Humoresque

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HUMORESQUE—-class-A romantic drama from 1946 showcases Joan Crawford and John Garfield in top form during what was the peak period for each. Driven violin virtuoso Garfield, up from the streets, is taken under the wing of socialite patroness Crawford. Be careful what you wish for: he ensnarled, she enraptured… and the band played on—or in this case, the orchestra, as the wonderful classical music enveloping the charismatic stars and their conflicted characters is as grand as the passion.*

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Warners and producer Jerry Wald lavished $2,164,000 on a polished package, running a sleek 125 minutes under the smooth direction of Jean Negulesco. Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold wrote a crackling script off a 1919 Fannie Hurst short story. It’s a surefire confection: rags-to-riches, social strata at variance, age difference in play, wit, and music, lots of music.

Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?”

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Crawford gives one of her best, most definitive performances, memorably effective enough to be honored later with affectionate sendups by comediennes. Along with delivering first assured sass and brittle tang, then manifest neurosis turned heartfelt loss, she looks great in Adrian-designed clothes, photographed to a tee by Ernest Haller. It’s a choice role with which to win over Crawford skeptics.  Garfield had his tough-guy-who-wises-up thing down, and he pulls it off  with strength, though the sullen character isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy when not caressing the strings. Use of close-ups and cleverly disguised movements (from other peoples arms) cover flawlessly for his playing of the instrument.

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As Garfield’s dour pianist buddy, Oscar Levant wisecracks non-stop (much his own self-devised dialogue), and there many good lines, even if it is pushed a riposte too far. The welcome J. Carrol Naish provides his usual fine supporting work, chalking off yet another ethnicity in a capacious résumé.

Oscar-nominated for his work here, Franz Waxman orchestrated the superb score around more than a dozen pieces from classical greats and a few tunes from Gershwin and Cole Porter. 26-year-old Isaac Stern handled his first film assignment providing the brilliant sound coming out of Garfield’s violin, while Levant did his own stellar work on the piano.

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Box office echoed with $5,000,000, a handy turn at #59 in a stocked year. With Joan Chandler, Ruth Nelson, Tom D’Andrea, Paul Cavanagh (very good as Crawford’s cuckolded husband), Craig Stevens, John Abbott, Robert Blake, Fritz Leiber and Nestor Paiva.

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* Crawford at 41 had just mantled her Oscar from Mildred Pierce. She followed Humoresque in quick succession with Possessed, Daisy Kenyon and Flamingo Road. Garfield, 33, came fresh from hits Pride Of The Marines and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and bookended with Body And Soul and Gentlemen’s Agreement. Levant carried his quirked persona into another eight films over the next decade.   “It isn’t what you are, it’s what you don’t become that hurts.”

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