Humoresque 1946: Saved by Joan Crawford
Directed by Jean Negulesco from a screenplay by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold (loosely based on a Fannie Hurst short story), Humoresque always frustrates me because its first 25 minutes are excruciatingly boring – until Joan Crawford finally makes her appearance during a party scene.
Crawford 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 Paul’s parents, played by Ruth Nelson and the fabulous chameleon-like J. Carrol Naish. Oscar Levant is the sarcastic, wisecracking piano player, who plays his part to the verge of annoyance. (Spoilers ahead.)
Something wrong with that woman
The Humoresque scenes between Paul and his mother are particularly intriguing, as the mother 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 Helen ends much too abruptly, thus offering no resolution.
Then comes The Concert – and that famous Joan Crawford puss goes to work in the close-up. She looks as though she is having an orgasm while watching Paul play, with her eyes closed and her mouth open. Crawford never looked better, especially in all those tailored black gowns.
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 celluloid history. 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 the 1925 melodrama Sally, Irene and Mary, Humoresque is the only movie in which Joan Crawford dies.*
I should add that the only thing that bothers me about the film’s quite good 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.
© Danny Fortune.
* As mentioned in a comment further below, Joan Crawford also dies in Queen Bee.
Director: Jean Negulesco.
Screenplay: Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold.
From Fannie Hurst’s short story.
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.
‘Humoresque’: Oscar Movies
Jean Negulesco’s Humoresque was nominated for one Academy Award.
- Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
Winner: Hugo Friedhofer for The Best Years of Our Lives.
Humoresque & Golden Boy
Note from the Editor: The 1946 film version of Humoresque has a number of elements in common with co-screenwriter Clifford Odets’ 1937 play Golden Boy. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the 1939 movie version of Golden Boy starred Barbara Stanwyck (a role akin to Joan Crawford’s in Humoresque), William Holden, and Adolphe Menjou.
Also, a radically different – and highly popular – version of Humoresque had been previously filmed in 1920. Frank Borzage directed Alma Rubens, violinist / World War I soldier Gaston Glass, and Vera Gordon (as Glass’ mother; a less important role in the remake).
John Garfield and Joan Crawford Humoresque 1946 image: Warner Bros., via The Movie Projector.