Monday, May 3, 2021

#2,562. Young Man with a Horn (1950) - The Films of Kirk Douglas


Based on a 1938 novel of the same name (which was itself inspired by the life of jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke), Young Man with a Horn stars Kirk Douglas as Rick Martin, a gifted trumpet player whose passion for music is all-consuming.

Taught how to play by Jazz trumpeter Art Hazzard (uano Hernandez), Martin rose from obscurity to become one of the best musicians of his generation, and along with his good pal Smoke Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael) played dance halls, jazz clubs, and everywhere in between.

The women in Rick’s life, including singer Jo Jordan (Doris Day) and psychiatrist Amy North (Lauren Bacall) - the latter of whom would become his wife - realized early on that Rick Martin’s real love was his trumpet. But when life took a turn for the worse, he found that not even music could see him through the dark times.

By the time he made this 1950 musical / drama, Michael Curtiz had directed around 150 movies, some of which (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mildred Pierce) still rank among the finest ever made. True to form, he does a remarkable job staging Young Man with a Horn's various musical numbers, giving them a vitality that is tangible; even a late funeral sequence, which features gospel standards like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, has energy to spare.

As for the cast, Douglas delivers a top-notch performance as the always-optimistic Martin, a guy who cares more about the music than he does making money, while Doris Day (who also gets to sing a few songs), Carmichael (who doubles as the film’s narrator), and Hernandez shine as Martin’s down-to-earth friends, all of whom try to convince him there’s more to life than his trumpet.

Then there’s Lauren Bacall as Amy, Martin’s eventual wife. Supported by her rich yet estranged father, Amy has failed at everything she’s ever attempted - from playing the piano to getting her college degree - and is envious of Rick’s talent, which has carried him to the top of his profession. It’s a toxic relationship from the start, and Bacall manages to bring a little humanity to what is easily the movie’ most unlikable character.

With great tunes (band leader Harry James served as the musical advisor and doubled for Douglas’ trumpet playing), an excellent cast, and an old pro like Curtiz at the helm, Young Man with a Horn rises above the standard musical drama to deliver something much more substantial.
Rating: 8 out of 10

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