The title of the soundie Hoagy Carmichael (1939) would more accurately be called The Jack Teagarden Orchestra Performs Hoagy Carmichael because Hoagy is hardly more than a guest star.
Re-issued on video as Hoagy Carmichael: His Life & Music made it even more misleading by implying a biography rather than that one old soundie.
Hoagy was one of the great entertainers of his day, capable of sitting at a piano & singing wonderful songs with an added edge of warmhearted humor. So it was disappointing to discover a film named for him really about the tepid musicality of trumbonist Teagarden & his easily forgotten band.
Mostly instrumentals of Hoagy's best known songs, the Teagarden Orchestra opens with a bit of "Lazybones," then out comes Meredith Blake to sing a song Hoagy wrote just for this film, "That's Right, I'm Wrong," not a bad number, but how I wish Hoagy'd sung it instead.
Hoagy will sing only a couple lines from "Washboard Blues" & "Rockin' Chair," & Hoagy with Jack will riff a comedy dialogue together for a few moments. But for the bulk, the tunes remain mostly instrumental.
Throughout thre three tunes inspired, presumedly, by folk culture of the black rural south ("Small Fry," "Rockin' Chair" & "Lazybones") the story cuts away to scenes of a black family in a poor rural setting.
They're romanticized figures but at base shown to be poor & shiftless. By making a modern viewer at least think of all the stereotyping inflicted on African Americans by Hollywood, this weakens rather than strengthens the effects of the orchestra's efforts.
A bit of "Two Sleepy People" is crowded into the soundscape hardly noticed. Closing the set, Meredith Blake returns to sing Hoagy's hoary standard "Stardust."
Teagarden's generic style suits the indifferent vocal style of Blake. As the soundie ends, I was just so sorry it wasn't a great deal more about Hoagy as a performer, as it's frankly one of the dullest soundies ever made.
As the three-minute soundie Lazybones (1941) begins, Hoagy Carmichael is sitting at his piano with two lovely but nameless damsels listening to him play.
This is one of Hoagy's most appealing songs, written with Johnny Mercer in 1933. And though many others sang it through the years, no one ever sang it better than Hoagy.
Behind him is a cityscape, & the setting is supposed to be his hotel room. We hear more instruments than just the piano. Unseen, Bob Crosby & His Orchestra are also playing, highlighted by Floyd O'Brian's trumbone.
The girls notice a maid & porter coming in the door & the camera pans over to where we see Peter Ray in a porter outfit with a tea-tray balanced on his head.
There's a way of doing the balancing tray routine that's a cheat because the stuff on the tray is glued down. Not so for Peter Ray; he's really balancing that tray with teapot, sugar bowl, & cream pitcher loose upon it. He arranges for the pot to shift around lest we think he's not really doing a pretty difficult stunt.
And wearing the flouncy maid outfit is none other than Dorothy Dandridge -- later to be an Oscar nominee, star of Carmen Jones (1954), & Bess in Porty & Bess (1959).
She well knew that putting her in the maid outfit, & her dance partner the porter, was way too much of a stereotype of the very sort she'd promised herself she would not stoop too. But you do what you gotta do to make a living as a dancer & actress. Dandridge's handfull of soundies in 1941 & 1942 were virtually her first film work after striking out on her own apart from The Dandridge Sisters act, & she was in no position to demand better.
Humiliating though the costuming makes their contribution, Dandridge & Ray nevertheless provide an amusing balancing & dance routine, almost in slow motion to match Hoagy's languid vocal style for a lazily paced song.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl