Musical Monday: Till the Clouds Roll By (1946)

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.

This week’s musical:
Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) – Musical #166

till the couds


Richard Whorf
Vincente Minnelli (Judy Garland’s numbers)

Robert Walker, Van Heflin, Lucille Bremer, Dorothy Patrick, Harry Hayden, Mary Nash, Paul Langton, Paul Maxey, William ‘Bill’ Phillips
Specialty Performances from: June Allyson, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Kathryn Grayson, Angela Lansbury, Van Johnson, Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse, Gower Champion, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Ray Macdonald, Virginia O’Brien, Caleb Peterson, Karin Booth, Sally Forrest, Johnny Johnston, Matt Mattox, Lee Wilde, Lyn Wilde

The musical biographical film on the life songwriter Jerome Kern (Walker) and his rise to fame, starting with his collaboration with song arranger James I. Hessler (Heflin).

• Jerome Kern died in 1945, the year before this film was released. He was involved in the film prior to his death.
• The character of Jim Hessler, played by Van Heflin, was a fabricated character but thought to potentially be based on music arranger Frank Sadler.
• An Oct. 1945 MGM news item said that Judy Garland’s scenes were filmed before regular production, because she was pregnant. Vincente Minnelli directed Garland’s scenes.
• Gene Kelly was originally considered for the role of Jerome Kern. Others considered for roles in the film include Jacqueline White, Jeanette MacDonald and Gloria DeHaven, though they weren’t in the final film.
• Till the Clouds Roll By was one of the first films to have a movie soundtrack album release.
• Several real stage performers are portrayed, such as Marilyn Miller by Judy Garland
• Lucille Bremer’s singing voice was dubbed by Trudy Erwin.
• Dorothy Patrick’s singing voice was dubbed by Ruth Clark.
• Sally Forrest’s first film. She appears in an uncredited role as one of the dancers.
• The working title of the film was “As the Clouds Roll By”
• The film ran at three hours before it was released, but was cut down to 2 hours and 15 minutes.
• Kathryn Grayson appears in a “Show Boat” sequence and eventually starred in MGM’s production of “Show Boat” (1951).
• The number “D’Ye Love Me” was cut from the film, which would have been during the “Sunny” circus number.

till the clouds

• The “Leave it to Jane” segment
• Lena Horne as Julie in the “Show Boat” segment
• The scene at the beginning when Jerome Kern (Walker) is working with music arranger played by • Van Heflin, who can hear how the music is supposed to sound, but no one else can.
• The “How’d You Like to Spoon With Me” with the swings.
• Robert Walker pretending to be English
• Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller.
• The Wilde Twins duet
• Gower Champion and Cyd Charisse dancing together
Notable Songs:
• “How’d You Like to Spoon With Me” performed by Angela Lansbury
• “They Didn’t Believe Me” performed by Dinah Shore
• “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” performed by Virginia O’Brien
• “Can’t Help Loving That Man” performed by Lena Horne
• “Till the Clouds Roll By” performed by June Allyson and Ray MacDonald
• “Leave it To Jane” performed by June Allyson
• “Cleopatterer” performed by June Allyson
• “Look for the Silver Lining” performed by Judy Garland
• “Who?” performed by Judy Garland
• “I Won’t Dance” performed by Van Johnson and Lucille Bremer, dubbed by Trudy Erwin
• “She Didn’t Say Yes” performed by Lee and Lyn Wilde
• “Why Was I Born?” performed by Lena Horne

till the clouds4

My review:
The Technicolor! The songs! I love musicals!

This is how I felt while watching “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946), the Technicolor musical biopic on songwriter and composer Jerome Kern. It’s colorful, star-studded and heart-felt.

Robert Walker plays the lead as Jerome Kern. The film begins with the premiere of Kern’s smash hit Broadway, “Show Boat.” After a successful night, Kern takes a drive and tells his chauffer about his beginnings. The story is told as a retrospective and largely with songs performed by all of MGM’s top musical talent, some appearing as real stage talents, like Judy Garland as Marilyn Miller and Dinah Shore as Julia Sanderson.

till the clouds8till the clouds6till the clouds5till the clouds7

The film is a celebration of the American songbook and it’s intoxicating. Each song is set against gorgeous scenery: Dinah Shore in a pink gown beside a blooming tree, Angela Lansbury swinging high above an audience, June Allyson and Ray MacDonald in brightly striped collegiate outfits.

It’s breathtaking. I’d say it’s hard to pick a favorite number, but I can’t deny that I love the June Allyson numbers, including “Till the Clouds Roll By” as Allyson and MacDonald dance in raincoats and with umbrellas. I unapologetically love the “Leave It to Jane” sequence with “Cleopatterer.” These numbers make me smile.

It goes without saying that Judy Garland is lovely as Marilyn Miller. She may be at her most beautiful in the film, especially the “Who?” number. What a stunning musical number! Of course, as a Van Johnson fan, I loved his number in the film. While Johnson sang on film prior, he was happy to get the opportunity to also dance on screen, according to his biographer.

Outside of the musical numbers, Robert Walker and Van Heflin lead the dramatic side of the film, and are such a great acting team together. They are excellent together.

While there is fiction in this film, there is a good bit of fact too. Kern really did marry a woman named Eva, and producer Charles Froman did die on the Lusitania.

There’s only one real misstep in the film, in my opinion. The closing scene on the Hollywood set with everyone dressed in white was a real dud for me. I know many think Frank Sinatra can do no wrong, but his version of “Ol’ Man River” is one of the worst I’ve ever heard (aside from the Beach Boys version). And we end this whole film on it?! Supposedly Kern (who died before the film was released) wanted Sinatra to sing the song. I hate to argue with the composer but Yikes.
I feel like we could have ended the film with Kern riding off with his chauffer to the “Show Boat” after party.

But up until then, I loved this movie. I’ll admit, that I do sometimes get it confused with “Words and Music” (1948), but that’s understandable, as they have several similar cast members. I know some find “Till the Clouds Roll By” to be an overly sappy tribute to Jerome Kern, but I love the color and sentiment. Just soak it all in and enjoy.

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