Doris Day perfectly captures the style and tone of the big band singer she was
Although Doris Day had been the centerpiece in all three of her previous films and would get top billing for the first time in her next picture, “Tea for Two“, she was not the main character in this one. Young Man With A Horn, Kirk Douglas was, as Rick Martin, a character based on the life of the great jazz cornet player, Bix Beiderbecke.
Rick Martin becomes fascinated by the trumpet at a young age and is mentored by Art Hazzard, a trumpet player who becomes the father figure in Martin’s life. Grown up, Rick is obsessed with jazz and has thoughts of nothing else. After Hazzard leaves on tour, Rick secures a good job playing with a band. He is befriended by its pianist, Smoke Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael) and by Jo Jordan (Day), the band’s vocalist.
Trained as a jazz musician, Rick is fired for improvising instead of playing the songs as written. When he leaves, Smoke quits the band and together they set out to conquer the music world. They play in dives, burlesque houses, and jukebox joints from coast to coast. Meanwhile, Jo begins to enjoy greater success as a singer, appearing in top clubs from California to New York.
When Rick’s travels take him to New York, he is reunited with Art Hazzard, who is playing at a swank club in Greenwich Village, and with Jo, who is headlining at the Strand Theater. She arranges a band job for Rick and his star begins to rise quickly. Jo also introduces him to her friend Amy North (Lauren Bacall), who is sophisticated, cool, and wealthy. She and Rick are wed, but the marriage becomes tumultuous, with Amy attending school during the day and Rick playing all night in clubs. When Amy begins staying out and not coming home, Rick takes to the bottle.
He quits his job with the band and decides to play music the way he feels it. The trumpet has become a drug for Rick and he wants to play day and night, trying to forget his mounting personal problems. After ending up in an alcoholic sanatorium, he is rescued by old friend Smoke and by Jo, the woman who really loves him. (The film has a far happier ending than did the musician on whose life it is based.)
This is a well-written script by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North, based on the novel by Dorothy Baker. The whole production is first-rate, thanks to the direction of Michael Curtiz. The characters of Rick Martin, Jo Jordan, and especially Amy North are finely drawn. Miss Bacall gave an excellent performance, as did Kirk Douglas and Hoagy Carmichael. Juano Hernandez was good as Art Hazzard.
Doris Day held her own in this, her first dramatic performance. Her singing (of such standards as The Very Thought of You, Too Marvelous for Words, I May Be Wrong, and With a Song in My Heart, is wonderful throughout. Harry James’ trumpet playing for Kirk Douglas is thrilling. Credit, too, goes to Day’s colleague from Les Brown’s band, trumpeter Jimmy Zito, who dubbed the playing for Juano Hernandez.
On this viewing, I appreciated Day much more than before. I think it may take two or three viewings of this to really absorb the magnitude of all that happens here. The movie seems rather long at 112 minutes, but there is nothing here that won’t be of interest to serious moviegoers. Much of the film looks to have been shot on location in New York, but if it wasn’t, kudos must go out the set decoration by William Wallace. Michael Curtiz proved, once again, that he was one great director. This is the movie that inspired a number of hopeful young moviegoers, like Frankie Avalon, Sal Mineo and others, to try acting as a profession. That’s a respectful tribute to Mr. Douglas.
Ralph McKnight, New York
“Jo Jordan (Day) is a celluloid creation not far removed from the real Doris Day when she was just the kid with the vocal chords, traveling from town to town on one-night stands. Although the songs in Young Man With a Horn are subordinated to the drama, Day’s renderings are smooth and mellow, perfectly capturing the style and tone of the big band singer she is. For once, even Ray Heindorf’s musical score is appropriate, a rich jazz flavor permeating the bluesy, smoky orchestrations.” – George Morris, Doris Day (book)
Doris Day’s renderings are smooth and mellow, perfectly capturing the style and tone of the big band singer she was.” – George Morris
“Young men who blow their own horns can be quite boring. In the case of this one, though, considerable interest is evoked, for the young man is Kirk Douglas, and as he becomes the trumpet-tootling genius of the late 20s a colorful era of jazz is explored. Chronologically the story traces the musician’s life from a drab boyhood to flaming success. But we can tell you the going isn’t easy. Particularly when Mr. Douglas sidesteps amiable Doris Day and marries Lauren Bacall, who, we believe, is customarily described as sultry and we’ll let it go at that. However, for keeping Hoagy Carmichael and Juano Hernandez around, and for having Harry James do the trumpeting for Mr. Douglas, Michael Curtiz is entitled to at least a brass medal for directing this musically intricate pre-bebop piece.” – Ladies Home Journal
“When Isodore Demsky and Betty Perske dated in New York, they little dreamed they’d one day co-star in a movie biopic of their hero, jazz cornet player, Bix Beiderbecke. But here they are on the Warner Bros lot, now rechristened Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall respectively, he dubbed by the great Harry James on trumpet, and she playing a daring for its day society closet lesbian.
Warner Brothers softened the source novel substantially, and, despite protests from brilliant director Michael Curtiz, a relatively happy ending was tacked on. Nevertheless, enough of the sordid drama managed to get through, and this is a finely wrought melodrama of its time, with Douglas particularly outstanding as the self-absorbed horn player, leading vocalist and good girl Doris Day on some superbly staged standards such as The Man I Love and Get Happy, and the whole tragic tale told in flashback by a warm-hearted Hoagy Carmichael. The sleazy tone of the original novel by Dorothy Baker is preserved, along with all the pseudonyms for the real people, but in the UK the American title was changed to ‘Young Man of Music’ when the original was deemed too sexually suggestive.” – BBC Radio Times