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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Gene Krupa Story (1959)

"Hello, big town. Are you ready?"
- Gene Krupa (Sal Mineo), to New York City

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: May 17, 2004

Stars: Sal Mineo, Susan Kohner, James Darren
Other Stars: Susan Oliver, Red Nichols, Bobby Troup, Anita O'Day, Buddy Lester
Director: Don Weis

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:41m:11s
Release Date: May 18, 2004
UPC: 043396037601
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-CC+ D-

DVD Review

Unless you're eligible for Social Security, or are seriously into the big band sound, there's a strong chance that you know little or nothing about Gene Krupa, and the prospect of watching the Hollywood version of his life story may not be the most inviting one. Krupa was one of the great drummers of his time, and he's given the studio treatment here; it's far from being a great movie, that's for certain, but it's a competently told story, at least, with some swinging music, for its time.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I've always found drum solos a little silly. At rock concerts, they provide the best opportunity to go out for another beer; and even watching this movie, and even when Krupa gets cooking on the skins, I could hear the soft insistent voice of Nigel Tufnel: "My solos are my trademark.")

This is very standard Hollywood biopic stuff, following the template of movies like Pride of the Yankees or even The Jazz Singer: Gene Krupa is a Chicago lad, son of immigrants, with a dream. His father wants him to be a priest, but Eugene gives over to devil music—he wants to play those drums. Early on, the big lure, of course, is that chicks dig drummers—you know what kind of movie you're in pretty quickly, when one fetching young thing demands that Krupa be her date at "a weenie roast and swim party at my house next Saturday." Gene even dons the seminarian's robes, briefly, but ditches them after his father dies; the speakeasy is a more powerful lure than the priesthood.

Gene, his best buddy Eddie, and Eddie's girl, Ethel, light out for New York, certain that they'll find greatness there; after a reel or two of struggle, of course Gene does. Soon he's playing with the brightest lights of the big band era—Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols—and living the high life. It's clear that Ethel wants to be with Gene, and not with Eddie: will Gene take his best friend's girl? Or will he continue living the high life, and all the many perks that come with?

Mom never approves of Gene's lifestyle, and when he's playing, he seems to be working out some Oedipal issues: "You hear that, Mama? They're yelling for your boy. Mama, they approve!" The great crisis for Krupa comes when he takes a hit of the evil weed—a few puffs on a joint, and boom, he's a crazed, Reefer Madness-style junkie. Will the love of a good woman bring Krupa back to some good, clean living? Ethel puts up with an absurd amount of abuse—infidelities, lies, even a pull in the big house—but for reasons known to her alone, she seems ready to stand by her man. (Even she is allowed to express her doubts on occasion, though: "I don't know what happened to that boy I knew in Chicago.")

Sal Mineo as Krupa seems almost simian when he's hacking at the drums; he was only 20 when the film was made, and it shows, as he's much better early on during Krupa's times of struggle than he is with the perils of success. So if the story is forgettable, the best part of the movie is certainly the music. It's almost quaint to watch a film in which the racy number is a jazzy Back Home in Indiana, but it swings, as does On the Sunny Side of the Street, and an Anita O'Day version of Memories of You. Some of the biggest names in jazz play themselves—Nichols, O'Day—and others are played by worthy successors (e.g., Bobby Troup as Tommy Dorsey). This is fairly forgettable, ordinary fare, but it does have its foot-tapping moments.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are many flecks, scratches, and imperfections in the print, and the transfer to DVD seems to have been done without much care. Some of the original black-and-white photography still looks sharp, but that's in spite of the transfer, not because of it.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is pretty clean, but there are some pretty severe balance problems. Basically, if you're listening to the dialogue at a reasonable level of volume, a musical number will creep up on you and send you scattering for the remote; the music is just impossibly and unreasonably loud. You'll want to watch this movie with one hand on the volume button.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Gilda, It Should Happen To You, You Were Never Lovelier
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Just a trio of other Columbia trailers.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A run-of-the-mill Hollywood biopic, highlighted by some of the best music from the period of Krupa and his time.


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