Thursday, April 10, 2008

DEEP IN MY HEART (MGM 1954) Warner Home Video

MGM, the studio once known for “more stars than there are in heaven” lends credence to their claim with Stanley Donen’s Deep In My Heart (1954), the last of the fictionalized, elephantine super musical bio-pics from the studio. Yet, on this occasion, the popularized formula mined so successfully in Till The Clouds Roll By (1946) and Words & Music (1948) seems strained and out of sorts.

Indeed, by the early 1950s, MGM’s musical mélange was buffeted on all sides by changing audience tastes, the advent of television, liquidation of the studio’s autonomous star system and the firing of its co-founder and president, L.B. Mayer. By all accounts, Deep in My Heart is a hold over from the 1940s – one of the studios last ditch efforts to reinvigorate that particular sub-genre in the musical firmament.

Based on the book by Elliot Arnold, with a script by Leonard Spigelgass, the film treads lightly on the life and times of ‘serious’ composer, Sigmund Romberg (Jose Ferrer). Agent Bert Townsend (Paul Stewart) is first brought to ‘Romy’s’ attention by philanthropist, Dorothy Donnelly (Merle Oberon) after hearing one of the composer’s works performed in an open air café run by proprietor Anna Mueller (Helen Traubel). Anna understands Romy’s frustrations. He is considered too high brow for the masses, yet low brow for symphonic hall. Indeed, Romy considers himself above pop-culture, but has little qualms about accepting the nice fat checks Tin Pan Alley provides while he pursues ‘more serious’ composition.

Townsend manages to sell one of Romy’s songs, ‘Softly As In The Morning Sunrise’ to the new Ziegfeld Show starring ballerina Gaby Deslys (Tamara Toumanova). But Gaby’s near burlesque rendering leaves Romy outraged. To prove what his music is worth to Townsend before dissolving their partnership, Romy has Anna perform a haunting rendition of the same song at her café. While Townsend remains unconvinced, Dorothy is so moved by the emotional content of the piece she immediately becomes Romy’s foremost proponent in challenging the status quo. Romberg debuts his first stage operetta, ‘Maytime’ on Broadway and it proves a colossal success.

From hereon, the film degenerates into one rather threadbare and imbalanced narrative cliché with production numbers heaped in for good measure; the best offerings: Howard Keel’s rousingly patriotic ‘Your Land and My Land,’ Gene Kelly’s campy, though delightful, ‘I Love To Go Swimmin’ With Women’ – sung and danced with brother, Fred – and Cameron Mitchell and Cyd Charisse’s pas deux danced to ‘One Alone’.

The central difficulty for the film is Jose Ferrer’s unappealing protagonist. His Romberg is boorish and pompous. Merle Oberon is ravishing to look at, but her performance is more wooden than whimsical. Though a fine operatic singer, Helen Traubel’s acting chops are more along the lines of a Marjorie Main knock off than her own incarnation.

Spigelgass’s script takes too much time setting up Romberg as the world’s oldest child protégée and wallows far too long in his initial failures before catapulting him through a dizzying array of musical snippets and bittersweet successes. In totem, and despite Stanley Donen’s impressive pedigree in the musical genre, one gets a distinct sense of ennui – that, all this lovable nonsense has been done before and to better effect elsewhere in MGM illustrious canon of musical memories. In the final analysis, Deep in My Heart barely breaks the peripheral surface; its pulse and beat distilled into quieting ‘ho-hum’ rather than ‘wow.’

Warner Home Video’s DVD anamorphic widescreen transfer is most impressive. The Technicolor hues – actually photographed on Eastman Stock are bold, bright and glossy. Occasionally, flesh tones adopt a slightly jaundice yellow hue but nothing drastic. Contrast levels are beautifully realized. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are pristine. Fine detail is evident throughout. The audio has been remixed to both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 5.0. Not surprising, the musical sequences benefits the most from this remastering effort.

One of my biggest complaints about Warner’s ‘Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory’ series is that they rarely include documentaries, featurettes or even audio commentaries as their supplements. This disc is no exception to that rule. Recommended, nevertheless.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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