I didn’t have high expectations but I ended up enjoying this rather sentimental biopic.
This is a highly fictionalized account of the composer Stephen Foster’s sad life — Foster only visited the South once, on his honeymoon, and his wife Jane was from Pittsburgh, PA as Foster himself was. Anyway, the story opens in antebellum Kentucky, where Foster (Don Ameche) is courting sweetheart Jane. Foster is a dreamer who gets completely caught up in his music when inspiration hits him and repeatedly stands Jane up during the course of the movie. Jane’s father objects to her marriage to a composer who is unlikely to be able to support her.
Foster finally sells a song, “Oh, Susanna!”, to windbag self-promoter Edwin P. Christy (Al Jolson) of minstrel fame for $15. The song goes on to make Christy a mint and, disillusioned, Foster goes to work behind a desk. But later the hard-drinking Christy seeks Foster out and proposes a partnership with him. Foster, who enjoys a nip himself, uses this success to marry Jane. But, especially after their first child is born, Jane cannot live with his growing alcoholism.
There is something about Don Ameche that I find very appealing and I enjoyed watching him in this. I don’t know if it was really Ameche singing “My Old Kentucky Home”. If so, he has a very pleasant baritone. I’m not a Jolson fan but in this case the material suited his over-sized personality. This is nothing great but you could certainly do worse.
Louis Silvers was nominated for a Best Scoring award for Swanee River. This was Al Jolson’s last credited screen performance.
Jolson performing “Oh, Susanna” and “Swanee River” in blackface