Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another man should keep his day job

Several weeks ago, I commented on the acting skills -- or more precisely, the lack of acting skills -- of Babe Ruth. It's not just athletes, though, who found the transition to acting a bit beyond them. Our next selection shows the same thing can happen to musicians: They Shall Have Music, airing at 4:15 AM ET Monday on TCM.

The movie was designed by producer Samuel Goldwyn to feature the famed violinist Jascha Heifetz. The plot is a fairly simple and predictable one: child actor Gene Reynolds plays a boy living with his aunt and uncle after his parents die. He used to take violin lessons, but there's no money for that, and he's fallen in with a gang of kids who Goldwyn obviously though were going to be the next East Side Kids. Reynolds' uncle is an exceedingly stern man, and eventually destroys the boy's beloved violin, causing him to decide to run away. He ends up at a school for music that's struggling financially, and this is where Heifetz (eventually) comes in.

Reynolds and several of the students go to one of the fancier parts of New York City and run into Heifetz, who says he might be willing to do something to help their benefit if he can fit it into his schedule. The students take this to mean "yes", when it's only a "maybe", which you just know will cause problems later. Meanwhile, Reynolds' old friends in the gang get a violin for him -- by stealing Heifetz' violin! Eventually, everything comes out right in the end, of course, but part of the fun is seeing the route they take to get there.

The movie was done on a fairly limited budget, so it doesn't have the best production values, and parts of the story are a bit off. Heifetz was a good violin player, but he couldn't really act; of course, the patrons wouldn't have been paying to watch him act. Indeed, the music is quite good, both from Heifetz himself, and from the students, many of whom were in fact classically trained musicians in an actual youth orchestra. And there are also the adult actors, whom I haven't mentioned yet. Walter Brennan, of all people, plays the headmaster of the music school. His daughter is played by Andrea Leeds, who never went on to bigger and better things. Her boyfriend, who works at a music store and provides the students with instruments against the better judgment of his boss, is the improbably cast Joel McCrea. All of them do a competent job, although the story isn't really about them.

They Shall Have Music is a heart-warming movie that's suitable for the whole family. It's the sort of entertainment that Hollywood doesn't really make any more (could you imagine a G-rated version of Little Miss Sunshine?). What's an even bigger shame is that They Shall Have Music hasn't made it to DVD, and it rarely shows up on TCM as it is. So this is one of your only chances to catch it.

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