Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sweet and Low-Down

A movie that FXM too out of the vault a few months back and still has in its rotation is Sweet and Low-Down, which is going to be on FXM tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Benny Goodman plays Benny Goodman, which is a good thing because he couldn't play anybody else. This movie gives him the back story of having grown up around a settlement house and learning there how to play the clarinet. Now that he's a successful bandleader, he wants to give back to the house by giving a free concert there whenever he's in town. One of the kids in attendance has an older brother who he thinks is an excellent trombone player, but who has never gotten a chance to show off his ability since he works at a factory all day. So the kid steals Goodman's clarinet, with the obvious idea of staying just far enough ahead of Goodman so that they'll all wind up meeting the older brother.

That brother, Johnny Birch (James Cardwell), turns out to be an excellent trombonist, and Goodman offers him a place in the band right then and there because of his fondness of people who came through the settlement house. Not only that, but Goodman plans to start building Birch up. (One wonders what the other musicians really think.) Their first gig is at a military school, where Birch meets Trudy (Linda Darnell), who is there passing herself off as a teenager for her nephew who is one of the cadets. Johnny thinks she's too young for him and too forward, but you know they're going to meet again in New York. The other woman is the band's singer Pat (Lynn Bari).

Eventually the band does get to New York, where Trudy is able to patch things up with Johnny. But Pat is jealous. She's got an agent who is constantly trying to wheedle more out of Goodman, so the two of them get the idea to drive a wedge between Johnny and Trudy, as well as between Johnny and Benny. Johnny's going to have to learn some lessons before he can truly become successful....

Sweet and Low-Down is the sort of feel-good movie that studios were churning out during World War II, relatively light and undemanding with a happy ending and a lot of good music. In fact, the music is the best part of the movie. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the two male leads are both incredibly wooden when they're not playing music. Johnny is also too stupid if he thinks he's going to get success right away, but that's what the plot requires. The running sub-plot about Jack Oakie's character wanting to make it into the band is supposed to provide comic relief but really doesn't.

If you want nice music, you'll get that here. If you want a great movie, you won't.

I believe Sweet and Low-Down is available on DVD from Fox's MOD scheme.

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