THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY gracefully tickled piano ivory and clinked box-office change to the tune of $5,300,000, hitting spot #12 for 1956. With its glamorous stars, polished production, terrific music and emotional story it holds an enduring sentimental attachment for many fans, a good number of whom may have owned the best selling soundtrack LP.
Directed by George Sidney, the script covers two decades in the short, talent-flush, tragedy-stricken life of popular pianist & band leader Duchin (Tyrone Power), including his marriages (wives played by Kim Novak and Victoria Shaw) and son Peter (Rex Thompson and Mickey Maga do respective age duty for the boy).
Producer Jerry Wald ensured plush production values and the screenplay fits in a dozen musical numbers that showcase Duchin’s stylistic flash—he employed a signature flourish of playing cross-handed and hitting the lower register with just one finger. He also had a suave manner, so Power is a shoo-in, and the actor spent eleven weeks practicing so as to convincingly mimic Duchin’s style, kind of a relaxed flamboyance. Other than tapping the keys adroitly and looking grandly movie-starish, Power fares better in the second half of the film, as he’s handicapped in early scenes by playing a guy in his 20s when he was 41. It’s a minor flaw.*
Novak doesn’t have any age issues with her character, and she’s not bad, certainly looking every bit the Technicolor goddess. Thompson does well as Peter at age 12, Shaw is a bit cool, James Whitmore is on hand for stalwart-friend/manager supporting business. The script naturally does its standard share of fictionalizing (son Peter was upset), but the films virtues easily outweigh faults, and it stands as one of the best of the numerous music bios from the era.
The music is just great. Best of all is the infectious rendition of “Brazil” (Carmen Cavallaro playing for Power’s syncing). Morris Stoloff & George Duning arranged the scoring, which was Oscar nominated, as were the Story, Cinematography and Sound. 123 minutes, with Larry Keating, Shepperd Strudwick, Frieda Inescort, Gloria Holden, Jack Albertson, Xavier Cugat.
*Power had a similar predicament the year before in The Long Gray Line, and the following year in The Sun Also Rises. His exuberance and comic timing helped paper over the years in the former, but he shared critique with the other actors in the latter–Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn and Eddie Albert were all too old for Hemingway’s ‘Lost Generation’. One thing that irked Power in playing Duchin was his co-star: he and Novak did not get along. He let the press in on it: “Confusion between temperament and bad manners is unfortunate…She made my life hell. She was often late, inevitably rude and incredibly cold.” So much for off-screen romance. He had been a good friend of Duchin, who died at 41, Power’s age during filming: the actor himself only made it to 44.