“Humoresque” (1946) starring John Garfield & Joan Crawford

Sid [to Paul]: You’ll do all right. You have all the characteristics of a successful virtuoso. You’re self-indulgent, self-dedicated, and a hero of all your dreams.

Paul Boray (John Garfield) comes from a working-class background; he and his family live above their humble grocery store in NYC. Paul has been playing the violin since he was 11 y.o. (which his mother supports). Paul’s father has a hint of an European accent; he’s skeptical re: his son’s musical potential. A section of the story is told in flashback; a very young Robert Blake plays Paul. While his older siblings work their retail jobs, as a young adult, Paul lives for his music and wants to become a concert violinist. One of Paul’s classmates at the National Institute of Music, Gina (Joan Chandler- her first role), has strong feelings for him; they have a connection and live in the same neighborhood. Like many young people, Paul is idealistic and feels that talent itself will take him to where he wants to go. Paul has potential, but he doesn’t have the right connections, his best friend/pianist Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) explains.

Helen: Bad manners, Mr. Boray, the infallible sign of talent.

At a high society party w/ Sid, Paul meets Helen (Joan Crawford) and Victor (Paul Cavanagh) Wright, the wealthy/influential hosts. Victor (who is older) is perceptive, but also weak man; Helen is strong-minded, yet insecure (and relies on alcohol). Helen becomes Paul’s patroness; she finds him a manager, helps him choose a new suit, and sets up his first public recital. Eventually, Paul embarks on a concert tour and becomes a big success. Paul and Helen also fall in love, but it is a destructive type of love that may risk Paul’s career… and maybe more!

Sid: Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?

“Humoresque” is a must-see for classic film fans, esp. those who like classical music. You hear pieces by Dvorak, Chopin (Etude in G-flat major), Wagner (Tristan and Idolde), Bizet (Carmen), etc. Garfield’s violin “performances” were actually played by two pro violinists standing on either side of him, one moving the bow and one doing the fingering. The music was performed by Isaac Stern; in closeups of the hands alone playing the violin, those are his hands. Levant did all his own piano playing. The screenplay (written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold) has great dialogue (w/ memorable lines); the movie is based on a short story by Fanny Hurst.

Helen: I spend my life doing penance for things I never should have done in the first place.

Garfield (then 33), a Method actor, tried to get an emotional bond w/ the character Crawford (42 y.o.) played by looking deeply in her eyes. This unnerved Crawford, who told director Joe Negulesco: “Tell him to stop looking at me!” LOL, but they have some great onscreen chemistry! Garfield had just come off filming The Postman Always Rings Twice (his most well-known role). While working on this movie, Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for Mildred Pierce. There is some gorgeous B&W photography here, as well as some creatively framed shots. After sparring w/ Paul for the first time, Helen goes to the bar in the next room to make herself a drink; then we see Paul framed as if he’s inside her brandy glass. Looking back, we realize that Paul also became her addiction. Check this film out- you won’t regret it!

[1] As Helen, Joan Crawford gives her greatest performance and she should have been nominated for Best Actress that year. John Garfield is also at top of his form and he certainly is a good match for Miss Crawford. 

[2] A from rags to riches tale with an extra something. The extra something here is Clifford Odetts, the language is as pungent as its pace. The truth in John Garfield’s face rises everything several notches but, perhaps, the biggest surprise… is Joan Crawford’s performance. …she’s rounded and brilliant, torn between who she is and who she would like to be.

[3] ]This film is an outstanding example of the “noir” qualities which were a hallmark of the 30’s to the early 50’s – from the earlier stages of talking pictures, through the depression and post-WW II years. Joan Crawford was one of the two best (along with Bette Davis) at portraying this type of cold, possessive, and thoroughly selfish, powerful female presence.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

One thought on ““Humoresque” (1946) starring John Garfield & Joan Crawford

  1. This looks like it would be a good film for me. I love these music-themed films (Bildungsroman of musicians and so on).

    re: eyes: I was having a discussion on FB recently about who had the more powerful glare, Crawford or Liz Taylor. (I was for Taylor.) I can imagine it would have unnerved her if someone had ever looked at her with the sheer force of eye contact that she regularly focused on others.

    Liked by 1 person

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