Weekend Movie Review: Words and Music (1948)
July 26, 2012 9 Comments
I went to see Words and Music at the Stanford Theatre knowing that it is a post-World War II MGM all-star musical, so I figured that this highly fictionalized account of the career of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart would provide a series of pretty darn good musical numbers, perhaps tied together by a clumsy narrative. Unfortunately, the songs were fewer in number than I’d hoped, even after accounting for the fact that Rodgers & Hammerstein was much more prolific than Rodgers & Hart. A bland narrative hung over the film like Perry Como (who was actually pretty likable in the film), spiced up by the frequently fascinating presence of Mickey Rooney, who played Hart.
RODGERS: A tune without a lyric is a mighty lonesome thing.
Rooney has the same “it” factor as William Shatner, with considerably stronger talent in the singing and dancing categories. Both Rooney and Shatner are hams, but by the time we’ve arrived at Hart’s death scene in the rain, and you are quite prepared for him to die already. That sequence alone must have been two hours long. Just die, Rooney, die!
There were a few stand-out cameos. The first kick-ass moment in the film is Lena Horne performing “The Lady Is A Tramp”…
…which was only topped by Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland performing “I Wish I Were in Love Again.” The Rooney/Garland history oozes through as they play off each other with ease. Garland, who had body image and pill issues throughout her life, looks a tad thin to me here, but is dazzling as always.
Sadly, I missed out on the Gene Kelly / Vera-Ellen ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” The Stanford Theatre is about as good as it gets when it comes to the quality of their reels, but they skipped over most of this for some unknown (to me) reason. I only knew to look for it because Gene Kelly appeared, and I figured that they wouldn’t book him for a movie without making him dance for his supper.
Being that it’s 1948, they don’t come out (so to speak) and explicitly note that Lorenz Hart was gay, but it grows pretty obvious as the film progressed and Hart pines after girls and marriage with a naive idealism that is ridiculous even for Hollywood.
PEGGY: You’re a little fellow, aren’t you? But on you it’s very becoming.
Hart even accompanies the Rodgers on their honeymoon, and they paint him as suspiciously close to his mother, who at one point appears at the window as if she were his lover.
Like many musicals and movies of its time, Words and Music portrays creativity as something which is inevitably rewarded. So long as you have talent and pluck, life will recognize you, your talent, and your pluck. It doesn’t hurt if you also come from a wealthy background where your dad exhorts you to stop worrying about business and pursue your dreams, as Rodgers’ father does in the flick. Just make sure to find the right girl and settle down, or you might die in the rain, a lonely alcoholic.
But my real question is, why didn’t they give us a rendition of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered?” That’s one of my favorite Rodgers & Hart songs. So sweet, and so sad…
I’m wild again,
A simpering, whimpering child again -
Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered