Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)

This biopic about pianist and band leader Eddy Duchin is not a happy story, and yet, despite the sad misfortunes of his life, this movie was surprisingly never depressing or a downer. In fact, it was rather the opposite. There's so much love of life in this film, that death and sadness merely serve to stress how important it is to pursue your dreams and happiness. Because you never know when those you love will be taken from you, you never know how long you yourself may have.

Spoilers follow....

Eddy's story is fairly simple. Young pianist comes to NY, with Kim Novak's help, gets a job with an orchestra, works his way up until when the bandleader moves on, he steps in and takes over. He marries Kim Novak, but their happiness is short-lived, and she dies after giving birth to their son. Eddy splits on tour, unwilling to deal with her death and his new son. Five years go by, WWII is about to break out, and his friend Lou, played by James Whitmore convinces him to meet his son. His son is reserved and polite, and Eddy is devastated. Off to the war he goes. When he gets back, he tries to make amends. He falls in love with a new woman, his son, who also plays the piano, slowly learns to love him, but just when everything should be at its happiest, Eddy learns he has leukemia and is dying. A sad life for such a talented musican.

The film starts with his arrival in New York and goes through his death. Oh sure, Tyrone's technically way too old to play the young Eddy Duchin, but he's so full of energy and enthusiasm, I had no trouble believing in him. The montage of him and Kim Novak falling in love is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Sometimes, moments like that can seem cliche, but this montage really worked for me. Maybe it was just Tyrone Power and Kim Novak together. It's actually not a pairing I would have thought of, but I like them together. A lot.

Besides the falling-in-love montage, I had three favorite scenes. Kim Novak's death scene, because of how Tyrone played it. He knows she's dying, she doesn't. I thought his acting could not have been better here. I particularly like when actors let you see what their characters are thinking. It's one of the things I love about Dana Andrews. How effortlessly he conveys internal thought processes and the subtext of a scene. Tyrone does that here.

James Whitmore is one of my favorite character actors. The guy is so solid, so reliable. He can do anything. He gets my next favorite scene, where he lays into Eddy for running away from his son for five years. Eddy is a very even-keeled, happy, smiling sort, and he finally loses his temper. I'm a sucker for a good angry "Shut up!" (which is a post all unto itself) and Tyrone cuts loose with an excellent one.

My third favorite scene is the very end of the movie, which I won't give away, but it's such a simple and elegant way to end the movie. Sentimental without being melodramatic, and oddly satisfying. That's a weird thing to say about a movie that ends with the title character's death, but it's true. The writer half of me quite admires how they handled it.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how impressed I was with Tyrone Power's piano playing. In the A&E Biography of him I recently watched, it said he basically memorized the fingering in order to look convincing. That had to be a helluva lot of work, but it sure pays off. Except for a few occasions where the music's obviously way too complicated, he pulls it off. And even in those complicated moments, his hands are still in the right areas of the piano, and his fingers are moving fast enough in the right directions that perhaps if you aren't a piano player, you might not even know he's faking it then. It's so great to watch a movie where they don't have to have the piano's bulk obscure the actor. The opening scene where we first get to see him play, you see a set of hands first, and I was thinking, okay, here they go, they'll cut to his face. But nope, the camera slowly pulls back to show Tyrone playing. Because of his memorization, they never have to cut away from showing him at the piano. I really appreciate that, particularly as there's a lot of piano playing, and he does a fabulous job of making it all look natural.

Not a fabulous movie or one I need to own, but quite enjoyable. Beautiful New York location shooting, great period cars, lovely dresses for Kim Novak, great music. I particularly like the Chopin.


  1. I came across your blog, because I googled whether Tyrone Power learned to play the piano for the movie. I couldn't agree with you more. I'm not a piano player so I'm sure I didn't catch all the "mistakes" that you did, but I felt the same way, and was so pleased by Power's playing. I was thinking the exact thoughts you were during the opening scene, lol, and was even more impressed as the movie went on. How much more enjoyable he made it to watch him. I had heard that he was a dedicated actor, and that he didn't get the recognition that he deserved, probably because of his good looks, but in the movies of his that I've seen I do recognize, not only a talented actor, but now one of true dedication to his craft. Being a movie fan my whole life I really appreciate that. Thanks for the information about him learning the piano keyboard. In the quick search I did, you were the only one I could find that had the information.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Sorry for the removal, but my comment went through twice.

  3. Thanks! Glad I could pass on some useful information. He did such a great job in this movie (and on all his movies). I really enjoy his acting every time I catch a new film of his I haven't yet seen.

  4. Judith9:21 PM

    Thank you so much for your critique not only on the movie, and on Tyrone power's excellent dedication. I have always enjoyed his pictures and love to know there are others out there that admired his work as well. Thank heaven for TCM exclamation point

    1. Hi Judith! I caught part of this last night on TCM, so it was on my mind again as well! Thanks for stopping by. I agree, it's always nice to find classic movie fans who love these old films and what the stars did to make them work.