“I don’t want to be just a concert pianist… I want to use the piano as a stepping stone!”
George Gershwin (Robert Alda) rises quickly to fame, but his drive to compose leaves him little time for his two potential lovers: a socialite (Alexis Smith) and a singer (Joan Leslie).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Al Jolson Films
- Alexis Smith Films
- Charles Coburn Films
- Irving Rapper Films
- Joan Leslie Films
- Oscar Levant Films
Despite being an enormous hit with audiences at the time (and earning two Oscar nominations), this biopic about American musical prodigy George Gershwin — made just seven years after his untimely death at the age of 39 from a brain tumor — received lackluster reviews from the New York Times, with Bosley Crowther lamenting that “there is never any true clarification of what makes the gentleman run, no interior grasp of his nature, no dramatic continuity to his life.” In truth, Rhapsody in Blue (directed by Irving Rapper) suffers from the same plight as most well-meaning mid-century Hollywood biopics: an inability to dig deeply enough into the true inner workings of its protagonist, and the frustrating use of fictional subplots (both romantic female leads here are fabricated, despite the fact that Gershwin actually wined and dined a number of famous real-life women, including Fay Wray.)
With that said, those willing to forego historical accuracy in favor of a fabulous aural tour through Gershwin’s brief but luminous career won’t be disappointed. Rhapsody in Blue is jam-packed with Gershwin tunes, including a nearly full-length rendition of the title song itself (a fabulous sequence), and cameos by several well-known performers, including Hazel Scott, Anne Brown, and Al Jolson. The acting performances are all fine as well: Robert Alda (Alan’s dad) effectively portrays Gershwin’s drive to achieve at an early age (eerily foreshadowing his premature death), and it’s great fun to see Oscar Levant playing an extended cameo as himself — in one particularly amusing shot, he’s seen anxiously watching Alda-as-Gershwin “performing” “Rhapsody in Blue”, when it’s actually his playing we’re hearing dubbed. Rhapsody in Blue may not reveal much about who Gershwin really was as a person, but it does a stellar job evoking the magic and beauty of his inimitable musical style; for this reason alone, it’s worth a look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Robert Alda as George Gershwin
- Oscar Levant in a supporting role (as his inimitable himself): “I’ve got a date with my insomnia…”
- The extended “Rhapsody in Blue” concert sequence
- Sol Polito’s cinematography
- A fabulous, Gershwin-saturated score
No, but it’s recommended for fans of Gershwin’s music.