Till the Couds Roll By (1946) begins with a twenty-minute condensation of Showboat which had debuted in 1927, after which Jerome Kern's future was never in question.
These first two reels form the best part of the film, with the stage for Show Boat crowded with performers, black & white, doing a medley of the musical's famous songs. In the 1951 film version, the cast was forced to perform segregated & the mixed-marriage theme originally so central to the tale was completely deleted. So this abbreviated version is much truer to the original, with Lena Horne playing the wife of the white guy.
With a couple very, very notable successes, most of the music for Showboat is either ordinary or crappy. The abject gorgeousness of "Old Man River" kind of overwhelms that fact, however, & Lena Horne's number is totally great:
"Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly/ I gott love one way till I die/ Can't help loving that man of mine..." If Kern could write like that more often he'd've been a genius, instead of just occasionally doing a whole lot better than his usual.
"Old Man River" is sung by Caleb Peterson back to back with Lena first number, & for this little while the film is a wonder.
Though uncredited, these Show Boat reels were directed by a young George Sidney, who would direct the 1951 film of Showboat. So if it seems incredible that the film could sink in competence so soon after these reels are done, it's because the credited director, Richard Whorf, was largely incompetent.
As soon as the "character" of Jerome Kerne intrudes, played without much authority by Robert Walker, suddenly we're in the midst of an insipid biopic.
We go into a flashback when he was a young man looking for a break as a songwriter, trappin us with a film as close to unwatchable as any musical with reputation gets.
Till the Clouds Roll By only regains a spark of life when there's an interuption of the phony biography & we focus on Judy Garland. The shitty director Richard Whorf sits this one out, & Vincent Minelli directs Judy's scenes.
She sings "Look for the Silver Linging" as a poor dishwasher with hope for better days to come. She makes the song more than it really is, dirty dishes heaped up around her to absurd heights.
Then comes a big kitschy circus number with the garish Minelli touch, to the trashy song "Sonny" sung by a bunch of guys, "How'd You Like to Spoon With Me?" sung by Angela Lansbury, & Judy singing "Who Can It Be."
Between Minelli's excesses & Judy's extravagant talent, the film has for this little while breathed life. But then the show is turned back over to Worfe who milks the faux drama with the semi-talents of Richard Wagner & Van Heflin to assist.
Oh, & Lucille Bremer as a singer seeking stardom & trying to manipulate Kern as her undeserved ticket to ride. And Bremer as the female lead of this film needs her songs dubbed by Trudy Erwin, vocalist from the Kay Kyser orchestra.
Can't say the film's an all-round failure, though, because it does have those first two reels of "Showboat digest" & one more reel of Judy Garland. That's a good half-hour of entertainment.
Hammerstein & Kern songs aren't inevitably timeless, but some are famous & should've been more thrilling to hear. There are some passin' fair moments in the film when we get away from the abysmal biopic in perference for performances by Dinah Shore singing "The Last Time I Saw Paris," Virginia O'Brien singing "A Fine Romance," June Alyson singing "Leave it to Jane" & "Cleopatterer," & for the finale, Frank Sinatra butchering "Ol' Man River." Cyd Charisse & Gower Champion dance to "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
There's quite a few more singers represented, too, & rather surprising it isn't exciting. The director spent most of his career directing episodic television shows & that, alas, is the level he achieved with his few feature films.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl