Song is Born, A (1948)

Song is Born, A (1948)

“It’s getting hotter and hotter, so stay in the icebox like a good little salad.”

A shy musicologist (Danny Kaye) falls in love with a gangster’s moll (Virginia Mayo) in hiding to protect her boyfriend (Steve Cochran).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Danny Kaye Films
  • Fugitives
  • Gangsters
  • Howard Hawks Films
  • Musicals
  • Professors
  • Virginia Mayo Films

It’s somewhat surprising to learn that this tepid musical remake of Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire (1941) was actually helmed by Hawks himself — that is, until one reads TCM’s article on the film, where it’s noted that Hawks — who “always said he hated” the film, and considered its production “an altogether horrible experience” — “never watched the rushes or even saw the final product”; apparently he agreed to do the work for Samuel Goldwyn “purely because of the $250,000 paycheck it delivered”. Knowing that Kaye had recently separated from his wife (lyricist Sylvia Fine) and was undergoing daily counseling may explain why (in Hawks’ own words) Kaye is “about as funny as a crutch” in the film:

Indeed, since he’s only given a handful of opportunities to exhibit his trademark wit, he seems horribly miscast. Fortunately, Virginia Mayo (while arguably no match for Barbara Stanwyck in the original) brings some much needed energy and brio to the proceedings; whenever she’s on-screen, the story is at least bearable. Jazz fans will probably find value in seeing some legendary musicians gathered together here, but the rest of this clunker is eminently skippable.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Virginia Mayo as Honey Swanson
  • Some enjoyable musical sequences by jazz greats (including Benny Goodman in “cameo” as one of Kaye’s uptight musicologist buddies)

Must See?
No; this one is only must see viewing for Howard Hawks completists, or diehard Danny Kaye fans.


2 thoughts on “Song is Born, A (1948)

  1. Not a must.

    Ultimately, yes, ‘ASIB’ is a disappointment. ~esp. the last 15-20 minutes, which are inexcusably bad: what passes for a climax is milked horribly and the whole pic has the air sucked out of it at that point.

    Overall, I don’t find the performances that much of a problem. Kaye has taken over from Gary Cooper – who was never famous for being a comedian – and both Coop in ‘Ball of Fire’ and Kaye here are called on for a light touch as academics. I did note one over-the-top scene – in which it is visually revealed that Kaye is gaga in love – that, again, is another bit of needless milking. But, had Kaye been asked to be more typically Kaye throughout, it would go against the grain of his character.

    Mayo is not that bad, all things considered; in her major scenes, she’s actually rather effective. (I much prefer her in something like this over some of the thankless roles that have her basically as a prop.) And the musicologists make for a sweet bunch of ‘nerds’.

    The main draw to ‘ASIB’ rests with some of the musical sequences: a marvelous, sort-of montage in which Kaye goes from jazz club to jazz club, notepad in hand, to absorb the modern trend; Goodman in top form as he sits in on a jazz session (he’s rather adorable in his only acting role); the memorable scene in which many of the cast are gathered for a recording of the story of jazz history.

    In spite of what’s written in the TCM article, Hawks’ directorial touch is rather evident in the film – so he does seem at least partially concerned that his film is kept from being a total disaster. But the bottom line is that ‘Ball of Fire’ is not a film that needed to be re-made.

  2. Not a must – see Ball of Fire instead. Watch it as a Hawks or Kaye vehicle.

    With that said, the musical numbers and cameos were fun, and the movie flowed pretty well, but ultimately this was a Danny Kaye vehicle where he just didn’t provide energy – he was almost asleep.

    Virginia Mayo was enjoyable if one didn’t try to compare her part to Barbara Stanwyck’s role in the original.

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