Rhapsody in Blue (1945) - full review!
Directed by Irving Rapper, with a screenplay co-written by Howard Koch (Casablanca (1942)) & Elliot Paul from Sonya Levien’s (Interrupted Melody (1955)) story, this fictionalized biography of George Gershwin captures the spirit of the great composer's passion and features much of his varied music, including the titled composition. Robert Alda (father of Alan) plays Gershwin (in his film debut), Herbert Rudley plays his brother Ira. Joan Leslie and Alexis Smith play women in his life, Charles Coburn plays the music publisher who discovered him while Albert Bassermann plays the music teacher he most respected. Oscar Levant plays himself, a friend of the Gershwins, whose parents are played by Morris Carnovsky and Rosemary DeCamp. Julie Bishop plays Ira's wife. Conductor Paul Whiteman, singer Al Jolson, producer George White, pianist Hazel Scott, and singer Anne Brown play themselves. The film, which was actually shot in 1943 and sat on the shelf due to the backlog of war & escapist films being released at that time, received Oscar nominations for its Score and Sound Recording.
Though Momma Rose (DeCamp) buys her boys, George (Mickey Roth) & Ira (Darryl Hickman) Gershwin, a piano for their New York (The Bronx) apartment above the family grocery store, to give it class, it is Poppa Morris (Carnovsky) who enables George to pursue his obvious gift. Through the years, George moves from one music instructor to another until he finally works under the tutelage of Professor Franck (Bassermann). Around the age of twenty, George (Alda) briefly plays relief piano for Chico Marx before he finds himself hawking "free to performers" Remick music for tone-deaf manager Mr. Kast (Charles Halton), during which time he meets wannabe singer Julie Adams (Leslie). When he's fired by Kast for playing the music he'd written himself, he finds himself in the waiting area of Harms Inc., run by music publisher Max Dreyfus (Coburn), with Oscar Levant, who's also trying to see the publisher. Dreyfus likes Gershwin's song Swanee so much, he hires him for $35/week and phones Al Jolson, who makes it a smash hit in his show at the Winter Garden ("Sinbad").
Gershwin enjoys great financial success with hit after hit, but his discussions with Franck, who talks of Schubert, Wagner, Beethoven & Brahms, make him feel that he's missing something. He writes a musical for Julie called "Half Past Eight" which features S Marvelous, but it bombs. George says that he doesn't have time for failures and, for the rest of his life, drives himself relentlessly to create and explore new areas of music. His father now owns a Turkish bath, and Ira is starting to write lyrics. In the bath, George meets a friend of Dreyfus's named George White, who produces an annual string of musical comedies called "Scandals" with Gershwin's songs. Poppa marks his son's success by the length of the songs he writes. George continues to experiment, but has another temporary setback when he tries to write blues music. George learns that Ira is to marry Lee (Bishop) during a dinner in which Dreyfus and Franck "debate" the best use of George's talent; Levant and Julie are also in attendance. Conductor Paul Whiteman recognized George's capacity for the blues and takes him to Aeolian Hall where lots of famous persons (including Will Wright as Rachmaninoff) hear his "Rhapsody in Blue" concert. It is well received but Professor Franck, who was unable to attend due to illness, dies which tempers George's enthusiasm.
George decides to go to Paris, intending to study per Professor Franck's wishes. However, in a nightclub he hears Hazel Scott play & sing his music and then meets Christine Gilbert (Smith). She is an artist herself, a painter, and they have some good times together. She introduces him to Ravel (Oscar Loraine) of Bolero fame and soon learns that George is consumed by his music. Still, she returns with him to an unexpected "welcome home" party in New York where she and, the waiting, Julie are made to feel unimportant by George's egocentric attention to his gift, at Levant's expense as well. After singing Embraceable You, Julie runs out on George and soon, after giving him a dog, so does Christine. George returns to Paris and writes "An American in Paris".
*** SPOILERS ***
George returns home in time to see his father die of leukemia. Based on his father's dying words, George finds Julie in Miami, but she pretends to be engaged to her bandleader; she refuses to come between him and his talent. He completes his opera "Porgy and Bess", starring Anne Brown, which earns praise from Dreyfus even if it receives mixed reviews. George, Ira, and Oscar travel to Los Angeles by train, but George's health is failing. He experiences splitting headaches to go along with his heartbreak. He has a brief recovery when he hears that Julie will come to be with him, but he dies as Oscar is playing a concert back in New York. The film ends with a concert of Gershwin's music, being played in his honor.