Classic Movie Reviews

Rhapsody in Blue

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(Sep 1898 -- Jul 1937)

Born in Brooklyn as one of four children to Jewish immigrant parents from Odessa, Ukraine (at that time part of the Russian Empire). He began learning piano at age 10 and at an early age began studying piano and composition with a noted classical master who became his mentor. At 15 he left school and became a song plugger on Tin Pan Alley and soon was composing music for the Broadway stage, in association with his lyricist brother Ira and Buddy DeSylva. Moving to Paris, he studied composition and began work on An American in Paris. Upon his return to New York he wrote his opera Porgy and Bess with Ira and author DuBose Heyward. It was not an immediate success, partly because it was set in the black ghetto of Charleston, South Carolina, and many white audiences were not quite ready for that. Black audiences were also lukewarm for many years because they felt it was presumptuous for a white man to write a black opera. But over time Porgy and Bess became accepted and beloved and has been performed numerous times on stage and film. It is generally considered one of the most important operas produced in America in the Twentieth Century. Gershwin was the first serious composer to base classical musical forms on American jazz and pop culture. Moving to Hollywood, he kept busy composing movie scores until he died of a brain tumor at 38. We can only imagine what wonderful music the world will never hear because of George Gershwin’s untimely death.



    This superb fictionalized screen biography of the immortal George Gershwin stars Robert Alda (father of M*A*S*H star Alan Alda) and features cameo appearances by Gershwin contemporaries Paul Whiteman (and his orchestra), Oscar Levant and Al Jolson. Morris Carnovsky and Rosemary DeCamp portray his parents and Herbert Rudley plays brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics for most of George’s music. Alda’s piano playing is mostly dubbed by Oscar Levant. Two orchestral compositions, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris are performed almost in their entirety. 


    The fictional love interests are provided by Alexis Smith and Joan Leslie. The film also features two talented black singers/musicians, Anne Brown and Hazel Scott (one-time child prodigies from the Julliard School). Anne Brown signs the hauntingly beautiful aria Summertime from the opera Porgy and Bess. She originated the role of Bess in the 1935 debut of the opera. Rhapsody in Blue was nominated for two Oscars (Scoring of a Musical and Sound) and for the Grand Prize at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.


1945 - Directed by Irving Rapper

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