Saturday, October 23, 2021

Liberace plays God

Another of the somewhat older movies that I had sitting on my DVR is Sincerely Yours. Since it's a remake of an old George Arliss movie called The Man Who Played God, and I had heard that it has a terrible reputation, I figured it would be a relatively undemanding movie to watch.

Liberace, who had already been a success on TV for a couple of years, plays Anthony Warrin, a pianist who does what would more or less become the Liberace shtick, of lushly-arranged popular songs and some classical-adjacent music, presented in a very showy way, although the candelabra isn't here yet. Warrin is a very successful pianist judging by the crowds at his shows and the fact that he's got a full-time secretary Marion (Joanne Dru) and manager Sam (William Demarest). Marion carries a torch for Tony, who doesn't see it at laa, for reasons that have nothing to do with Liberace's real-life sexuality, never mind the scene with Demarest in a bubble bath.

At any rate, Tony, like a lot of successful entertainers of a type, really wants to be taken seriously, which in his case means a classical-only concert at Carnegie Hall. And thankfully, at his next concert in San Francisco, a promoter who can get him booked at Carnegie Hall is going to show up to judge him for that possible performance. San Francisco also means the chance to see his old teacher Zwolinski. While in Zwolinski's apartment, wealthy Linda (Dorothy Malone) shows up, hoping to get Zwolinksi to tell her family that she's never going to make a good pianist so stop paying for lessons.

As you can probably guess, since there's nothing original in this movie for reasons having nothing to do with the fact that it's a remake, Tony and Linda immediately fall in love and even make plans to get married. But two things happen. One is that a young man who's just returned from military service stationed in Asia, Howard Ferguson (Alex Nicol), meets Linda at a concert. He's got dreams of becoming a composer, and you just know the two are going to meet again. The bigger thing is that Tony suddenly goes profoundly deaf, being diagnosed with otosclerosis. (At least in the original there was a better excuse for the pianist's sudden deafness, a terrorist bombing that bascially blows out the pianist's eardrums.)

This causes Tony to become a recluse and cut off all contact with Linda, who is eventually going to run into Ferguson again in New York. Tony is encouraged to learn lip-reading, and he becomes a very good student, even getting a really large pair of binoculars so he can engage in voyeurism by looking down on the folks in Central Park from his penthouse and read their lips. He then eventually gets back into life by helping out the people whose problems he's lip-read, but also sees Linda and Howard talking on a park bench.

The story itself isn't bad, unsurprising since it's a remake of a pretty good George Arliss movie. But Liberace wasn't a very good actor, being more reminiscent of a lot of the professional athletes who transition to acting. Even if it wasn't known that Liberace was gay, his persona certainly didn't make him look like a romantic interest for anybody, woman or man, and having Joanne Dru moon over him is faintly ridiculous. (At least in the case of Malone's character, it's easier to see somebody mistakenly fall in love with an inappropriate partner rather than be in love with the person for years.)

Whether or not you like Sincerely Yours is probably going to come down to whether or not you like Liberace's style of playing. Since he was a pianist by trade, the original movie (wich runs 80 minutes) was padded out with a lot of musical scenes to give a running time of 116 minutes. Liberace certainly had talent, although a little bit of that style of piano goes a long way for me, with the result that I found the movie really dragged. If, however, the Liberace style is your thing, there's a lot of good examples of it here.

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