Monday, March 27, 2023

Liz Taylor in blue

Another recent movie watch was the classical music drama Rhapsody.

Elizabeth Taylor plays Louise Durant, who serves as hostess for her presumably widowed father Nicholas (Louis Calhern), one of those wealthy businessman types living in Europe. But that's not what Louise wants out of life. She'd like to see if she could make it as a pianist. Not only that, but she's fallen in love with a violinist, Paul Bronte (Vittorio Gassman), who's a student at the conservatory in Zürich. So Louise runs off with Paul to Zürich, where she'll be able to live off of Daddy's money even if she's nowhere near as talented or driven as the other musical students.

When they get to Zürich, Louise takes a well-appointed apartment simply because she can. The other students can't necessarily do so, much like the Robert Mitchum character in the recently-reviewed Not As a Stranger. One such student is a fellow pianist, James Guest (John Ericson), and he has to take a garret apartment in the same building as Louise. He sees Louise, and immediately falls in love with her, having to be told by Paul that she's already taken.

I mentioned earlier that not having the drive will keep you from succeeding. For Louise, however, the bigger problem is that the other people around her have that drive while she doesn't, and that's going to affect the way people respond to her. First off is Paul. He's an extremely good violinist, to the point that he's going to be able to have a career as a violin soloist after he graduates conservatory. But he's also driven, and wants that career, to the point that he makes Louise wait around while he goes out and gets what he wants, as his career is more important than her. It's a personal choice, and not necessarily wrong, but obviously it's not what Louise expected out of life.

Louise responds to this by trying to off herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. Obviously this move doesn't succeed, or else we'd have a movie with an ending most audiences would have hated and one with a pretty short running time. Instead, she survives, and finds that Guest is nursing her back to health. He loves her, and he's willing to sacrifice her career to help her get better. Since she's on the rebound, she decides to marry him, but doesn't yet know how to be in a truly equal relationship. So she spends the next third of the movie miserable while Guest drinks himself out of any possibility of a career.

And then Bronte shows up again. He and Louise still have a thing for each other, and even tries to get Louise to divorce Guest and return to him. But Louise and her father both know that kicking a man when he's down is a problem, so she tries something even more devious, which is helping Guest recover and get his chance at a musical career.

It's nice that Rhapsody is filled with great classical music -- notably Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and Rachmaninoff's violin concerto -- because the plot is pure melodrama. Indeed, don't pay so much attention to the plot because it might have you rolling your eyebrows. Taylor is gorgeous to look at, and does the best she can with the subpar material she has. Calhern is classy; Gassman shows he has talent; and Ericson comes across as a bit of a cipher. Among the supporting characters, there's Michael Chekhov as a professor at the conservatory, but the minute he opened his mouth I couldn't help but think of his role as Ingrid Bergman's med school professor in Spellbound, which isn't quite appropriate here.

All in all, Rhapsody is a fairly good example of the studio system as it was once television came around. There's a stable of professional stars; lovely color and scenery that TV couldn't yet really offer; but a movie that seems a bit too old-fashioned.

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