I've Always Loved You is a 1946 melodrama from prolific director Frank Borzage (A Farewell To Arms), who first stepped behind a camera in the silent era and kept on working well through the 1950s.
Written by Borden Chase (Red River), the romantic soap opera is set in the world of classical music. Philip Dorn (Passage to Marseille) stars as the tempestuous conductor Leopold Goronoff. A harsh taskmaster with a stellar ear, the maestro is highly sought after as a teacher; however, very few make the cut. During one audition session, Goronoff is taken aback by the pretty young daughter of his former protégé (Felix Bressart). The girl, Myra (Catherine McLeod, The Courage of Lassie), is not necessarily technically proficient, but she plays with such passion, the old music man is intrigued. He takes the teenager on tour to Europe and preps her for Carnegie Hall.
It's at her New York debut that things take a turn. The relationship between teacher and pupil had evolved into something more flirtatious and seemingly equal, but at Carnegie Hall, the apprentice begins to surpass the master. Fearing his ego may never recover, Goronoff breaks the girl by pushing her too hard, and ultimately shattering their relationship. She returns to her family farm and marries the kindly farmhand (Bill Carter), swearing off Goronoff and the piano. Yet, as the years wear on, the farmhand can sense something is missing from his wife's life, something that becomes undeniable when their own daughter (Vanessa Brown, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) becomes interested in making music of her own.
It's a story of high drama, one that should be as fevered and intense as the music it revolves around, but like its uptight conductor, I've Always Loved You has a little too much starch in its collar. Borzage's realization of the story is too consistent in tempo. There are no swells or crescendos, no impassioned declarations, just the occasional breakdown and bitter resentment. Dorn's performance is not fiery enough to make him truly hateful, nor is McLeod charismatic enough to make Myra seem like a worthy object of desire. The immobile camerawork by Tony Gaudio (High Sierra) renders every scene in the same way: stiff, unyielding, and inconsequential.
The only real bravura moments come at the two important concerts, when Myra plays Rachmaninoff for her conductor. Chase's script has a few interesting ideas about the role men and women play in a musical relationship, with the conductor wishing to rule his player with a dominant--and by his own terms, masculine--hand. The battle of wills has some sexist overtones, particularly as I've Always Loved You's finale seems to suggest that Myra only blossoms in both of her relationships by surrendering herself to her maestro and her husband, but there's also something fascinating about portraying classical concerts as something akin to a contact sport. It appears that, at least in this fictional world, the true test of a champion in both love and art is endurance. The same can be said for the viewer who makes it through the entire two hours of I've Always Loved You.