Our review of The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) (Blu-ray), published March 1st, 2014, is also available.
Big bands, ballrooms, and nightlife.
A Hollywood formula biography of Eddy Duchin, society bandleader in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, The Eddy Duchin Story is a vanilla film, but sports a fantastic score and the lovely Kim Novak.
Facts of the Case
Eddy Duchin (Tyrone Power) rolls into the Central Park Casino in New York City, dreaming of a "red Stutz Bearcat and a bankroll as big as the Ritz." He doesn't have a job, though, so that's a problem. However, it doesn't take him long to win a small role with the Casino orchestra, and only slightly longer to win the attentions of society girl Marjorie Oelrichs (Kim Novak). Playing the piano at every opportunity, Duchin's fame and his audiences steadily grow, thanks to his distinctive style and showmanship. Having made Marjorie Oelrichs into Mrs. Duchin, and adding newborn son Peter, Eddy's life seems complete. Sadly, tragedy shatters his perfect life, leaving a grieving Eddy to care for Peter alone.
The aftermath of his loss compels Eddy to flee New York City, leaving behind his son as well as his painful memories. After many years, Eddy musters the courage to return. When he does reappear on the scene, success is still his to enjoy. Yet, the time away has isolated him from his son Peter, who is far more attached to his nanny, Chiquita (Victoria Shaw). The years ahead are difficult ones as Eddy fights to regain his son's trust and glue his life back together.
Hollywood doesn't make films like it used to anymore. Not an uncommon sentiment in some circles, and perhaps even on occasion you may have had that thought cross your mind. Perhaps the latest remake atrocity like Mr. Deeds or a beneath the bottom of the barrel, scum-sucking waste of celluloid like Freddy Got Fingered had something to do with it?
Anyway, this criticism is plainly double-edged, because on occasion this is a good thing. In light of The Eddy Duchin Story, I must admit that the demise of the whitewashed Hollywood biopic is an advancement in the quality of adult cinema. A wholly virtuous person is an extreme rarity, as is a life with hardly a discouraging word to be said about it. In some ways, these are less interesting subjects for the rest of us, who find greater interest in the lives of persons who achieve significance despite the flaws of their humanity. The most recent example would be the multi-Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind, though ironically even this portrayal of an idiosyncratic genius was dogged by its own whitewashing controversy.
As brought to life by director George Sidney, The Eddy Duchin Story takes a limited view of Duchin's life. We jump right into his career just shortly before his "big break," and drift along his timeline without any strong narrative direction. Major events, such as his marriage to Marjorie Oelrichs and his serious wartime service in the United States Navy, come and go with little context or fanfare. The Eddy Duchin Story would have been better served had its creators taken a discernable point of view of their subject and built upon it.
On the other hand, director George Sidney avoids the temptation to wallow in the available melodrama, particularly with his deft handling of the ending, so that the tragedy is kept in manageable proportion. Duchin's story could very easily have turned into a disastrously wrist-slitting downer, so be thankful for that small mercy.
The Eddy Duchin Story is not a failure, nor is it a badly made film. Freshly scrubbed clean, presented in a natty new suit, and possessing impeccably good manners, The Eddy Duchin Story falls short in its quest for glory primarily due to the overly earnest, vanilla approach of the feel-good biography genre. No doubt there are many similar films in the Hollywood vaults, but what helps The Eddy Duchin Story rise above obscurity is the richness of the songs used as the film's backdrop. With the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Frederic Chopin, and Oscar Hammerstein floating in and out of the film (actually performed by "Poet of the Piano" Carmen Cavallaro), you may be inclined to forgive The Eddy Duchin Story its faults.
The supporting cast of The Eddy Duchin Story adds a gloss of quality over the film's limitations. Long time character actor James Whitmore (The Shawshank Redemption, Planet Of The Apes) endears as Duchin's friend, Lou Sherwood, and poised beauty Victoria Shaw (Edge of Eternity, Westworld) wins our sympathy as Peter Duchin's nanny.
The anamorphic video benefits from Columbia's wise decision to produce a high definition remaster, so that this is likely the best The Eddy Duchin Story has ever looked. A spot of edge enhancement, a dash of flickering, occasional blips, and a moderately soft picture take their toll, but the overall result is much like the film, commendable but short of excellent.
The audio track is billed as "discrete audio," and here the jewels of The Eddy Duchin Story, namely the songs, are allowed to shine. As the name (and its designation as Dolby 3.0) implies, all three channels of the front soundstage are independently and effectively used. The effect is pleasing in its breadth and depth, and superior to a more "traditional" mono or Dolby 2.0 mix.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Available literature on the subject makes clear that at his prime, Tyrone Power was quite the heartthrob amongst millions of female admirers. Playing to that strength, he devoted most of his successful pre-WWII career to swashbuckling, macho sorts of roles, such as The Mark of Zorro, Blood and Sand, and A Yank In The R.A.F. (opposite Betty Grable). However, in The Eddy Duchin Story he plays the title role but fails to convey the essence of the man. Eddy Duchin was apparently a man who achieved success more on the strength of his passion, dazzling charm, and showmanship than his technical skill as a musician. Power's surface performance left me wondering why Duchin was so special to so many people. Power may have understood his own limitations in that respect, if this quote attributed to him at IMDb.com is accurate: "I've done an awful lot of stuff that's a monument to public patience."
Opposite Tyrone Power is Kim Novak (Vertigo, Bell, Book and Candle, The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders), a glamorous blond once tapped by Columbia mogul Harry Cohn to follow in the footsteps of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. While you might think that referring to her in this section of the review is a prelude to denigrating her performance, you would be mistaken. My only complaint is how underused she is in The Eddy Duchin Story. Given the facts of Duchin's life, and her appropriate casting as a fetching society darling, that is perhaps unavoidable, but still a disappointment. Progressing far from her beginnings as a model and a pitchwoman promoting refrigerators as "Miss Deepfreeze," in The Eddy Duchin Story she has become a highly competent actress. Undeniably gorgeous, but intelligent and serious, her talent is clearly on the rise here.
I am beginning to feel like a broken record bemoaning the infinitesimal extra content on so many discs. This failing is worse when, as with The Eddy Duchin Story, the subject is unknown to most in the audience. I certainly appreciate the effort to remaster and present The Eddy Duchin Story in as good a technical fashion, but is some background too much to ask for? Perhaps an interview with Eddy's son, Peter? Anything?
As it is, the only extras are the theatrical trailer for The Eddy Duchin Story and for The Long Gray Line, another earnest biopic starring Tyrone Power and directed by the legendary John Ford.
There's not a lot of biographical depth in The Eddy Duchin Story, so the primary points of interest will be the lead actor and actress (Tyrone Power and Kim Novak) and the rich soundtrack. Consider that if you are pondering a rental or purchase ($24.95 list).
As a product of its time, the Court is merciful with The Eddy Duchin Story and assesses no penalty. The Court thanks Columbia TriStar for its technical skill but reprimands it for a total lack of substantive extras.
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