12 October 2000 | SGriffin-6
Skewed as biography, amusing as musical
The film is part of a long line of musical biographies of songwriters that has hardly any interest in the person's actual life story. Instead, calling them biographies allows the musicals to cull songs from their catalog for various musical numbers. Still, at times, these films can be pleasant time-wasters. This one, ostensibly about turn-of-the-century songwriter Ernest Ball, is one of these pleasant but unexceptional entries.
Judging from the songs presented in the film, Ball specialized in Irish hokum ("Mother Macree" for example)--lugubrious ballads that wallowed in maternal sentimentality and dreams. Consequently, Dick Haymes portrayal of Ball presents him as a weak passive sort, who is easily pushed around. Seemingly to balance him, June Haver as his romantic interest is incredibly butch--growling, aggressive, and constantly popping people in the eye. While Haymes sings Ball's slow ballads, Haver performs peppy up-tempo numbers (that were not written by Ball). One of these underlines the reversal of gender-expected behavior: "Bessie in a Bustle." Here, Haver sings in male clothing, as various men in drag (with bustles naturally) cavort around her!
It's a pretty out-of-nowhere moment, but seems to fit the general attitude about aggressive women and passive men that's going on in the rest of the film.
Overall, it's a colorful period piece, with plenty to keep a viewer diverted for an hour and a half--and some interesting ideas if you stop to notice them. But it's no landmark musical.