A Song Is Born ★★★★

I’ve always found Hawks and Wilder to be at odds in terms of tone, which comes out all too noticeably for me during the final third of Hawks-directed, Wilder/Brackett-penned Ball of Fire. When the gangsters all pile in the car and start driving around like manics, that always strikes me as much more abrasive than any of the other comedy in Hawks (even the wacky, um, monkey business of such film). I’m starting to finally understand Dan Sallitt’s conjecture that for all his genre work, Hawks makes films that employ a certain sect of realism, and I think my distaste for the ending of Ball of Fire is related to that. I also find Gary Cooper a bit of a drag whenever he’s asked to play comedy.

A Song is Born is considered minor Hawks, but I found it quite delightful, and a more interesting work than Ball of Fire, even if it is often a word for word remake of the previous film. Starting with the sexually charged African dance between Danny Kaye and Mary Field (cue the black window washers giving their “WTF white people” look), Hawks takes the same basis of the seven dwarves except now their work involves them playing with the legends of 1950s pop and jazz (Benny Goodman! Lionel Hampton! Louis Armstrong!!!). The laborious pace seems closer to what Hawks will reach with Hatari! and Man’s Favorite Sport?, but the music interludes all make for it all to feel perfectly as ease. Kaye is so game for anything (his delivery of the “Yum yum” lines are grand) that he easily takes center stage with his overly straight composure, about to break apart at any moment. Mayo is serviceable, only disappointing in the unfortunate fact that she must be compared to Barbara Stanwyck. The film drops the third act change for the film’s most crazy musical performance and Kaye’s big sucker punch (the best laugh in the movie), and Gregg Toland’s lighting provides a melodramatic moment at the motel that looks like an outtake from All That Heaven Allows. Certainly Tier II Hawks, if this desires a label.

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