I'll See You in My Dreams

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One of Doris Day's best parts and she was believable in every scene she played...

 

Ralph McKnight

 

Danny Thomas made one of his last public appearances on his son-in-laws' TV talk show to promote his autobiography, "Make Room for Danny" in 1991, he became rather pensive when "I'll See You in My Dreams" was mentioned. Thomas said, "The best thing I've ever done. And with Doris Day!" Phil Donahue just smiled as Danny struggled to hold back his tears.Even though the film was the biography of Gus Kahn, the prolific songwriter of countless songs, which are now considered standards in American musical history, Doris Day was top-billed over Danny Thomas, the renowned nightclub and sometimes movie performer.

This is a sweet film, which begins in Chicago on Wabash Avenue, home of the William Rossiter & Sons Music Publishing Company, which sells sheet music of popular tunes. Gus Kahn has written songs, poems, two musical comedies and an operetta and wants an "opinion". He meets a seemingly arrogant music screener, Grace LeBoy, who tells Gus that he should write about things he knows best. "Thirty two bars of music that says 'I love you'" is what sells. Taking her advice, reluctantly, Gus writes his first love song, "I Wish I Had a Girl", but nearly gives up after hearing Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem, "How Do I Love Thee?" as recited by Grace's father.

 

 

Grace adds music to Gus' lyrics and the song develops into a publishable song. She also has a strange attraction for Kahn, which she doesn't understand. The song is published, not by Rossiter & Sons, but by Fred Thompson (James Gleason) whose publishing business is in trouble, but he is persuaded by Grace to publish the song for practically no royalties. After Grace and Gus quit their respective jobs, they set out to promote the song. Soon, it's being played everywhere and more songs hit the charts like "Sunshine and Roses" and "The Month of June is a Song of Love". Thompson, who has been publishing the Kahn/LeBoy creations, feels that with Kahn's talent, he should be teamed with more accomplished composers, and arranges, with Grace's approval, for Gus to write "Memories" with Egbert Van Alstyne. It becomes a major success. Afterwards, Gus marries Grace after years of treating her like a buddy and business partner.

What follows are collaborations with Richard Whiting ("Ain't We Got Fun"), Isham Jones ("The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else" "It Had to Be You" "I'll See You in My Dreams") and most notably, Walter Donaldson ("My Buddy" ""Makin' Whoopee!" and "Love Me or Leave Me"). Kahn, Tony Jackson and Van Alstyne wrote "Pretty Baby", a great song, after Grace announces that she is pregnant.

 

 

It was Grace who took his songs out to potential producers of shows to promote Gus' works. She became the stronger of the two knowing that it was necessary for her to remain strong while Gus had his personal doubts. She single-handed sold "The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else". Together, they turned "Toot, Toot Tootsie" (performing in black face, no doubt), "Nobody's Sweetheart" and "My Buddy" into genuine hits during World War 1. Gus is offered an opportunity to write a Broadway musical, "Whoopi", with Donaldson, and in no time, Kahn is off to New York. He gets caught up in the big city pazazz and is rumored to be having an affair with the show's star, Gloria Knight (Patrice Wymore). Grace, moderately jealous, arrives in Manhattan and confronts Gloria who admits that she has "fallen for Gus", but was unsuccessful in luring him away from his wife.

Disaster hits the country with the 1929 stock market crash, which affected practically every American, including Hollywood and the music business. The Kahns went through hard times. Musical styles had changed and Gus' confidence fell to an incredibly low ebb. His house is up for sale, but despite this, the devoted, but sarcastic maid, Anna (Mary Wickes) decides to stay with the family, sans salary. Depressed, he vows to give up. Grace will hear none of that and via a desperate phone call, persuades Fred Thompson, now a very successful producer in Hollywood, to offer Gus a job, but not to reveal that she initiated the action. Plagued by the fact that for years it has been rumored that Grace wore the pants in the family, Kahn explodes when he finds out that it was Grace, and vows to leave her. She tries to reason with him by saying, "What do you want me to do? Stand on the sidelines and watch your talent dry up? I'm your wife, Gus, I have a right to help you!" He leaves the family ending up in Hollywood.

