Rick Martin: I bet I could.
I think I was expecting something along the lines of Champion with a trumpet taking the place of boxing. I got something completely different and I loved it.
The story is bookended with voice over narration by Ricks’s pianist friend Willie ‘Smoke’ Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael).
Rick Martin is a lonely little orphan boy who is being raised, more or less as a chore, by his older sister. His life changes when he happens on a Salvation Army church service where drunks are singing hymns. He sticks around and starts fooling around on the piano and teaches himself to play. He eventually is asked to get out of there but decides he will be a musician. A piano is completely out of reach so he works to save enough money to buy a used trumpet. While he is setting pins at a bowling alley, he hears jazz music pouring out of the adjoining bar. Trumpeter Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez) takes the boy under his wing, buys him the trumpet, and teaches him to play. It turns out he is a prodigy.
Rick grows up to be Kirk Douglas. He gets a job playing in a dance band. There he meets singer Jo Jordan (Doris Day). Jo takes a shine to Rick but realizes that Rick is basically married to his horn. Playing note for note arrangements to dance by is really not his thing. He argues with the bandleader and gets fired. He eventually goes to play with Art’s band, is discovered by another bandleader, and becomes a featured soloist.
Jo introduces Rick to her friend Amy (Lauren Bacall), who is studying to be a psychiatrist. Although Amy warns Rick from the get go that she is bad news and doesn’t respect herself, they quickly fall in love and marry. But Amy can’t settle down to anything. She makes Rick miserable. Rick spurns his friend Art. Guilt over this and the breakdown of his marriage quickly sends Rick to the gutter. Fortunately, he discovers he has made some real friends in spite of himself.
The acting in this film is outstanding. Douglas is good playing a basically sensitive lonely guy rather than his usual heel. Bacall said she was too young to know she was supposed to be playing a lesbian. I’m much older than she was and didn’t get it either. Regardless, it’s one of her meatier roles. Day plays a real pro singer to perfection. Juano Hernandez is excellent, as always.
In the last analysis though, it is Day’s singing and Harry James’s dubbing of the trumpet solos that made the movie for me. It’s one glorious standard after another. Pure joy.