merging drama with romance in a way that is now a lost art. Be prepared to stock up your supply of tissues before you watch it, the score and moving performances will make you sob if your heart beats for this kind of gem.

Available on DVD. Magnificent Obsession trailer