Rhapsody in Blue: Video Reviews

The 1945 biopic of George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, was released on DVD this month and received generally favorable reviews. The creative team includes Howard Koch and Elliot Paul (screenplay), Irving Rapper (director), Fred M. MacLean (sets), Milo Anderson (costumes), Merritt Berstad et al. (cinematography), Nathan Levinson et al. (sound), and Ray Heindorf (orchestrations). The cast includes Robert Alda (George Gershwin), Joan Leslie (Julie Adams), Alexis Smith (Christine Gilbert), Charles Coburn (Max Dreyfus), Julie Bishop (Lee Gershwin), Albert Bassermann (Prof. Franck), Morris Carnovsky (Poppa), Rosemary DeCamp (Momma), and Herbert Rudley (Ira Gershwin), with performances form Oscar Levant, Paul Whiteman, Al Jolson, Hazel Scott, and Anne Brown. The film was nominated for the Grand Prize at Cannes and for two Oscars.

Paul Mavis (DVD Talk): Hard to dislike from a musical standpoint, but it’s a slog in-between. An original trailer is included for this good-looking transfer. … The music was the primary draw, then and now, and if for nothing else, Rhapsody in Blue is a success in that not-inconsiderable range. … When Rhapsody in Blue sticks to the music – which is often – it’s hard to beat. … This “remastered” 1.37:1 full-screen black and white transfer for Rhapsody in Blue looks quite dishy, with deep blacks, nice contrast, and only minor image imperfections (some scratches now and then). … Rhapsody in Blue is crammed wall-to-wall with most of Gershwin’s biggest hits, so one can just go along with the tired, lifeless plot while waiting for the next number or song to be cued up. I’m recommending Rhapsody in Blue for lovers of Gershwin’s music … biopic fans, however, are forewarned.

Lloyd Schwartz (NPR): The movie Rhapsody in Blue, a biography of George Gershwin, was released only eight years after his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38. … Among the film’s other musical high points are a rare staging of Gershwin’s early mini-opera, Blue Monday, which got only one performance on Broadway. … And most remarkable, Anne Brown – the original Bess in Porgy and Bess – sings the most famous song from that opera, “Summertime.” But Hollywood can’t help messing with facts. Gershwin’s brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics to most of George’s songs, is a major character in the film. … In this movie, real history, in the form of the people who actually knew George Gershwin and performed his music, makes a bigger and truer impression than the Hollywood fabrications.

Dusty Somers (Blog Critics): The film clocks in at two and half hours with an overture, but we’re not dealing with a padded-out running time here. The pace is surprisingly nimble, with the extended minutes given to Gershwin’s music, like nearly complete renditions of “Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris” and “Concerto in F.” The film also features the original performers of many of Gershwin’s numbers playing themselves – Al Jolson shows up to sing “Swanee” and promise Gershwin he’s on his way to a promising career, Anne Brown croons a sadly truncated version of “Summertime” at the premiere of Porgy and Bess, and Oscar Levant lends his fingers to both his and the fictional Gershwin’s piano playing. … Warner Archive’s burn-on-demand DVD offers up a solid full frame transfer of the film, with strong black levels and decent image clarity. The quality drops out for a few seconds occasionally and white levels can look a little blown out, but it’s pretty nice overall. Even better is the crisp mono audio, which handles orchestral, solo piano and vocal performances of Gershwin’s works well.

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