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  Song of Scheherazade Hello SailorBuy this film here.
Year: 1947
Director: Waler Reisch
Stars: Yvonne De Carlo, Brian Donlevy, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Eve Arden, Phillip Reed, John Qualen, Richard Lane, George Dolenz, Elena Verdugo, Terry Kilburn, Charles Kullman
Genre: Biopic, Music
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is a sailor in the Russian Navy, but he harbours ambitions further than that of reaching the position of officer, for his first love is music and his dearest wish is to write an opera that is performed in a proper opera house: one in Moscow would do very nicely. This doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon if his Captain, Vladimir Gregorovitch (Brian Donlevy), has anything to do with it, a hard taskmaster who tolerates no breaches of his ship's conduct, but in every port they arrive at, Nikolai and his singing friend the doctor, Klin (Charles Kullman), hare off on shore leave to find somewhere to play...

Play music, that is, not cards or dominoes or Super Mario Kart, in one of those Hollywood biopics that once upon a time became very popular with Hollywood studios, if not a vast swathe of the general audience, as it demonstrated their commitment to class and highbrow entertainment by bringing classical music to the masses. Naturally, aside from making the pieces in question more familiar to those moviegoers, the results were more often than not blithely crass in comparison to the life stories they were purporting to tell, so with Rimsky-Korsakov you had a largely invented account of his early career snatching up the biographical details that he served in the Navy before making it big and spinning a whole yarn about it.

What our Nicky (as he ends up called, French accent and all) didn't do was romance forties sex symbol and future Munster Yvonne De Carlo, who here he meets in a Spanish port when she's dancing on stage and posing as a gypsy maiden, which she isn't, she’s wearing brown makeup and is all dressed up. She's actually Cara de Talavera, something of a gold digger and daughter of the even more opportunist Eve Arden (that's right, Eve Arden was playing Yvonne de Carlo's mother which offers some idea of the lunacy on offer), but Nicky will melt her heart when she hears what he can do with a sheet of music. That said, he's so wrapped up in his talent that he needs a lot of coaxing from Cara's womanly charms, not so much hard to get as hard to understand.

Naturally, you were not going to learn much here if it was history you were after, other than the fact that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote Flight of the Bumble Bee, which in a bizarre scene De Carlo dances to after helpfully explaining the title to us watching. But the choreography here was not the best, as while our leading lady could certainly cut a rug with the best of them, the moves she was offered here were clumsy and often embarrassing, though at least she was spared the ignominy that the male chorus had to endure as they put on a display of chair dancing - not modern chair dancing as the office workers of the world know it when something groovesome comes on the radio, but synchronised dancing with a wooden chair as their partner.

There was intentional humour, as when the good doctor starts belting out his scales on entry to the de Talavera's house (uninvited) which wakes up Madame Arden and she inquires of her parrot if that noise emanated from him, that was the broad style of the jokes in an attempt at accessibility, essentially rendering what could have been stuffy subject matter on the level of an Ann Miller musical. You can imagine how that plays out: camp and lots of it, especially with all those sailors appearing and Donlevy frequently stripped to the waist as he inspected them, looking like a sweat-slicked Popeye with this cigarette holder clamped between his teeth. They threw in a fight with whips between Nicky and a love rival (Phillip Reed as a proper Russian Prince) as if this was not kinky enough, so something for everyone then, except perhaps serious fans of Rimsky-Korsakov who saw his famous piece Scheherazade delivered as the grand finale in some kind of gaudy Arabian Knights fantasy only lacking the presence of Maria Montez. But Yvonne was more than sufficient in a film that took a decidedly not-sensible approach to a serious subject and was amusing despite itself.

[Simply Media's DVD has no extras, but the dreamy Technicolor is nicely preserved.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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