Film director Billy Wilder once co-wrote a story entitled “From A To Z” which would later turn into a 1941 film Ball Of Fire starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck and directed by Howard Hawks. The story consisted of eight professors in the ninth year of their 12-year writing project whose stuffy and very proper world collapses when a gangster’s feisty nightclub singer of a girlfriend — on the lam from the law — takes refuge in the professors’ residence. Ball Of Fire received four Academy Award nominations and has since become a classic.
Now, although it had only been seven years since the previously mentioned film hit the big screen, director Hawks felt strangely compelled to remake the film in 1948 as a jazz-oriented piece, replacing the stuffy lexicographers with far more socially inept musicologists… and thus, A Song Is Born was, um… born.
The story this time has Professor Frisbee (Danny Kaye) as the youngest member of a musical research institute who ventures out into the nightlife one evening when he and his colleagues discover that an entire musical movement (jazz) has practically passed them by. Stopping in at every club, Frisbee meets an assortment of jazz musicians (including Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, the Page Cavanaugh Trio — many of whom are played by themselves) and also attempts to make the acquaintance of a young singer Honey Swanson (Virginia Mayo), who blows him off completely. But when Honey discovers that the police are after her and her gangster boyfriend, she runs to Frisbee’s institute to hide out.
Unfortunately, while Kaye was indeed a very fine and talented showman, he is an odd and rather poor choice to fill the shoes of Gary Cooper in a musical/comedy that has little of either. Kaye however is far better than his The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty co-star Virginia Mayo who plays a much less interesting knock-off of Barbara Stanwyck’s character, but neither star really seems to put any effort into their performance. The end result here is a boring film that depresses more than it amuses.
MGM brings A Song Is Born to DVD in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The Technicolor film looks pretty good on the whole, but, alas, the movie itself failed to make a good impression on me. Three different mono stereo soundtracks are available on the DVD (very clear English, muddled Spanish, and tinny French) with subtitles in English and Spanish.
Even as nice as it is to see the jazz-meisters of yesteryear all working together with their instruments in order to subdue the bad guys in the movie’s climax, it’s still not enough to warrant sitting through all of A Song Is Born. Stick to Ball Of Fire instead.