Welcome to the second of our monthly Musical Theatre Monday posts and what was intended to be start of a whole new series, looking at the original scores composer Jerome Kern wrote for the motion pictures. Shortly after drafting this entry and prepping the next two posts in the series, I decided that I actually had little interest in the pictures themselves beyond the few songs — sometimes too few songs — that Kern contributed. As a result, I have decided that there’s no reason to make this a regular bi-monthly fixture at this time; we’ll all be happier sticking (for the most part) with works written for the stage. So, this post has been published as scheduled, but I’ve edited it down for succinctness: just to share some great, but lesser-known Kern tunes.
I Dream Too Much (1935, RKO)
This vehicle for opera star Lily Pons finds her playing an aspiring singer who becomes a sensation only after trying to help the career of her struggling composer husband, played by Henry Fonda. While she becomes a success, he’s left behind — but don’t worry, there’s no A Star Is Born (1937) tragedy here; Pons has her husband’s work turned into a musical comedy, and with her as the lead, it’s naturally a success. As you might guess, the plot is slight and predictable, and the only moments in which the film comes alive are the musical sequences (not to mention the small appearance by a young Lucille Ball). Pons, in the first of her three films, is often charming, but she shows no nuance and is, at times, difficult to understand; her choices are broadly rendered, but emotional variations don’t register — even in the well-sung tunes.
All of the numbers — there are six — are for Pons, designed to showcase her talents, and four of them are by Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields, the latter of whom is one of the most underratedly clever wordsmiths of the time. While some tunes engage with elements of operetta, like “I’m The Echo (You’re The Song That I Sing),” heard below by the Mario Braggiotti Orchestra, others bely more musical theatre roots, like the grand production number, “The Jockey On The Carousel,” which you can view above.
Pons’ vocalizations, which I find thrilling, didn’t catch on with moviegoers at the time, with some critics snidely referring to the film as “I Scream Too Much.” As mentioned above, I think if there’s any problem with the leading lady’s singing, it’s not in her craft, it’s in her ability to convey implied messages — and that extends to her articulation. Nevertheless, I think she’s charismatic, and I enjoy listening to her sing numbers like the one below, which was so well-liked that it became the title of the picture.
There’s no doubt, however, that the best song from the score is the swingin’ “I Got Love” (not to be confused with the gem from Purlie). It’s Kern moving swiftly into current sounds, all the while retaining his sense of solid foundation. There are several divine renditions of this one, but I’m particularly fond of Rebecca Luker’s, heard below. (This is one of my favorite Kern songs; if I made a list, there’s a good chance it’d be on there!)
This picture has been released on VHS, but never on DVD. Subscribers interested in obtaining a digital copy can kindly comment below for access!
Come back on the third Monday of next month for a new Musical Theatre Monday post! And stay tuned tomorrow for more Murphy Brown!