"Words & Music"

“Words and Music” is an MGM musical of 1948 that chronicles the lives of the composer Richard Rodgers and his lyricist Lorenz Hart from when they met to when Hart died in 1943. It is one of a series of films, biopics, that depicted American popular composers, partly in order to provide the occasion for elaborate production numbers, hang whether they got the biography straight. Each of these borrowed from the others and altered the biography to make it more acceptable. George Gershwin’s 1945 biography “Rhapsody in Blue” provided him with a girlfriend who it was never clear why he did not marry her, when, in truth, he had many girl friends. Gershwin’s movie also provides the ending for the Rodgers and Hart biopic. A lead character dies, and you go through an elaborate death scene, Mickey Rooney, as Hart, dying as many times as Wagner’s Isolde. “Words and Music” also borrows the idea of using a post death gala as a way to sum up the accomplishments of the fallen musician, just as had happened with Oscar Levant playing “Rhapsody in Blue” at a concert soon after Gershwin’s death. The Jerome Kern biopic, “Till the Clouds Roll By”, made in 1946, is not so fortunate in its ending because its hero was not yet dead and so the movie had to settle for a long series of production numbers featuring any number of MGM stars singing Kern’s greatest hits, though the picture shoe horns in at the beginning a highly abbreviated version of “Show Boat”, Kern’s masterpiece, his signature musical, and the climax of the musical tribute to Kern is Frank Sinatra, wearing a double breasted cream tuxedo, singing “Ole Man River” in front of a full orchestra. The Cole Porter biopic “Night and Day”, also from 1946, does not allude to his homosexuality, but also has memorable production numbers and “Words and Music” does not allude to the fact that the cause of Hart’s discomfort in the world may have been that he was a closet homosexual rather than just subject to headaches that come from nowhere.  

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