Sunday, August 23, 2015

Practice, Practice, Practice

Most people who know Edgar G. Ulmer mostly know him from his classic low-budget noir Detour. He had come to Hollywood from Eastern Europe with ambitions beyond becoming a master B-movie director. Carnegie Hall (1947) is an example of what he did when he got a chance.

Marsha Hunt plays a war orphan whose relatives bring her up at Carnegie Hall. She goes from a little girl who see the first performance at the hall, conducted by Peter Tchaikovsky himself to a cleaner to an office manager. She falls in love with an impulsive pianist and when he dies, raises his son to someday play at Carnegie Hall himself. But this part is not that interesting.

What is interesting is the performances that the story wraps around. We get Stokowski (without the mouse) conducting, and Rodzinski and Bruno Walter. We hear Rubinstein and Piatigorsky on piano and cello. Ezio Pinza and Lily Pons sing for us, and many more, including a pop number with Harry James on trumpet, to show how the hall changes with the times.

It's transporting if you are at all interested in classical music (although the choices may be a little stale - although we were happy to hear de Falla's Fire Dance). And Hunt's reverence for the famed venue is touching. But - as I mentioned - her story is a bit slow and melodramatic. And they could have been a bit more informative about the hall. For example, they talk about Tchaikovsky conducting, but not that it was the opening concert. And later when Hunt gets an apartment above the hall... Did you know there were apartments above Carnegie Hall? Gorgeous from the looks of them. I heard about them on the news because they closed down recently, when the last rent controlled tenant from the 1950s died.

I guess they assumed all this was common knowledge in 1947, and maybe it was - maybe it still is. Well, at least I know this stuff now, because this movie made me want to look it up.

It's great that Ulmer got to make this, and I hope he had a great time. But all the melodrama makes it too long - over two hours. I thought it was worth it for the performances, your mileage may vary.

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