What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Young Man With A Horn (1950)

For today’s movie, we’ve got one that’s pulling double-duty! Besides being a recent release on Blu-ray, it also features actress and singer Doris Day, our Star Of The Month! That movie is the 1950 film Young Man With A Horn, which also stars Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall! Of course, we have a few theatrical shorts included on that Blu-ray release to get through first, and then it’s on to the movie!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Hillbilly Hare (1950)

(available as an extra on the Young Man With A Horn Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 25 seconds)

Bugs Bunny faces off against two hillbillies out to feud with him. A fun cartoon I’ve enjoyed seeing since childhood. While it starts out with the two hillbillies trying to shoot him, the real fun begins with the “square dance.” Never fails to get me to laughing hysterically with all the stuff that Bugs manages to get them to do!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Homeless Hare (1950)

(available as an extra on the Young Man With A Horn Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 6 seconds)

When a construction worker destroys Bugs’ home, he vows revenge. Another type of Bugs cartoon in which he is wronged, and decides to fight back. You just know that construction worker won’t know what hit him. Of course, I was surprised to see him get one good shot in on Bugs partway through, but at least that allows for some variety. Still worth a few good laughs!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Hurdy-Gurdy Hare (1950)

(available as an extra on the Young Man With A Horn Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 6 minutes, 58 seconds)

Bugs buys a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey, hoping to make big money. But when he fires the monkey for not turning over the money, the monkey turns to a big gorilla to get back at Bugs. This one takes a moment to really get into the spirit of the thing, but, once it gets going, it’s a lot of fun! While the gags may not be the most original, it’s still fun to root for Bugs to win out (and enjoy a few good laughs along the way)!

And Now For The Main Feature…

As a young boy, little Rick Martin (Orley Lindgren) loses both his parents and is sent to live with his sister. He mostly keeps to himself, but one day he walks by a local mission. Mesmerized by the music, he listens and, after the service, teaches himself how to play the piano. He learns it quickly, but also feels a strong compulsion to play the trumpet. Unable to buy one, he starts working in a bowling alley to earn enough. One time, while on a break, he hears some jazz music from the club next door, and he decides to listen from outside the door. One time, when he is just listening to the band play when the club is closed, he accidentally makes his presence known. The lead trumpet player, Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), invites him in to listen, and is impressed when Rick knows what he’s talking about. So, Art helps him buy a trumpet, and teaches him how to play it. As he grows up, Rick (now played as an adult by Kirk Douglas) becomes quite talented. He ends up joining an orchestra lead by Jack Chandler (Walter Reed). While part of that orchestra, he meets and befriends piano player Smoke Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael) and the orchestra’s singer, Jo Jordan (Doris Day). Rick likes to improvise with his music, but Chandler only wants his orchestra to play the music as written. Rick tries to control himself, but one night, during a break, he convinces Smoke and a few other musicians to join him in a jam session. Rick is promptly fired, and Smoke goes with him. After a while, the two decide to go their separate ways, and Rick makes his way to New York City. While there, he finds his old friend and mentor Art Hazzard playing at a club, and he decides to join him. Jo, who has also been doing very well, brings around orchestra leader Phil Morrison (Jerome Cowan), who gives Rick a job. So, for a while, Rick plays with Phil’s orchestra (doing it Phil’s way), and then leaves afterwards to join Art at the other club (where he can play his own way). One time, Jo brings along a friend of hers, Amy North (Lauren Bacall). Rick starts to fall for Amy (even though she warns him that she may be incapable of love), and they soon get married. However, they start to drift apart almost immediately, and Rick’s other relationships start to suffer as he tries to keep his marriage together. Art Hazzard meets him in a bar and tries to intervene. Rick is frustrated with everything and lashes out at Art, even though he doesn’t really mean it. However, in leaving the bar, Art is hit by a car. When Rick hears about the accident later, he tries to go see Art, but is too late, as Art is already dead by that time. Things come to a head with Amy, and they decide to get a divorce. Rick really starts to drink a lot, and finds himself struggling to play his trumpet well. He goes so far off the skids as to be picked up by a taxi driver and taken to rehab for his alcoholism. However, he has also come down with pneumonia, which has left him in bad shape. Can he recover, both from his illness and his alcoholism, or will this be it for Rick?

