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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Young Man With a Horn

In the 1950 film Young Man With a Horn we again see Douglas playing a character that is not completely likeable. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film was based on a novel that was a roman a clef about cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. This story is cleaned up somewhat, given a happy ending (Beiderbecke died at 28) but still has a gritty feel to it, depicting its immersion in the world of jazz.

Rick Martin is orphaned at any early age, raised by indifferent older sister. He wanders into a church and is fascinated by the piano. After the service he teaches himself the hymn. Later, he will be drawn to the sounds of a jazz club, and a kindly trumpet player (Juano Hernandez, in a touching performance) teaches him how to play.

Martin grows up to be Kirk Douglas, who takes jobs with dance bands, but longs to just let loose. This gets him fired more than once. Along the way he meets a sweet and innocent singer (Doris Day), called Jo Jordan, which makes me wonder if she was based on Jo Stafford, but he becomes romantically involved with the witchy Lauren Bacall, a dilettante who may be a Lesbian ("I'm tired of the way you try to touch me!") she tells him, even after they're married. Douglas goes into an alcoholic downward spiral, insults his long-time teacher, and with the help of his true friends gets the help he needs.

The story is narrated by Hoagy Carmichael, who I've decided I would have liked to have been if I could be anybody in history. A great piano player, composer, and a decent actor, and Ian Fleming said he pictured James Bond as looking like Carmichael.

Of course Douglas didn't play the trumpet, but he did a good job faking it. It was actually played by Harry James. It's James' centennial this year, and in the weeks ahead I'll be writing more about him.

Young Man With a Horn is an okay picture, with a few too many cliches, but once again Douglas' intensity on screen makes it more interesting than it should have been.

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