Bix Beiderbeeke must be writhing in his grave. This Warner Brothers picture is allegedly based on the novel by Dorothy Baker which was inspired by the life and music of the first superlative white jazz trumpeter.
Kirk Douglas, still looking more like a Champion than a genius, plays the musician, Rick Martin. For the behind-the-scenes trumpet they could have picked Bobby Hackett, the last fine musician of the Bix school. They could have selected any one of a number of good young California trumpeters who worship Beiderbecke's records. So they chose Harry James. This only adds to the public illusion that jazz was discovered in New Orleans by Larry Parks, that it was brought up to Chicago on the riverboats by Arturo de Cordoya, and that every great jazz trumpeter must have sounded like James.
Rick Martin is an orphan, brought up by his sister in Los Angeles. At an early age he meets and grows to worship a Negro trumpeter, Art Hazard (a "preaching" role, played uncomfortably by Juano Henandez), and takes lessons from him. It soon becomes apparent that the trumpet is the only thing Rick can rely upon completely.
Rick's upward struggles are cut to a minimum in order to bring in the psychiatric element. He is sped to New York, becomes a huge success, and meets Lauren Bacall, horribly miscast as a lady-psychiatrist. Most of what she says is unbelievable ("I am an intellectual mountain goat"). Her "class" bowls him over and he marries her, only to find that she is insanely jealous of his own success. This, and the fluff of a not-too-high note in recording session, make him go to pieces.
Meanwhile, the musical side of the picture gets progressively worse. Upon arrival in New York, Rick is supposed to knock out the jazz impresarios with a torrid solo in a dive called "Galba's." In the picture he goes to Galba's, takes out his horn, and tears into "With a Song in My Heart."
Hoagy Carmichael and Doris Day play the two faithful friends who bring the great man back to health again. Carmichael, an old friend of Bix's, plays his "lifelike" role in a deathlike way, muttering monosyllables through a haze of cigarette smoke. Miss Day is extremely pretty and sings very well--but it isn't close to jazz.
There is one other discrepancy. In the novel, Rick dies. In the picture he lives happily ever after, learning to be "a human being first and an artist afterwards."
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