Musical Monday: New Orleans (1947)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
New Orleans (1947) – Musical #602

Studio: United Artists

Director: Arthur Lubin

Starring: Arturo de Córdova, Billie Holiday, Dorothy Patrick, Marjorie Lord, Irene Rich, John Alexander, Richard Hageman, Jack Lambert, Joan Blair, Shelley Winters (uncredited)
Themselves: Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman and His Orchestra, Charlie Beal, Kid Ory, Zutty Singleton, Barney Bigard, George ‘Red’ Callender, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Bud Scott

Set in 1917 New Orleans, jazz and ragtime are growing popularity on Basin Street. Opera singing socialite Miralee Smith (Patrick), falls in love with casino owner Nick Duquesne (de Cordova) and jazz music. However, her mother (Rich) disapproves of both loves, even though she is a patron of Nick’s casino.

• Billie Holiday’s only film
• Last film Hollywood film produced by Herbert J. Biberman, who was blacklisted as one of the “Hollywood Ten.” Biberman didn’t make another film until 1954.
• The last Hollywood film made with Arturo de Córdova until he returned to Mexico to continue his career.
• Theodora Lynch dubbed Dorothy Patrick. Lynch is also known as Teddy Getty Gaston.
• The credits thank National Jazz Foundation of New Orleans

Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday

• Louis Armstrong’s performances

Notable Songs:
• “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” performed by Billie Holiday
• “Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Band
• “Farewell to Storyville” performed by Billie Holiday and Louise Armstrong and his Band

My review:
While the plot revolves around the romance of Dorothy Patrick and Arturo De Cordova, the real stars of “New Orleans” (1947) is the jazz music and the musicians.

In the film, young socialite Dorothy Patrick is a trained opera singer but is seduced by the world of jazz. She falls in love with Arturo De Cordova, owner of a casino and jazz concert. De Cordova tries to keep Patrick away from the jazz club, because in 1917, jazz wasn’t accepted into “polite society.” Patrick’s mother, who gambles at the casino, hypocritically disapproves of the romance and music.

The supporting characters to this drama are those creating the music: Louis Armstrong and his band who perform at the jazz club and Billie Holiday, plays Patrick’s maid who is in love with Armstrong and comes to sing at the club.

On the surface, “New Orleans” would be a throwaway film with a weak plot, but Holiday’s role alone makes the film worth watching. “New Orleans” was Holiday’s only film. She doesn’t have very much screentime, but her performances with Armstrong’s band make the film. Holiday sings the song “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” which becomes a theme song in the film. The song is reprised twice, but unfortunately by Dorothy Patrick who is dubbed by opera singer Theodora Lynch (aka Teddy Getty Gaston), so the song sounds pretty ridiculous.

Holiday was also angry because her character plays Patrick’s maid. She never wanted to work as a maid, let alone play one, according to the book Billie Holiday: A Biography by Meg Greene.

Outside of Holiday and Armstrong’s band, we also have the treat of seeing jazz clarinet player Woody Herman perform in the film (in high school I was told that the clarinet was not a jazz instrument, by the way and clearly Herman would prove this through process wrong).

I will say, this film would have been better if the plot omitted the Patrick and Cordova characters and focused on the jazz musicians.

Though the plot is weak, the star of “New Orleans” is truly the jazz music, and it’s always a thrill to see Louis Armstrong to perform in a film. If you are a fan of his music, this movie won’t be a waste of time.

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