Saturday, February 8, 2014

Movie Asides: ‘THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY’

At 123 long, long minutes, The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) remains an incongruous musical biography centering on 1930’s-‘40s society pianist-bandleader Eddy Duchin, impressively portrayed by Tyrone Power. The script meanders through bouts of mental and physical illness sandwiched between great interpretations of a dozen or so tunes from the Great American Songbook. That said, this is arguably the darkest movie musical ever produced…outside the death-themed All That Jazz (1979).

However, there are two magical scenes that have made me watch The Eddy Duchin Story at least a dozen times. One is set during WWII when Duchin is stationed on a Pacific island. At this stage in the story, Duchin is wallowing in depression, having given up playing the piano due to tragic circumstances back home. 

While in a native village, he stumbles upon a dilapidated upright in a shack, and starts noodling “Chopsticks.” A local boy enters and encourages Duchin to play more. Duchin has the kid bang some keys in accompaniment as he goes full force into the old standard. An appreciative crowd immediately gathers amongst the surrounding bomb rubble in what turns out to be a joyful, energizing sequence.

The other memorable moment is the film’s celebrated tearjerker finale, wherein Duchin and his young son Peter (Rex Thompson) sit down at twin, facing grand pianos to duo-play the film’s theme song, “To Love Again” (adapted from “Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 in E Flat Major”). By this time, Eddy’s imminent death (due to leukemia, but never said in the film) is known by his son and others, so it is an emotional wallop when a closeup shows his hands convulse and move out of view. The camera then pulls back, revealing an empty seat where Eddy was sitting. His son is still playing—now solo. Music segues into a full orchestra conclusion. Just try to swallow and hide the tears when “The End” appears on screen. 
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Now, 58 years later, Eddy’s son Peter is an elderly, semi-retired pianist who has had a fine career himself. 

Incidentally, Tyrone Powers’ piano playing was dubbed by Carmen Cavallero. It is his hands we see playing in closeups, but Powers is totally convincing in his body language. 

Eddy Duchin died of acute myelogenous leukemia at age 41, five years before The Eddy Duchin Story opened. 
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Enjoy the great "Chopsticks" sequence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61Se7MrKrpY

2 comments:

  1. And Tyrone Power would be gone in just a few years himself, sadly.

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