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  • nyp0117 July 2010
    There is a wonderful scene about halfway through the movie, when the denizens of three floors of an apartment building - a violin student, a trombone student, and a jazz clarinetist - are practicing the same tune simultaneously. It is funny and instantly recognizable from a modern perspective: the connectedness of all forms of music, whether it be classical or popular. Good music is good music.

    This film is really about the magic of music and the musicians who make it. The scenes of the camaraderie of the fellow symphony musicians is a truthful depiction of the fellowship all musicians feel for each other.

    The plot's unartful use of recognition and reunion scenes at the end of the movie don't detract too much from the enjoyment I got from the sympathetic portrayal of the brotherhood of musicians, and the power of that music to redeem lives. Highly recommended, especially if you are or know a musician.
  • There is this old concertmaster of the Cosmopolitian Orchestra and he is about to realize his life-long ambition of appearing as a soloist with the orchestra, when an accident robs him of use of his right hand. His children, upon learning of his misfortune, immediately desert him knowing he will no longer provide them with money.

    So Adolph Greig (Al Shean) sinks lower and lower and becomes a street beggar, too proud to ask for help from his friends and unable to find his son or daughter. One night, standing in front of the concert hall, he sinks to the street from hunger and fatigue. He is picked up by two men associated with the orchestra, Mancini (Albert Conti)and Rozzini (Charles Judels), and they take him to Rozzini's and they develop a plan whereby they will set up Greig in a next-door studio where he can give violin lessons. Well, up shows a young violin genius named Carl Rupert (the 12-year-old Lester Lee)and, with the aid of Mancini and Rozzini, Greig starts the boy off on a brilliant career. Or, what promised to be a brilliant career but on his first public performance, a woman comes out of the audience, throws her arms around the boy and calls him "Son." Well sir, it is indeed her son and the mother is none other than the former Paula Greig (Evelyn Brent), the daughter of old Adolph (who is somewhat stunned by this turn of events), and a little math calculation tells us that the ten minutes of running time that Adolph spent begging and starving was at least 13 years in real time, as Paula was neither married nor with child when last seen.

    Now, ordinarily, a reunion of father and daughter, and mother and son, and a grandfather learning that his violin prodigy is actually his own grandson would appear to be the closing scene before "The End" card, but there is another whole reel of weeping and big-time emoting---Paula is a bitch first class---before this one gets sorted out.

    Or, as they sang in the old days...Absolutely Mr. Gallagher...Positively, Mr. Shean.
  • Accomplished violinist Al Shean (as Adolph Greig) is ready to celebrate his advancing years by soloing with a noted New York orchestra - but, Mr. Shean wounds his hand, and effectively ends his career. Then, Shean's two selfish, ungrateful children desert their old man. Rebellious son John Darrow (as Richard) pawns his dad's cello to begin a life of crime, and shallow daughter Evelyn Brent (as Paula) elopes with wealthy older Richard Tucker (as Michael Rupert).

    With no means of support, Shean hits the streets (this film was made just before President Franklin D. Roosevelt's new deal "Social Security" program became law). Unconcerned, Ms. Brent enjoys spending her husband's money. She bears him one neglected son, but discourages the boy's interest in music. When old musician friend Albert Conti (as Mancini) and trombonist Charles Judels (as Rozzini) discover Shean has become a homeless beggar, they help set him up as a violin instructor.

    Shean's young pupils play poorly, but his teaching is a success. He also enjoys a surrogate father relationship Mr. Judels' attractive daughter Gigi Parrish (as Carmen) and her amorous boyfriend John Harron (as Herb Livingston), who plays saxophone. Eventually, Shean's wayward son learns of his father's new success, and Mr. Darrow moves back in with his forgiving dad. Shean welcomes Darrow with a loan, unaware the crooked kid plans to use Shean as a front for illegal activities.

    Meanwhile, daughter Brent finally runs off with some divorce settlement money, provided by Mr. Tucker. Brent is uninterested in son "Carl", so father Tucker places the wavy-haired lad, now played by Lester Lee, in foster care, with grandmotherly Ferike Boros (as Mary Schultz), and takes off for Europe. Young Lee still loves to play the violin, and begins to study with Shean - but, the two do not know they are related. When Lee becomes a child prodigy, the family is reunitedÂ… in court.

    Producer Maury M. Cohen's "An Invincible Picture" opening logo heralds this as a "poverty row" film. Yet, "Symphony of Living" makes the most of its interesting cast and crew. A tidy little melodrama, complete with closing dissolve, it's lesson in low-budget filmmaking. Shean handles the starring role well; uncle to "The Marx Bothers" and equally famous in the 1920s as half of "Gallagher & Shean", his million selling #1 hit "Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean" (1922) is readily available online.

    ****** Symphony of Living (1/20/35) Frank R. Strayer ~ Al Shean, John Darrow, Evelyn Brent, John Harron
  • Al Shean is a symphony violinist. He injures his hand and can no longer play; his vicious children (played by John Darrow and a surprisingly uninvolved Evelyn Brent, promptly abandon him, since he can no longer provide a meal ticket. His musical friends eventually track him down and rescue him, setting him up as a teacher.

    As a soap opera it is unlikely and no one in the cast seems to take that part of the story with any interest. There are a few bright spots, provided by comedy bits -- as one would expect with Shean on the cast -- and some good orchestral music. Almost all of it is by Offenbach, which is fine by me -- even if everyone seems to think that ORPHEUS EN ENFER is a symphonic piece and not an opera.

    It's directed by Frank Strayer for Invincible, a Gower Gulch company that never made it. Strayer eventually made it to the relative dignity of Columbia, where he wound up directing some of the amusing BLONDIE movies.