Young Man With A Horn is based on the 1938 fictional novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker. Her story was said to be inspired by the music of jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. Cast member Hoagy Carmichael actually knew Bix Beiderbecke, and thus lends an air of authenticity to the movie. It’s been said that Kirk Douglas worked with Larry Sullivan, a studio musician at Warner Brothers, to make his trumpet playing look realistic, and Harry James dubbed his trumpet playing.

It’s probably no surprise that Doris Day’s presence in this movie is the main reason I wanted to see it (although the other two big stars in this movie certainly didn’t hurt). I enjoyed the film quite a bit. While it was Doris Day’s fourth film overall (and I’ve so far seen two of the earlier three), it’s interesting to see her in her first dramatic role. Obviously, it wasn’t a huge stretch for her to play a band singer (since she had been one), but I do feel she does well in the part, as we see her character come to care for Kirk’s Rick Martin, and try to help him out. As always, she is in fine voice for the various songs she does sing, and that works fine for me. The score overall is fun to listen to, with a few familiar songs, including one that “foreshadows,” if you will, her next film. Granted, she doesn’t sing the song “Tea For Two,” as it’s part of a montage of music being played by Kirk’s Rick Martin, but it’s fun just the same. And Kirk himself does well throughout the movie. I was entranced by his performance as we watched his ups and downs, both personally and professionally. Overall, a very enjoyable movie. The only part I wasn’t fond of was the ending. Now, I do enjoy (and prefer) happy endings in most of the movies I watch, but this one feels unearned. If what I’ve read on Imdb is true, then apparently this ending was forced on the film by Jack Warner, while director Michael Curtiz and Kirk Douglas wanted it a bit more downbeat, which would have been more accurate to what Bix Beiderbecke went through. To be fair, it’s not as bad as the forced ending on another one of Doris Day’s films (and you’ll find out which one later this month), and didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the movie. So, I would still definitely recommend this one without any reservations!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection. Their Blu-ray makes use of a new remaster from a 4K scan of nitrate fine grain film elements (since the original camera negative is gone), and, boy, does this movie look (and SOUND) great! Seriously, this is indeed the way to enjoy this wonderful film!

Film Length: 1 hour, 52 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Out Of The Past (1947) – Kirk Douglas – Two Weeks In Another Town (1962)

Dark Passage (1947) – Lauren Bacall – Designing Woman (1957)

My Dream Is Yours (1949)Doris DayTea For Two (1950)

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

This time around, we’re here for the 1952 Esther Williams movie Million Dollar Mermaid, co-starring Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon and David Brian.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Reducing (1952)

(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)

(Length: 8 minutes, 23 seconds)

Another short from the Pete Smith comedy series, this time on someone trying to lose weight. This time around, the short really wasn’t as fun. The “humor” (if you can call it that) about a woman trying to lose weight is, at best, dated, and, at worst, too mean-spirited to be that funny. It’s always worth trying something different, but sometimes you find a stinker, and this is one of them. Doesn’t seem to be restored either, but, as I said, in this case, it doesn’t matter.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Little Quacker (1950)

(Available as an extra on the Million Dollar Mermaid Blu-ray)

(Length: 7 minutes, 8 seconds)

Tom the cat steals a duck egg, only for it to hatch, and the little duckling turns to Jerry the mouse for help. A fun Tom & Jerry cartoon, and apparently the one that introduced the character “Little Quacker” (or whatever the little duckling was called). This was fun, as it’s been some time since I’ve seen any of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, and I enjoyed seeing this one. This one seemed to be in good shape, like it’s been worked on and/or restored. (Either way, I enjoyed seeing it!)

