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Words and Music
1948, MGM. Directed by Norman Taurog. With Mickey Rooney, Tom Drake,
The opening few seconds of this not-highly-regarded biopic reveal a promising confusion among reality, fiction, theatrical performance, and film performance. Under the opening credits, a chorus sings a popular song. Cut to a young man leaning against a desk in a neutral-looking environment. It's Tom Drake, an actor I've always found rather engaging (he played The Boy Next Door in Meet Me in St. Louis). He speaks to the camera:
This is where my jaw hit the floor. At first I thought it might be an
eliptical way of saying, "And I am [ taking the role of ] Richard
Rodgers," but no--the speaker means that he is Richard Rodgers.
Without transition, he starts reminiscing about how he first met Larry
Hart and we're into the story. Clearly, though, the man addressing us
is not Richard Rodgers any more than Mickey Rooney is Lorenz Hart. To
call this a failure of parellelism is to understate the case.
Or perhaps, as with many theatrical biographies, there are just various levels of fictionalization. We see production numbers, and we also see Rodgers and Hart kibbitzing with the performers, some of whom are made-up characters and some of whom are actual celebrities. Betty Garrett does a couple of songs, but not as herself; she plays Larry's fictitious (from what we now know of Hart's personal life, completely fictitious) love interest. By contrast, Vera-Ellen, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly, who also perform Rodgers and Hart standards, are referred to by their own names. In fact,when "Larry" convinces Judy to join him for an impromptu duet of "I Wish I Were in Love Again" at a Hollywood party, there's a third level of spin, since the number's entire raison d'etre is to show a grown-up Judy and Mickey together again (it backfires; they both look awful).
Again, in the post-mortem tribute to Larry Hart that wraps up the movie, Gene Kelly (as himself) tells the Broadway audience that "Perry Como will sing for you now." It's weird, because Perry Como has been in the movie all along, playing the part of "Eddie Lorrison Anders," a fictitious singer who hooks up with Rodgers and Hart early in their career and stars in many of their shows. What has suddenly turned him back into Perry Como?
What to make of this apparent sloppiness about identity? Perhaps the
This is probably as it should be in a "biography" that purports
to portray the
copyright ©2005 Barbara Bernstein