a song is born (howard hawks, 1948)
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
This is the twentieth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2022-23", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 8th annual challenge, and my fourth time participating (my first year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", the second year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", and last year at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2021-22"). Week 20 is called "Pre-50s Musicals Week":
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen musical film made before 1950. A list to guide you.
If you judge a musical solely on its music scenes, A Song Is Born is OK. One critic said the movie is perfect for the DVD age, where you can just jump forward to the music scenes. Which you'd want to do, because the rest of the movie is a drag. It's a remake of Balls of Fire, also directed by Howard Hawks, that starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Hawks famously hated A Song Is Born. He said he only took the job for the money:
Danny Kaye had separated from his wife, and he was a basket case, stopping work to see a psychiatrist [every] day. He was about as funny as a crutch. I never thought anything in that picture was funny. It was an altogether horrible experience... We not only had to take Virginia Mayo, but [Goldwyn] had her run Ball of Fire about twenty times and rehearse with somebody else to play Stanwyck's scenes. She's not Stanwyck, I'll tell you that.
Kaye is remarkably subdued by his own standards, and is far too dull. Still, Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Louis Bellson, and many others make appearances, which helps a lot. Perhaps best is Benny Goodman. While the other musicians play themselves, Goodman plays "Professor Magenbruch", an academic who, it is noted, has never heard of Benny Goodman. So yeah, use that fast-forward button if you like, but don't expect a good movie.