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Warner Home Video presents
Young Man with a Horn (1949)

"You're married to that trumpet. I certainly wouldn't want to come between you."
- Jo (Doris Day)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 25, 2005

Stars: Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day
Director: Michael Curtiz

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:52m:02s
Release Date: April 26, 2005
UPC: 012569683471
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BB+B D-

DVD Review

All the standard-issue Hollywood myths about musicians are very much on display in Young Man with a Horn—the misunderstood artist in pursuit of that elusive, perfect sound; the dangerously attractive performer letting everything else go to hell in handbasket to get the music just right; the vampire hours that come with all-night jam sessions that end only when the sun comes up or someone passes out, or both; the search for consolation in the bottom of a glass of whiskey, or something more nefarious and dangerous. So this is not unchartered territory, but it's made well, under the sure-handed direction of Michael Curtiz—as ever, Curtiz has a keen sense as to how best to use his actors, especially if they bring screen personae with them, and he gets some especially sharp noirish photography from cinematographer Ted McCord, which is as great to look at as Harry James on the soundtrack is to listen to.

Kirk Douglas stars as the title character, Rick Martin, who's living la vida loca—he takes up the trumpet because it's the cheapest instrument at the pawn shop, and it's kind of rough for a little kid to tote a piano from gig to gig. We meet him first as a boy, the only child of a tart of a single mother; his yearning and his prodigious ear bring him to the attention of Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), a jazz trumpet virtuoso, who recognizes the hunger in little Ricky, and becomes a surrogate father. Rick just wants to blow his horn as well as Art does; alas, the world doesn't appreciate, and things interfere. Rick gets a gig with a slimmed-down big band, which provides bland, middle-of-the-road dance numbers; there's no place there for Rick's improvisations, much to his chagrin. The musical dynamic is set up pretty clearly—it's Glenn Miller versus bebop, essentially. (The movie is on the side of the progressive artist, of course, but it depends what you're looking for; I love Dizzy Gillespie, but it's not what you want to hear when you're ready to swing dance.)

The lovely lead singer of the band, Josie Jordan, is played by Doris Day; she's here principally as a paragon of virtue, and to give some nice, clean, slightly vanilla renditions of standards, like With A Song In My Heart. Harry James dubs Rick's trumpet playing, and though Douglas is good in the role, especially as Rick's life falls apart, he's not all that convincing fingering his instrument—he's got the awkward, self-conscious quality of a non-smoker trying to look oh so casual with a cigarette in his fingers. The plot sort of shuffles along, and the real fireworks don't start until about an hour in—aside from the music, the most interesting thing in this movie is the relationship between Rick and Ann, played by Lauren Bacall, who uses her smoky voice at least as well as her beau does his trumpet. Ann is a medical student studying to be a psychiatrist; is she slumming with Rick? There's certainly a suggestion of that, and we know that she's a bad girl, because she invites herself up to his apartment. The film isn't especially interested in the Rick/Jo/Ann love triangle, as a conventional melodrama would be; there's the lurking notion that loving a bad woman leads him to an Oedipal-style betrayal of Art, but not exactly. In his performances, Kirk Douglas is frequently crazed on screen, and never more so than here; he may not pass as a first-rate jazz man, but he and Ann share the fact that they're both, for reasons not entirely clear, more than a little unhinged.

Hangdog Hoagy Carmichael co-stars as Smoke, a piano player and confidant of Rick's; he's also the sometime narrator of the story, but that framing device is used in fits and starts and at odd times; you get the sense that it was tacked on after the first cut, to smooth over some of the rougher expository patches. Though it's being released on DVD as part of a Doris Day collection, the movie is most memorable for the back and forth between Douglas and Bacall, and for some fine period trumpet work from Harry James.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: There are no shortage of scratches and nicks on the print, but the transfer is a strong one; in fact, it points up the various shooting circumstances, which might have been blurred over even in theatrical prints. Some of the movie is shot on location, on urban streets; some of it on highly stylized sets; and there is no shortage of relatively primitive matte shots, which look especially unconvincing. The mish mash of styles is very much in keeping with the meandering quality of the storytelling.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The dynamics on the mono track are limited, and there's some crackle; but it's all audible, the music especially.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Storm Warning
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: What's billed as a Doris Day Trailer Gallery yields a whopping two trailers.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A handsomely photographed, moody character piece, Michael Curtiz's film isn't the most elegantly constructed, but it's got great music and pictures, and some fine central performances.


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