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DEEP IN MY HEART

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: José Ferrer, Merle Oberon, Helen Traubel, Doe Avedon
Director: Stanley Donen
Audio: English 5.1 or 5.0 Dolby Digital, French
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, matted widescreen
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: Two short subjects, three outtakes, trailer
Length: 132 minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

Softly, as in a morning sunrise, the light of love comes stealing into a newborn day...

Film *** ½

One of the staples of the musical genre has always been the musical biopic.  What better rationale than this for a movie to string together a procession of otherwise unrelated hit songs and show-stoppers?  The most entertaining musical biopics of yesteryear were not necessarily even the most well-made films but rather ones which highlighted the impressive repertoires of popular standards by famous composers or songwriting teams.  Deep in my Heart (1954) is one such film, a biopic about the life and times of Sigmund Romberg, one of the finest operetta and stage musical composers of his day.  Deep in my Heart even opens with a five minute overture of Romberg melodies, as performed by the MGM symphony, lest audiences should not immediately recall the name or works of this Viennese-turned-American composer.

When we first meet Sigmund Romberg (José Ferrer) in the film, he is happily toiling away in anonymity in turn-of-the-century New York City as a simple pianist for Cafe Vienna.  The small cafe is owned by Anna Mueller (Helen Traubel), who recognizes Romberg’s talents and is instrumental in persuading him to jazz up his style a little and to test his fortunes on Broadway.  At first, Romberg cares little for the superficiality of Broadway, but it is a means to an end, as his great aspiration is to create a musical adaptation of Maytime.  With helpful moral guidance from stage star Dorothy Donnelly (Merle Oberon), financial backing from grumpy producer Bert Townsend (Paul Stewart) as well as support from J.J. Shubert (one of the real men credited with establishing Broadway as the artistic heart of New York City), Romberg eventually establishes his reputation and sufficient name recognition on Broadway to fulfill his dream project.  Maytime, however, turns out to be merely the beginning, and Deep in My Heart will eventually draw from many of Romberg’s best subsequent operettas, including The Student Prince, The Desert Song, and The New Moon.

José Ferrer might seem an odd choice to portray the lead in a musical.  After all, the Oscar winner (for Cyrano de Bergerac) was known principally as an accomplished stage thespian, not a song-and-dance hoofer.  But Ferrer acquits himself very admirably in Deep in My Heart, performing in numerous musical numbers, none better than the incredible one-man run-through of “Jazza Jazza Doo Do” with a spot-on imitation of the show’s would-be star, Al Jolson!

In fact, Deep in My Heart’s narrative, including a romantic sub-plot with love interest Lillian (Doe Avedon), mostly serves as a framework for the film’s true raison d’etre - an onslaught of spectacular musical set pieces done in the grandest MGM style.  The film's impressive supporting cast includes performances by MGM's most popular dancers - Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, and even Gene Kelly with another fella named Fred (brother Fred Kelly, that is).  Top MGM singers of the day also appear - Jane Powell and Vic Damone in a duet from Maytime, Tony Martin, Howard Keel, and even Rosemary Clooney (Mrs. José Ferrer at the time!) in a duet with her real-life husband.

Today, Sigmund Romberg may no longer have the household name recognition as his contemporaries Irving Berlin or George Gershwin, but that does not diminish the beauty and quality of his best compositions.  For anyone who appreciates classic Broadway tunes from the Depression era and earlier, Deep in My Heart serves as a wonderful introduction to Romberg’s music and, as far as musical biopics go, even a fairly accurate depiction of his life, too.

Video ***

This musical is lovely to behold, as is the case with most Technicolor films.  There are some minor flaws associated with age but otherwise the color is brilliant and picture clarity is acceptable.

Audio ***

Deep in My Heart offers a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the original theatrical monaural mix, or a French dub.  Many of Romberg’s most famous songs, classics such as “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Lover, Come Back to Me” are included in the score.  And no, beautiful Hollywood glamour girl Merle Oberon does not sing in this film.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Romberg’s score for Maytime was almost entirely jettisoned in the 1937 film adaptation starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Features * ½

Deep in My Heart is available for individual purchase or as part of the Classical Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 3 box set.

Disc extras include two short subjects.  One features the MGM symphony playing a medley of Strauss compositions in the Oscar-nominated The Strauss Fantasy (10 min.).  The other, Farm of Tomorrow (6 min.), is a cartoon that spoofs barnyard genetic engineering gone haywire as farm animals and farming tools are mated together to create useful if comic hybrids.

Three outtakes are included.  Helen Traubel sings "Dance, My Darlings" (3 min.) in a cafe scene, George Murphy and Esther Williams perform in "Girlies of the Cabaret" (1 min.), and there is an  audio-only outtake of "One Kiss" and "Lover Come Back to Me" (7 min.).  Lastly, a vintage theatrical trailer (4 min.) focuses on the musical numbers in the film.

BONUS TRIVIA:  José Ferrer is the famous uncle of actor George Clooney.

Summary:

MGM musical biopics were usually little more than transparent excuses to showcase a hit parade of extravagant musical numbers.  Deep in My Heart may not stray far from the time-tested formula, but this gem of a film offers plenty of solid family-friendly entertainment for fans of classic musicals.

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