Musical Monday: Sweet and Low-Down (1944)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

sweet and low downThis week’s musical:
Sweet and Low-Down (1944) – Musical #713

20th Century Fox

Archie Mayo

Benny Goodman (as himself), Linda Darnell, Jack Oakie, Lynn Bari, James Cardwell, Dickie Moore, Allyn Joslyn, John Campbell, Roy Benson, Buddy Swan (uncreated), Gloria Talbot (uncredited), Terry Moore (uncredited), Mae Marsh (uncredited), Beverly Hudson (uncredited), Dorothy Vaughan (uncredited)
Themselves: Morey Feld, Jess Stacy and Sid Weiss

Benny Goodman (himself) and his band are performing in his hometown, when a child convinces him — by stealing his clarinet — to come listen to his trombone-playing brother, Johnny Birch (Cardwell). Goodman invites Birch to join his band, but Birch’s hot temper sometimes hinders his success. Goodman’s singer Pat Stirling (Bari) takes a liking to Birch, as does socialite Trudy Wilson (Darnell). Though Trudy meets Johnny under dubious settings — posing as a 14-year-old girl while she’s taking her nephew (Moore) to a military school prom.

• “I’m Making Believe,” composed by James V. Monaco with lyrics by Mack Gordon, first appeared in this film. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
• Jack Oakie’s character was based on William “Popsie” Randolph, who was road manager for Benny Goodman.
• Working titles were “The King of Swing” and “Moment for Music.”
• Lorraine Elliot dubbed the singing voice of Lynn Bari.
• Bill Harris dubbed the trombone playing of James Cardwell.
• Gale Robbins was originally supposed to play the role of Pat, which initially went to Lynn Bari.
• Irving Cummings was originally announced as the director.
• John Campbell and James Cardwell co-starred in “The Fighting Sullivans” prior to this film.

• Musical performances by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.
• Dickie Moore

sweet and low down2

Linda Darnell looking up at Benny Goodman as she reaches up to him in a scene from the film ‘Sweet And Low-Down’, 1944. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Notable Songs:
• “Jersey Bounce” performed by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
• “Hey Bub! Let’s Have a Ball” performed by Lynn Bari, dubbed by Lorraine Elliot, and Benny Goodman (singing) and his Orchestra
• “No Love, No Nothin’” performed by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
• “Ten Days with Baby” performed by Lynn Bari, dubbed by Lorraine Elliot, and Benny Goodman and his Orchestra
• “Rachel’s Dream” performed by Benny Gooman, Morey Feld, Jess Stacy and Sid Weiss
• “Chug Chug Choo-Choo Chug” performed by Lynn Bari, dubbed by Lorraine Elliot
• “I’ve Found a New Baby” performed by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra
• “I’m Making Believe” performed by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra

My review:
I was smiling as soon as this movie started. SWEET AND LOW-DOWN (1944) immediately put me in a good mood with excellent big band music and Benny Goodman’s affable face.

In the early 1940s, 20th Century Fox produced films with big band leader Glenn Miller in movies like ORCHESTRA WIVES and SUN VALLEY SERENADE. This film is in the same vein but with Benny Goodman in the Miller-like role. Advertised as Benny Goodman’s life story, SWEET AND LOW-DOWN is simply a rags to riches trombonist story about Johnny Birch, performed by James Cardwell.

While Goodman is the star, Cardwell as Johnny Birch takes center stage for most of the film as he adjusts to performing as a professional musician and as part of an overall orchestra, rather than an individual. Popsy, played by Jack Oakie, is Goodman’s road manager and is also a trombonist, hopeful to become part of the orchestra. Goodman’s singer Pat (Bari) gives Birch the eye, as does socialite Trudy Wilson (Darnell).

The first engagement that Birch performs with Goodman’s band is at a military school prom, and the arrival and prom scenes are very funny. The young students take themselves very seriously during wartime, and when asked what their ribbons mean, they are for educational merits in math or football (rather than in battle, of course). Dickie Moore plays one of these teenage students and is hilarious. I was sad when his character ended his brief appearance. Linda Darnell’s Trudy is Dickie Moore’s aunt, who is posing as a younger person to go to the prom, as her nephew wanted to be seen with a date with class.

The film is filled with excellent big band music, and as a former clarinet player, Benny Goodman makes it looks so easy — especially while hitting those high notes. I wondered if the song “Chug Chug Choo-Choo” was in response to “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” which was released two years earlier.

The only downside is that I felt Jack Oakie was a wasted in his role. And Johnny’s hot-headed nature got a bit annoying.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and had such fun while watching this musical. Any big band lover would.

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