On nothing more than a compliment by an accomplished musician, Eddy Duchin (Tyrone Power) quits his job as a chemist and moves to New York City, where he hopes to fulfill his dream of playing piano for a living. He reconnects with the encouraging musician, Leo Reisman (Larry Keating), bandleader of the orchestra at the posh Central Park Casino, in the hopes of playing in his orchestra, but Leo informs Eddy that he's already got a piano player. Dreams dashed, Eddy plinks out a sad song on the club piano, which catches the ear of Marjorie Oelrichs (Kim Novak), the rich socialite who's got the club booked for the evening. Eddy's enthusiasm and lovely musicianship charms her, and she convinces Leo to let him play while the band rests. Before long, Eddy's an integral part of Leo's orchestra, and his romance with Marjorie blossoms and grows with each passing day.
I had not heard of The Eddy Duchin Story, or even Eddy Duchin himself before sitting down to watch George Sidney's 1956 biopic about the popular piano player. Perhaps I'm just misinformed, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn I wasn't alone when it came to the film. It's a shame, because at its best, this is a rousing, romantic picture, complete with wonderful music and at least two great performances, by Tyrone Power and Kim Novak as the unlikely lovebirds. Admittedly, the picture sags a bit in the middle trying to find a foothold in the estranged relationship between Eddy and his son, Peter (Rex Thompson), but it's a small complaint in a film filled with gorgeous widescreen photography, and truly incredible musical performances, achieved through some sort of trickery so adept that I failed to see it.
The film is split into two parts. (Spoilers ahead in this paragraph.) As anyone familiar with Duchin's life knows, and one can easily guess while watching the movie, Marjorie passes away after giving birth to Peter, sending Eddy into a drunken tailspin, ending with him joining the Navy just to focus his energies as far away from his home life as possible. It's as crushing a blow for the viewer as it is for Eddy, because the chemistry between Power and Novak is truly exquisite. Her sweetness and his unflagging optimism make for a wonderful pairing, lifting the film from a charming montage of them all around the city into its most wonderful musical moment, Duchin performing "Dizzy Fingers." It's such an exuberant, celebratory moment, one that only makes the hard times that Duchin faces even harder to bear.
According to Wikipedia, George Greeley performed the film's music, which is quite remarkable considering how frequently Sidney frames Power so that his face and hands are seen at the same time. Perhaps that's just a testament to Power's performance, which is so alive and vibrant that it's hard to imagine he's not playing the piano. If some of these shots were trick shots or opticals (one in particular that comes to mind starts as an aerial view of Eddy's hands on a keyboard, then explicitly pans up to show that the hands belong to Power), the effect remains seamless even to this day. During "Dizzy Fingers", Sidney also makes great use of the CinemaScope frame, finding all sorts of exciting visual angles from which to incorporate the trumpeteers or the violinists. At one point, he even drops inside the piano, to see the wooden tumblers bouncing and wires twanging, as they hang in a criss-cross pattern across Power's face.
The film's loss of momentum near the middle is a significant flaw, stemming from the flat performance of Mickey Maga as Peter at age 5, and continues until Duchin starts to find a groove with Harrison as Peter at age 12, and with Victoria Shaw as Chiquita Lynn, a friend of the Wadsworths (Marjorie's aunt and uncle). However, James Whitmore adds some consistency to the picture as Eddy's closest friend and business manager, Lou Sherwood (Whitmore does lots with very little), and Sidney's direction remains impressive in the relatively brief Navy sequences. The real Peter Duchin has said that the film is heavily fictionalized, but what a gorgeous fiction it is, from the first time Eddy sits down at a piano, to the film's final, heartbreaking note.
Twilight Time's artwork for The Eddy Duchin Story uses a similar picture from the same scene in the film that ended up on one of the theatrical posters, of Duchin and Marjorie feeding birds in the park. A strange choice for both, considering there are a number of wonderful shots in the film of Duchin at the piano, plus the Twilight Time version has had some Photoshop filters added to the image that are somewhat distracting. The disc comes in a standard Viva Elite Blu-Ray case, and there is, as always, a four-page booklet featuring an essay on the film by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
The Video and Audio
Twilight Time's 2.39:1 1080p AVC video presentation of the film, provided by 20th Century Fox, is a wonderful way to experience this film for the first time. Although optical transitions (including the entire opening credit sequence) appear somewhat drab and muted, the rest of the film has new life breathed into it. This CinemaScope production is often strikingly vibrant and lively, offering gorgeous, nicely detailed widescreen imagery from top to bottom, side to side. Occasionally, there is a touch of color fringing and some minor print speckles and scratches are noticeable, but I can't imagine the DVD edition of the film offering anything like the vivid purples and rich reds that pop up throughout this Blu-Ray edition.
Sound is an equally lively DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Although this is only stereo, there are times during the musical numbers that I honestly forgot I wasn't listening to a full surround track. Separation is almost too good -- at times, it almost seemed as if the dialogue was out of sync with the picture, but this noticeable separation adds to the sense of depth and direction. There's more than music to the track, too -- when Eddy decides to join the Navy instead of facing his problems at home, there's a brief war sequence complete with torpedo explosions which sounds excellent as well. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Sadly, Eddy Duchin must not have been enough of a promising seller to warrant a Redman / Kirgo commentary -- the standard isolated effects and score track and two theatrical trailers are the only video extras on the disc. There is also the customary click-through Twilight Time catalog, accessible from the main menu.
I knew nothing about The Eddy Duchin Story when I grabbed it from the screener pool, and as a result I had no expectations for it. Much to my surprise, it's an elegant film with lively musical numbers and a great lead performance. Even with the slightly directionless middle section, and the lack of bonus features on this disc, the film and its excellent presentation are both highly recommended.
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