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GENE KRUPA STORY, THE(director: Don Weis; screenwriter: Orin Jannings; cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr.; editors: Edwin H. Bryant/Maurice Wright; music: Leith Stevens; cast: Sal Mineo (Gene Krupa), Susan Kohner (Ethel Maguire), James Darren (Eddie Sirota), Susan Oliver (Dorissa Dinell), Yvonne Craig (Gloria Corregio), Lawrence Dobkin (Speaker Willis), Celia Lovsky (Mother), Shelly Manne (Davey Tough), Bobby Troup (Tommy Dorsey), Anita O’Day (Herself), Clyde Hurley (Himself), Red Nichols (Himself), Al Morgan (Himself), Buddy Lester (Himself); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Philip A. Waxman; Columbia TriStar Home Video; 1959)
“Biopic runs along familiar formulaic lines.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Longtime TV director Don Weis (“Pajama Party”) films in black-and-white and smoothly keeps things moving to the beat of drums in his biopic on jazz drummer Gene Krupa’s highs and lows. Writer Orin Jannings (“A Time to Love and a Time to Die”) shows his conflicted subject torn between a wholesome and unwholesome life. But the twenty year old Sal Mineo’s energetic turn as Krupa might be intense, honest and perfect in capturing his subject’s flashy drumming style, nevertheless the story is still more Hollywood fiction than factual and Sal’s too young for the part to nail down Krupa’s cynicism as he ages. Yet, to its credit, it avoids sugarcoating the drummer’s troubled life and his battles with a drug addiction. Krupa himself does the drumming for Sal offscreen, who does a great job following the tracks (Sal, who studied under Krupa for a year, did the easier drum beats himself).

The biopic fills us in on Krupa’s troubled home life: he wanted to be a musician, but his father wanted him to become a priest. Then it follows him as a famed drummer for the Benny Goodman orchestra, his years on top as a bandleader, and his ongoing problems with drug abuse–including a bust and 90-day incarceration in San Francisco for marijuana, which badly damaged his career.

The drummer’s love affairs are fictionalized with faithful Chicago hometown good girl Ethel Maguire (Susan Kohner), a real character (married twice to Krupa) but her real story is not told; seductive bad girl jazz singer Dorissa (Susan Oliver), who gets him into drugs (an amalgam of many characters); and party girl Gloria (Yvonne Craig). Eddie Sirota is Gene’s loyal neighborhood pal, who accompanies him to NYC with Ethel when he was starting out and finds success as a trumpeter/vocalist.

If you dig some hectic jazz drum solos, can tolerate such a manic characterization and don’t mind that the biopic runs along familiar formulaic lines, then you might be drawn to such a bleak jazz story. Jazz names that have cameos include Red Nichols (cornet player), drummer Shelly Manne (as Davey Tough, Krupa’s mentor), Anita O’Day (sings “Memories of You”), Al Morgan (bassist), Clyde Hurley (trumpeter) and pianist Buddy Troup (as Tommy Dorsey).

REVIEWED ON 10/14/2008 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”