To paraphrase poet W.H. Auden, Thou shalt not read the Bible for its prose—to which I add, Thou shalt not watch a songbook musical for its plot. But that doesn’t mean thou shalt not watch it at all.
Songbook musicals were popular at MGM in the 1940s and '50s. They were a surefire way to give audiences what they wanted: entire films crammed with hit songs and dance numbers, loosely mortared together with thin, feel-good biographic plots. Rhapsody in Blue (about George Gershwin), Words and Music (Rogers and Hart), Night and Day (Cole Porter), and even, in its own unique way, Singing in the Rain (duo Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown) are all examples of this unique sub-genre. Deep in My Heart is the story of the more obscure songwriter Sigmund Romberg, with plenty of Hollywood hokum and invented characters thrown in to spice things up between songs.
Ten things I love about Warner Archives new Blu-ray of Deep in My Heart:
1. Boy, José Ferrer is the total package: he acts, he sings, he dances. Sometimes I think every star at MGM at this time was required to dance for their dinners or their salaries got docked or something.
4. Ann Miller. (Sigh.) Ann Miller dancing. (Triple sigh.)
5. The transfer here is revelatory: razor sharp, stable, and eye-popping. Nothing else looks quite like 1950s-era (era) MGM Technicolor.
8. Paul Stewart, the creepy butler in Citizen Kane, shows up as a far less creepy character here. Jim Backus makes an appearance; he is still a year away from playing James Deans father in Rebel Without a Cause, ten years away from playing Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island, and had by this time been supplying the voice of Mr. Magoo for a full five years. Walter Pidgeon (Forbidden Planet, Harry in Your Pocket) portrays the famous theatrical impresario J.J. Schubert.
9. Have I mentioned Cyd Charisse is in this?
10. The film deals with Stromberg’s long career and continually makes the point that the popular shows Stromberg did NOT want to write were the HITS, while the pet projects that he fought for were (largely) the FLOPS. This lends a nice “meta-layer” to this MGM musical, which is itself a piece of popular, musical entertainment trying to be a hit. NOTE: Deep in My Heart was a modest hit, restoring perfect karmic balance to the universe.
On a related note, I would like to add, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, that I am thankful for many things. I am thankful for the special people in my life who largely succeed in putting up with me: my wife, son, and extended family. I am thankful that I am now 309 teaching days away from retirement. I am thankful for the entire F This Movie! community, which continues to amaze, amuse, and puzzle me on a regular basis. Thank you all.