In honor of the great actor Kirk Douglas who left us yesterday at the tender age of 103, here’s a review of one of my fav films of his.
“Young Man With a Horn” is a movie produced in 1949, starring a young but already very talented Kirk Douglas and two young and also very talented (and beautiful, of course) Doris Day and Lauren Bacall. The film was adapted by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North from a novel by Dorothy Baker, loosely based on the tragic life of great jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke, here named Rick Martin, one of the very few white guys who ‘made it’ in an environment dominated by genius black musicians in the jazz scene in the early 20s.
The film has a long introduction showing Rick’s sad and lonely childhood, during which his love for music in general and jazz in particular was his only comfort. It’s long and most people nowadays would find it boring, since we now have the attention span of a gold fish, thanks to social media. If you’re patience enough, you can watch and learn something about a long gone America (the good and the bad), the life in the slums and how music flourished in the most unexpected places.
Although, I have to admit, the script could have been better written and the 3 leads don’t have a lot to work with, their performance is outstanding and the music is amazing Douglas’ trumpeteering being effectively dubbed by Harry James, while jazz pianists Buddy Cole and Jimmy Zito make uncredited soundtrack contributions. Doris Day sings two beautiful, old – fashion songs that are just the icing on the cake.
As I mentioned above, this movie is based on a musician’s tragic life, so expect no comedy and be ready to shed some tears, especially when we see him struggle with alcoholism and the lack of inspiration. Still, in spite of the sadness, this is one of Kirk Douglas’ hidden gems, a wonderful trampoline to more commercial and high-budget movies such as “Spartacus” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea”.