A SONG IS BORN (director: Howard Hawks; screenwriters: Harry Tugend/uncredited-based on the story “A To Z” by Billy Wilder & Thomas Monroe; cinematographer: Gregg Toland; editor: Daniel Mandell; music: Hugo Friedhofer/Emil Newman; cast: Danny Kaye (Professor Hobart Frisbee), Virginia Mayo (Honey Swanson), Steve Cochran (Tony Crow), Benny Goodman (Professor Magenbruch), Tommy Dorsey (Himself), Louis Armstrong (Himself), Lionel Hampton (Himself), Charlie Barnet (Himself), Mel Powell (Himself), Mary Field (Miss Totten), J. Edward Bromberg (Dr. Elfini), Ludwig Stossel (Professor Traumer), Hugh Herbert (Professor Twingle), Ben Welden (Monte, mobster), Paul Langton (Joe, mobster), O. Z. Whitehead (Prof. Oddly), Felix Bressert (Prof. Gerkikoff), Howland Chamberlin (Mr. Setter), Esther Dale (Miss Bragg); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Goldwyn; RKO Radio Picture; 1948 )
“Hawks told everyone he hated the film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An inert musical remake of the sparkling 1941 comedy Ball of Fire, that features the same director Howard Hawks (“Hatari!”/”El Dorado”/”Red River”), the same cinematographer (Gregg Toland) and the same producer (Sam Goldwyn). Hawks told everyone he hated the film (it’s believed he meant he hated making the film, since he never saw the completed version). The Technicolor film is basically ruined by the uninspired direction, the insipid comedy, the miscast actors and the pic’s second half when it gets too involved with gangsters to keep its story cohesive. Though based on the story “A To Z” by Billy Wilder & Thomas Monroe, Wilder felt the number of writers called in by Goldwyn for rewrites ruined his story and wanted no writing credit onscreen. It was only granted because Monroe wanted the credit. The script is by Harry Tugend, who was also displeased that his work was radically changed when rewritten. Though the comedy is flat, the film is rescued by the great jazz music made by the likes of Louie Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and Lionel Hampton. I think the great music is strong enough to allow you to give it a pass for all its failings.
The original plot is changed from its “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” comical theme. It has head professor (Gary Cooper) and six square colleagues doing a slang dictionary with the help of a saucy stripper (Barbara Stanwyck). This time a group of scruffy intellectual professors, led by Professor Hobart Frisbee (Danny Kaye) and his clueless six musicologist colleagues at NYC’s Totten Music Foundation, need to learn about jazz to write an updated comprehensive entry for the upcoming encyclopedia. After initial doubts the foundations spinster benefactress Miss Totten (Mary Field) is charmed by Frisbee and commits to funding the project.
The professors learn about jazz from nightclub torch singer Honey Swanson (Virginia Mayo), while the real jazz greats perform for them. Since Honey is the moll of a gambling kingpin gangster (Steve Cochran), on the lam from the police over a murder charge. She accepts the offer to avoid being questioned and safely hides out at the institute facility with the lonely bachelor professors. Frisbee, in the movie’s last part, has to deal with the mobster, posing as Honey’s father, and with that whack plot line the story goes off the tracks. Of all the ridiculous things, the professor ends up marrying Honey.
Benny Goodman plays one of the professors and puts on a show when he airs out his clarinet.
REVIEWED ON 10/9/2014 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