 

 

Hollywood is a big disappointment. Gus cannot cope with the fluff of the movies. He gets fired from several studios and refuses to compromise. The pressure he's under causes Gus to have a heart attack. In the hospital, he's visited by Grace, and tells her, "Well, what do you think of me? I finally did something all by myself ' no help from anybody. I knew I had a talent, but I had to come two thousand miles to find out that I was washed up. You know, when they brought me to this hospital, it was the first time in two years that I had my name in Variety and I couldn't even get into the Brown Derby". Grace counters with, "Gus, I'm ashamed of you. I'm ashamed because you're forgetting who you are and what you've done and what you're going to do.".

With renewed hope, Gus attempts to write again, with little success. Grace intervenes again and calls Walter Donaldson. He asked Gus to work with him again. In a beautiful scene, Grace plays Donaldson's music on the piano while Gus writes the lyrics to "I'll See You in My Dreams".  This hit sparked many more and suddenly, composers all over the USA, were calling to work with Kahn. Hits followed like "San Francisco", "Liza", "I Never Knew" and "I'm Thru With Love" among many more.

 

 

The film ends with Donaldson arranging for a surprise gala honoring Gus Kahn. Attending were many of the men he collaborated with on some of the greatest of American music. In his acceptance speech, he recognizes Grace as the force behind his power and tearfully sings a duet with her on the first song they ever wrote together, "I Wish I Had a Girl". Danny Thomas was excellent as Gus Kahn. He played the part with exactly the right tone for the role and became a very likable character throughout. Kahn understood his weaknesses and the strength of his wife, beautifully acted by Doris Day. This is one of her best parts and she was believable in every scene she played. As usual, she was in great voice and delivered the goods every time she stepped before the microphone.

Frank Lovejoy was warm and amiable, as he was in all of his pictures and James Gleason displayed the famous "twinkle" in his eyes. This was one of Patrice Wymore's better performances. Usually, she was predictably abrasive, as she was in "Tea for Two". Here, she had the opportunity to display another side of her screen persona. Mary Wickes played the same role she played in most of her films, the wisecracking, no nonsense maid and Jim Backus was fine as the New York producer. There was excellent direction from Day's first director, Michael Curtiz and LeRoy Prinz sensibly staged the musical numbers. The screenplay was well written, obviously, with love, by Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose.


Ralph McKnight, New York, April 2001

 

 

 

"Anything with so much good, popular music and so much nostalgia in it cannot fail being a hit."

- Motion Picture Herald Review

 

Warner Brothers couldn't have given the exhibitors a better picture with which to start the New Year. From the point of view of the theatreman and the audience-and it's an identical one-"I'll See You in My Dreams" should be top in screen entertainment, a delight to the eye and ear. This is the life story of Gus Kahn, the lyricist whose work delighted America for so many decades and who, in collaboration with the great popular composers of the era, turned out the multitude of songs that swept the nation and brought him fame. It is story tenderly told, beautifully acted and alive with catchy tunes.

Maybe some of the critics will hedge over details. Some will call it slow and overly sentimental. But the bulk of the audience, the old ones who love to remember and the young ones, who are turning from bee-bop to the more leisurely and more appealing strains, are sure to take the film to their hearts. Anything with so much good, popular music and so much nostalgia in it cannot fail being a hit. In the part of Kahn, that straight-laced, bumbling gentleman who wrote lyrics on the back of envelopes while sitting with friends at the track, Danny Thomas does a superb job. This should establish him as a solid star. To support him, producer Louis F. Edelman has uniformly excellent cast, headed by Doris Day, who acts and sings to perfection.

 

 

Director Michael Curtiz has managed a rare job in combining the dramatic and musical elements of the story, which flows smoothly from climax to climax in the life of a man devoted to his work and to his family. An excellent screenplay is provided by Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose, who capture the atmosphere of show business during the long stretch from the gaslight days to the Hollywood sound movies.

This is a film that'll rock the old timers and delight the rest with its effective simplicity, lightened by gentle humor and made poignant by its moments of tragedy. On and on goes the parade of Kahn songs, from "I Wish I Had a Girl" to "Memories," "Pretty Baby," "My Buddy," "It Had to Be You," "Making Whoopee," "I'll See You in My Dreams," "Liza," "I Never Knew" and many, many others, one better than the next. Frank Lovejoy plays Walter Donaldson and Patrice Wymore is Gloria Knight. James Gleason is good as Kahn's publisher.


Motion Picture Herald / Derald Hendry