Humoresque movie review: Jean Negulesco’s melodrama about classical music & class distinctions is saved by a charismatic Joan Crawford
Directed by Jean Negulesco from a screenplay by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold – loosely based on Fannie Hurst’s 1919 short story – Warner Bros.’ 1946 version of Humoresque always frustrates me because its first 25 minutes are excruciatingly boring.
And then Joan Crawford makes her appearance in a party scene.
The recent Best Actress Oscar winner (for Mildred Pierce, 1945) plays Helen Wright, a rich society lush in love with a tough-guy violin player, Paul Boray (John Garfield), who happens to be in love with his music.
Fine support is offered by Ruth Nelson and the fabulous chameleon-like J. Carrol Naish as Paul’s parents, Esther and Rudy. On the downside, Oscar Levant plays sarcastic, wisecracking piano player Sid Jeffers to the verge of annoyance.
Something wrong with that woman
The scenes between Paul and his mother are particularly intriguing, as Esther conveys her objections to Helen by lamenting, “There’s something wrong with a woman like that!”
Unfortunately, the highly anticipated confrontation scene between the old lady and the society dame ends much too abruptly, thus offering no resolution.
Near-sighted glamour puss
Then comes The Concert – and that famous Joan Crawford puss goes to work in the close-up. While watching Paul play, she looks as though she is having an orgasm, with her eyes closed and her mouth open.
Now, I always wonder why the near-sighted Helen isn’t wearing glasses in that scene – unless she’s afraid her sultriness would steam them up. Anyway, the glasses seem to be a metaphor for her character’s inability to see that Paul’s music comes first.
Lastly, Humoresque offers one of the most romantic suicide scenes in film history: Donning a scintillating evening gown, Joan Crawford walks into the ocean, drowning to the strains of “Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde as her lover performs a concert on the radio.
As far as I know, apart from Edmund Goulding’s 1925 melodrama Sally, Irene and Mary, Humoresque is the only movie in which Joan Crawford dies.*
He’s got Isaac Stern’s hands
I should add that the only thing that bothers me about the film’s well-made violin scenes is that I keep imagining Isaac Stern standing behind John Garfield with his arms wrapped tightly around the actor while manipulating his instrument.
I’d love to have seen those rehearsals.
Director: Jean Negulesco.
Screenplay: Clifford Odets & Zachary Gold.
From Fannie Hurst’s 1919 short story “Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It.”
Cast: Joan Crawford. John Garfield. Oscar Levant. J. Carrol Naish. Joan Chandler. Ruth Nelson. Tom D’Andrea. Peggy Knudsen. Craig Stevens. Paul Cavanagh. Richard Gaines. John Abbott. Robert Blake. Tommy Cook. Don McGuire. Fritz Leiber.
“Humoresque Movie (1946): Charismatic Joan Crawford to the Rescue” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Humoresque (1946) Movie Review” notes
Golden Boy vibes
 Surely it’s no coincidence that Warners’ 1946 movie version of Humoresque, co-written by Clifford Odets, has a number of elements in common with Columbia’s Rouben Mamoulian-directed 1939 movie version of Golden Boy, based on Odets’ 1937 play: Older woman/younger man romance (in Golden Boy, Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden), the world of classical music vs. the world of boxing, the socioeconomic barriers faced by working-class Americans.
Of note, Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount’s more “inspirational” – and hugely popular – 1920 version of Humoresque was directed by future two-time Academy Award winner Frank Borzage (7th Heaven, 1927–28; Bad Girl, 1931–32) from a screenplay by future two-time Academy Award winner Frances Marion (The Big House, 1929–30; The Champ, 1931–32).
The three leads were played by Gaston Glass (as the poor-turned-rich Jewish violinist and eventual World War I vet), Vera Gordon (as his adoring mother, a relatively minor role in the remake), and Alma Rubens (as the local Jewish girl who becomes the violinist’s ever-devoted wife).
“Humoresque Movie” endnotes
John Garfield and Joan Crawford Humoresque movie image: Warner Bros.
“Humoresque Movie (1946): Charismatic Joan Crawford to the Rescue” last updated in October 2021.