And Now For The Main Feature…

As a child in Australia, young Annette Kellerman (Donna Corcoran) recovers from polio by trying to learn to swim. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon), who owns and runs a music conservatory, encourages her to keep swimming, since it has helped her to get stronger, while also encouraging her to learn music and ballet. As she gets older, Annette (now played by Esther Williams) becomes a champion swimmer. However, the conservatory cannot sustain itself financially, so her father takes a job in London and brings her along. On the boat ride there, they meet promoter James Sullivan (Victor Mature), who is taking Sydney, a boxing kangaroo, to London with the help of his friend Doc Cronnol (Jesse White). James takes an interest in Annette and her abilities, and offers to manage her, but her father turns him down, since he prefers to keep her swimming as a hobby and not an occupation. When they get to London, they find out that the conservatory where Frederick’s job was supposed to be had closed down when the owner died, leaving them looking for work. James comes to them and offers Annette some money to help him promote Sydney by a 6 mile swim, to which she makes a counteroffer to do a 26 mile swim. At first, nobody is interested, but along the way, many people hear about it and come to cheer her on. Once she completes the swim, James gets an idea to take her to New York City to perform at the Hippodrome. However, once they get there, the Hippodrome manager, Alfred Harper (David Brian), turns them down, saying that Annette is not a big name in the U.S. In response, James and Annette make plans for her to do another big swim, except they run into trouble when she is arrested for indecent exposure because of the swim suit she was wearing. At the trial, the case is dismissed after convincing arguments on her side, plus some slight alterations to her one-piece swimming suit that cover her up more. The resulting publicity helps out when she and James do a show at a carnival. Things are looking up, and James is planning to ask her to marry him, when she is given an offer by a Mr. Aldrich (Howard Freeman) to do a more dignified lecture tour. James and Annette fight over it, and, although Annette ends up turning it down, James leaves, right before she gets a telegram from Alfred saying that she is being hired for a show at the Hippodrome. Her show is a success, and her father is hired as the conductor. James, meanwhile, starts doing a number of stunts and other things on his own, with little success. While she is at the Hippodrome, Frederick passes away, and Alfred falls for her. After a few proposals, she says yes. Before they get married, they head for Hollywood to do a movie. Only problem is, right before they finish, a glass tank full of water that she is swimming in breaks, resulting in her being badly injured. Will she be able to recover, and will she and James end up together again?

Million Dollar Mermaid was very much a passion project for actress Esther Williams. Annette Kellerman inspired Esther Williams in a lot of what she did, and Esther convinced her to let MGM do the biopic. Annette had some say in what they did with the script, as she tried to keep them from making it too Hollywood-ized. Granted, the film, in typical Hollywood fashion, did take liberties with the story, whether by how they characterized James Sullivan, or how they connected him to the famous dog Rin Tin Tin, among other things. But, Annette was happy with the film, and some of its casting (especially actor Walter Pidgeon playing her father).

My own opinion is that Million Dollar Mermaid is about as perfect an Esther Williams film as you can get. You get a few Busby Berkeley-staged swim routines, including the famous “Fountain And Smoke,” which has been shown in a few places, including in the That’s Entertainment film series. You get a movie that doesn’t need the writers to come up with ridiculous ways to get her into the water (although I don’t mind, as I’m generally used to the idea with musicals in general). And, of course, we have one of Esther’s best performances. I can’t even begin to imagine anybody else as Annette Kellerman. Esther’s performance just wows me here, and makes the movie worth watching. Of course, the rest of the cast is no slouch either! Walter Pidgeon, in particular, does very well as her father, being there to support her, even if he disagrees with her at first about swimming as a career. Honestly, this movie is just wonderful, and it’s very easy for me to recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, utilizing a 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negatives. As usual for them, it’s a fantastic transfer! How fantastic you ask? Well, I can only claim to have seen a handful of Esther Williams’ films before (including the previously reviewed Take Me Out To The Ball Game), and I’ve generally been indifferent to her. I hadn’t previously seen Million Dollar Mermaid, but this transfer brings out the color so magnificently, especially for the swim routines. If Warner Archive can give the rest of her films fresh transfers that look as good as this one (or better, if possible), then I’m certainly an Esther Williams fan now!!

Film Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #8 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2020

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – Esther Williams

The Girl Of The Golden West (1938) – Walter Pidgeon – Deep In My Heart (1954)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!