Thursday, May 15, 2008

IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (MGM 1947) Warner Home Video

It has often been said that ‘true artistry never ages’ – a platitude confirmed upon viewing Richard Whorf’s It Happened In Brooklyn (1947); a minor MGM musical that nevertheless continues to warm the heart and enchant the spirit some 61 years after its original release. The screenplay by Isobel Lennart contains some minor inconsistencies in plot and character development that, thankfully, never create a major problem for the story’s protagonists.

The musical program interpolates a few pop standards – including ‘Time After Time’ penned by Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne, and, that became a Sinatra standard in the decades that followed, with some operatic arias; the best being La Ci Darem La Mano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Already one of the most popular vocalists by the time this film came out, Frank Sinatra was well on his way to entering the second phase of his singing career – a decade with many gold records, yet increasingly fewer film parts that would have him sing.

In It Happened In Brooklyn, Sinatra is Daniel Webster Miller, a G.I. set to go home after the war. Danny is introverted and shy. His nurse (Gloria Grahame) even doubts that he’s from Brooklyn – where all the people are so outgoing and friendly, so we’re told. However, upon arriving in New York, Danny immediately has a cabbie take him to the Brooklyn Bridge (for once not a matte painting, but an actual location shot, where Sinatra warbles a loving melody, teeming with homespun sentiment for that particular structure).

In Brooklyn, Danny meets disheartened aspiring opera singer, Anne Fielding (Kathryn Grayson). At first, Anne finds Danny’s infectious optimism slightly annoying. She even accuses him of following her to her day job as music teacher at a local high school. There, Danny is reacquainted with the school’s janitor, Nick Lombardi (the loveable Jimmy Durante) who immediately takes Danny into his home and heart and helps arrange for an audition for him at Dawson’s Music Shop.

Danny and Anne share a few barbs at the start of their romance before developing a mutual affection toward one another that is numbed to distraction with the arrival of Jamie Shellgrove (Peter Lawford). It seems that prior to departing England, Danny promised Jamie’s uncle that he could straighten out Jamie’s own awkwardness with the ladies. No help required; as Anne and Jamie soon spark a kindred passion that quietly smolders even as Danny, Anne and Jamie become involved in a subplot to bring the musical talents of one of Anne’s pupils, Leo Kardos (William Roy) to the attention of the Brooklyn Music Forum.

The script by Lennart moves along effortlessly enough, though in spots it illustrates the writer’s general weaknesses for story construction. As example; after firmly establishing Gloria Grahame’s nurse as an idyllic counterbalance to Danny’s shyness, the script jettisons her character entirely, leaving Danny alone, though optimistic at the end of our big city fable.

The songs by Cahn and Styne are modestly charming; the buoyant ‘I Believe’ and rambunctious ‘Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart’ delightful distractions that evaporate like cotton candy once heard. Grayson is at her winsome best when she reprises ‘Time After Time’. James Durante is a national treasure.

Hence, in recommending It Happened In Brooklyn to both Sinatra and musical film fans, I am reminded that during the very best years at MGM it was not so much plot that made these films iconic and memorable, but the studio’s very best personalities – stars that will continue to live on as long as there are audiences who remember and appreciate what truly great talent is all about.

Warner Home Video delivers a very clean DVD transfer. The B&W image has a consistently refined gray scale with deep solid blacks and generally clean whites. Age related artifacts are present, but tempered for an overall smooth and satisfying visual presentation. Occasionally, film grain is slightly heavier, but nothing that will distract. 

The audio is mono, as originally recorded, but retaining a wonderfully vibrant sonic characteristic – albeit with acoustic limitations for a soundtrack from this vintage. My one complaint again is that Warner has been short-shrift with extras; none – not even a trailer or short subjects, or even a menu for ‘chapter stops’!

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



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