Sunday’s Noir City was all about classical musicians; dark, evil, down-and-dirty classical musicians.
Well, not quite.
Talent isn’t enough to make you a great musician. You need to work hard. You have to devote yourself to your art. And you have to sleep with Joan Crawford.
In Humoresque, John Garfield plays a brilliant young violinist from the streets of New York, trying to eke out a living. The promise of success, and then the reality, comes from a wealthy, extremely alcoholic matron of the arts (Crawford). She’s married, but that doesn’t stop her from making beautiful music with her handsome fiddler friend.
Garfield and Crawford were magnetic stars, and it’s fun to watch them spark. Crawford is the real standout, knocking back one drink after another and swinging to emotional extremes.
For a melodrama, Humoresque has a surprisingly strong collection of funny one liners (and yes, they’re intentional). Oscar Levant plays the sidekick pianist, and gets to say most of the wisecracks. “She was born with a silver flask in her mouth.”
And, of course, it’s filled with great music. Isaac Stern worked as a music advisor.
The story slows down in the last half hour, which is why I give it a B. Most of it would earn a B+.
But I can’t really call this movie film noir. There’s no crime, no violence, and no sense of an inherently amoral world. Yes, it’s in black and white and occasionally shows dark shadows. But that doesn’t make it noir.
The 35mm print was hit and miss. Some reels were in excellent conditions. Others were badly scratched. At one point, the film broke.
The other film on the double bill was definitely noir. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good a movie.
But the pre-show was great. First, we were treated by a very good violin solo. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the violinist’s name.
Then Eddie Muller took the stage with Monica Henreid, the daughter of one of the film’s stars, Paul Henreid. She talked about her father’s long friendship with co-star Betty Davis, and how the famous cigarette-lighting scene in Now Voyager came about (it was his wife’s idea).
She told about her father’s political troubles. Working in his native Austria in the 1930s, and he was blacklisted for refusing to sign with the National Socialist Actors Guild. He eventually went to England. But when the war started, he became an enemy alien and was blacklisted there. Then he came to America, and had a good career until the 50s, when he was blacklisted again.
Onto the movie:
Betty Davis plays a musician, although we never see her make music. She’s far too worried trying to hide her past from her brilliant cellist of a new husband (Henreid). He’s just come to the US after some horrible experiences under the Nazis, and he’s too emotionally unstable to deal with the fact that she has been the mistress of a famous and brilliant composer.
Luckily for the audience, that composer is played by Claude Rains. Without Rains’ wonderful scene stealing, this stage-bound talky melodrama would be unbearable. Davis is best when she’s tough, and she’s not tough here. And Henreid is best only when playing a calm but fearless revolutionary; he’s not the artist type
And the story is just too dumb. All she has to do is tell her husband that she’s not a virgin, and her problems would be over. But by the time she finally confesses, there’s been a murder (I told you this one really is a noir).
Thanks only to Claude Rains, Deception gets a C+.
The 35mm print was uneven, but not never got as bad as Humoresque.