Friday, August 8, 2014


The great movie guru Bruce Kogan is back for another insightful review...

As I write this review we are fortunate to have all three stars from Young Man With a Horn still with us. All three of them give magnificent performances. Too bad the story was such a cop out.

The novel that this is based on has the character of Rick Martin die in the end just like Bix Beiderbecke on whom he was based does at the tender age of 28. It would have been so much more powerful and more effective had the film had that ending. It's such a let down after a great trio of players give their all.

Doris Day gets to sing three great standards, With A Song In My Heart, The Very Thought of You and Too Marvelous for Words. I believe this is the first film in which she shows real dramatic potential as the band vocalist in love with the cornetist who can't find inner peace.

Kirk Douglas is in a role that could have been written just for him on the screen. I can't imagine anyone doing it better. It's just his kind of part, all the rage inside him because of the lousy childhood and unable to articulate it except through his horn. His heights and his downfall are believable and real, but no one could have made the audience accept the tacked on happy ending.

Lauren Bacall was a friend of Kirk Douglas's from New York when they were both struggling drama students. She encouraged him to come to Hollywood after she made it big. This is their only film together. 

It's also the first time she played a bad girl. She's a self indulgent heiress who looks at life as a series of kicks to be had. She makes Douglas fall for her big time and then treats him shabbily when they're married. This is one of the earliest examples of lesbianism portrayed on the screen. She leaves him to go off to Europe with a woman who she met in school and check out the glances Bacall gives her new flame.

I don't think Bacall is a lesbian however. To her an affair with a female is just another thing to indulge herself with. My guess is when the novelty wears off, this woman will get the Douglas treatment.

To give it a real jazz flavor Young Man With a Horn also features Hoagy Carmichael who knew Bix Beiderbecke in real life and it is he who narrates the story from his perspective. Look also for good performances by Jerome Cowan as a character based on Paul Whiteman and Juano Hernandez as the jazz cornetist who teaches young Rick Martin as played by Orley Lindgren to play. Hernandez's character is based on a lot of people, most probably King Oliver is the closest model.

Young Man in a Horn is a stand up double of a film. It would have been an exciting in the park home run if they had kept the ending as is.


1 comment:

  1. I agree that the ending is a cop out but compared to some of the whitewashed bios, Look for the Silver Lining, So This is Love, The I Don't Care Girl etc., Hollywood was churning out in the 50's it's pretty frank in its dealings with the main character. The shading of the two women is on the heavy side with Doris the white angel and Betty Bacall the devil. Bacall's Amy strikes me more as bisexual, swaying whichever way her fancy of the moment carries her.

    Sadly you first sentence no longer holds true. Although Lauren Bacall had a long and very event filled life it's always a shame to see a legend go. This was one of the very few films from the golden age whose starring line up was still intact. Doris's "Julie" with Louis Jourdan and Kirk's "Strangers When We Meet" with Kim Novak are the only two I can think of, there may be more but not many.