Walter Lang’s With A Song In My Heart: The Jane Froman Story (1952) is an unabashedly sentimental tear jerker that continues to affect the soul and pluck the heart strings. The real life Froman was a much beloved torch singer, nightclub performer, major radio celebrity and minor movie star whose bouts with paralysis from a fiery plane wreck triggered a life extraordinary in stamina, faith and personal triumph.
Though exaggerated somewhat by the conventions of glamorous Fox musicals from this vintage, the film is a relatively faithful account of Froman’s life to a point: her meteoric rise to fame via the blind optimism and driving ambitions for her from her first husband, Don Ross (David Wayne in the film), and by the supportive and nurturing tenderness from second husband, John Burn (Rory Calhoun).
The extent of Froman’s life threatening injuries is glossed over in montage mostly, and with a fictional narration by her private nurse, Clancy (the enduring, Thelma Ritter). What the film avoids entirely is Froman’s other physical and emotional scars, including a crippled hand, addiction to painkillers and her growing insecurities that led to alcoholism and a second divorce.
What distinguishes this movie from just another Fox musical is Susan Hayward’s wrenching performance as Froman. A distinguished and versatile actress of considerable magnitude in her time, Hayward’s legacy has been rather unceremoniously displaced from its rightful place in the upper echelons of true film stardom. Though her singing vocals were dubbed by the real Jane Froman (who thought the casting of Hayward was ideal for the story of her own life), Hayward delivers a blistering and poignant performance in this film – full of pathos, joy and exuberance of the human spirit; a tour de force on every level. This is not just a great musical but a great story of a great lady who refuses to give in to her darkest inner demons and outward physical limitations.
Unfortunately, Fox’s ‘restored’ full frame DVD falls quite short of expectations. Visually, the film is a real mixed bag. Image quality ranges from sharp and nicely contrasted, to down right grainy and mis-registered in its 3-strip Technicolor. When the image is aligned properly it provides a fairly gaudy palette of colors that are characteristic of Fox musicals from this vintage. When the image is mis-registered the results are glaringly ‘bad’ with blue/green halos distorting the clarity of what should have been a near pristine film transfer.
Also, colors are quite inconsistently rendered throughout. Flesh tones vary greatly from pale pink to ruddy orange. Contrast levels appear a tad low with a considerable loss of fine detail throughout. Grain and age related artifacts are also a problem, though both have been somewhat tempered by Fox’s restorations efforts thus far. It’s a genuine pity that Fox could not see their way clear toward a complete (and probably expensive) effort to bring the film back to its original luster.
Extras include three insightful documentaries on the real Froman; one a personal audio account (supplemented by still images) from her second husband, Robert Burns. There’s also an interactive press kit, restoration comparison featurette and the film’s original theatrical trailer to wet the film collector’s appetite.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)