A Song is Born (Hawks, 1948)

Howard Hawks doing jazz? Sounds strange, but the first half of A Song is Born, which involves a group of sequestered music professors getting introduced to the wonders of Jazz, contains many musical moments which border on bliss. Hawks gathers Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, a many others to perform as themselves within the story, the resulting “jam sessions” a gleeful, eye opening experience for both the older academics and the viewer. Too bad Hawks gets bogged down in the traditional, dame on the run story, which inevitably overwhelms the initial glimmer of musical light. Virginia Mayo plays the femme, and her mole to the academic’s straight men doesn’t ever gel as it should, partly because she and lead prof. Danny Kaye have little chemistry. Why Hawks didn’t try a more improvisational narrative to compliment the great music beats me, but the classical Hollywood studio system might have had something to do with it. A Song is Born turns ugly in the third act, mixing some strangely brutal moments of violence with more story contrivances. The final collective musical rendition reminds why the film seemed to be heading in the right direction, but by this time, A Song is Born has already flushed any of it’s originality down the toilet, replacing it with stale, cliched plot fodder and dumbed down characters.

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