Carnegie Hall (1947)

by | Mar 25, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Carnegie Hall (1947)

Starring: Marsha Hunt; Hans Jaray; William Prince; Martha O’Driscoll; Frank McHugh
Written by: Seena Owen
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Studio: Ulmer/Bel Canto Society DVD BCS-DO791
Video: 4:3  Black & White
Audio: PCM Mono (Left Channel only!)
Duration: 144 minutes
Rating: ***

While I admire director Edgar G. Ulmer for his work in the noir and horror genres, I have maintained a reticence for his 1947 Carnegie Hall, not because of its musical content, but for its maudlin attempt to create a 1907 romance between a housekeeper (Marsha Hunt) and house-pianist Tony Salerno (Hans Jaray), whose offspring William Prince actually lives at the Hall and eventually writes a horn concerto premiered by Harry James.  He will find his love in Martha O’Driscoll, an aspiring singer. Frank McHugh, long a veteran of the Irish Theater and John Ford’s retinue of actors, provides the comic relief in a thick brogue. Hunt (b. 1917) had a fairly lovely voice, and she hums the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto theme to her infant son, c. 1916. Her husband’s weakness for liquor and his natural, proud irascibility lead to his coincidental fatal tumble down a staircase just as he is about to leave his wife and Carnegie Hall.

Some truly magnificent musicians do appear in the course of the film, but the premise that they provide a concert of only one brief work is inane. The film producers obviously felt that filmgoers who lack long hair could not tolerate extended concert pieces. Ms. Hunt has to moon over her 13-year-old son during Bruno Walter’s faded sequence of the Prelude to Die Meistersinger. Walter Damrosch figures more as an actor playing himself than as a serious musician.  There are several uncredited performers as there are actors: Bert Freed and a young Cloris Leachman have cameos; so does cellist Leonard Rose in a makeshift excerpt from Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Recordings by David Saperton and Nadia Reisenberg fill in for some of the piano sequences with William Prince’s character.

Instead of outdoor shots of Carnegie Hall, we have cardboard backdrops. At moments, the sound levels drop, and there is no logical segue to the next musical number, as in Lily Pons’ bleached out spot in the abridged Vocalise by Rachmaninov.  The camera keeps zooming to the program to let us know what it is we are hearing. Pons’ face is so white you cannot see her features. The mindless Bell-Song is better shot visually, but the sound quality is poor. Hunt interrupts to remind her son that, someday, he too might play in Carnegie Hall.  A program tells us we are listening to the last selection from a Piatigorsky recital, wherein the cellist is surrounded by no less than four harps in The Swan. Piatigorsky keeps his eyes closed, the better to avoid the Hollywood kitsch. When Tony says, “I’ll be careful,” the director cuts to Rise Stevens’ rendition of Delilah’s My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice and Carmen’s Seguidilla, perhaps a subtle admonition on feminine wiles. The synchronization between Stevens’ voice and her lips is off. The Hollywood treatment of Beethoven’s Fifth with Rodzinski does more for the conductor than for Toscanini’s work at Carnegie Hall 1952.

The list of luminaries includes Artur Rubinstein in Chopin and Falla; Ezio Pinza in Verdi and Mozart; Jan Peerce in one Neapolitan song; Vaughn Monroe in two songs; Jascha Heifetz and Fritz Reiner in the Tchaikovsky Concerto first movement to prove Hunt sang it correctly; Leopold Stokowski and his dramatically backlit hair in the second movement of the Tchaikovsky Fifth; and finally, Harry James and Charles Previn in Hal Borne’s Brown Danube. Rubinstein tells McHugh to tell Tony to practice Bach.  But what’s this? Does Hunt hear forbidden jazz riffs made out of Chopin’s Waltz in C# Minor?  The rebuffed William Prince makes his mea culpa with Chopin’s C# Minor Nocturne. Jan Peerce coaches Ms. O’Driscoll, even telling her that singing should be fun before he breaks into O sole mio. Ezio Pinza has to do camp over a theatrical hat to segue into Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, whose final laugh allows him to lend Prince five bucks for a date. Then, Prince goes to a club where crooner Monroe sings with Prince’s love interest. Monroe has Tony join his band as a pianist. Heifetz complains about stage fright. Reiner keeps a straight face playing to McHugh. Hunt remains faithful to her true love, Carnegie Hall, and never mind McHugh’s libido.

The old cliché that Tony’s jazz is new and full of life, as opposed to the old music, is one step away from Golden Boy and The Jazz Singer. Tony acts just like his father, committing the original sin of untying the apron strings. Is this where Stephen King got his idea for Christine?   “But Nora, you ARE Carnegie Hall,” admits Heifetz.  No surprise: O-lan was the Earth when Luise Rainer played her in the Pearl Buck classic.

[Hey, don’t denigrate Piatigorsky and the four cute harpists – that was my favorite part of this very dated movie!  The whole Blue Danube bit was really embarrassing; they could have used something at the same musical level as the rest of the film, such as Gershwin’s Variations on I Got Rhythm…Ed.]

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01