Review: Young Man with a Horn (1950)

Director: Michael Curtis | 112 minutes | drama, biography, music | Actors: Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael, Juano Hernandez, Jerome Cowan, Mary Beth Hughes, Nestor Paiva, Orley Lindgren, Walter Reed

A very young Kirk Douglas plays Rick Martin, a great trumpet player who we see growing up from a young boy. Because his parents died at a young age, he lived as a boy with his sister, who had no time for him at all. Because he also had no friends, he came into contact with music. First he got to know the piano, and in one day he managed to play it. Yet his interest was more in the trumpet, and Rik took a job to buy a trumpet. He meets the friendly trumpet player Art Hazzard, who takes him under his wing. Besides playing the trumpet, Art also teaches him many other things, about music and about life.

Doris Day plays Jo Jordan, the singer of the first band Rick joins. She is immediately impressed by him, but cannot fully understand him. Because of this, things can’t really work between them, and as Jo says, Rick is already married, married to his trumpet.
Rick goes to New York, where he becomes more and more successful, but in his new band he also does not feel completely free to play the music he actually wants. He ends up in a nightclub where Art Hazzard plays, and after they haven’t seen each other for years, the reunion is very emotional. They also immediately start playing together, and it turns out that Rick Art has already surpassed his game.

In New York he also meets Jo again, who is now a successful singer. She introduces him to her friend Amy, whom Rick falls in love with. Amy is very intelligent and Rick is very impressed with her. Jo tries to warn him, saying that Amy is not for him; that she’s very confused inside. Today, Jo’s sermon is seen as a warning that Amy is likely a lesbian. Later in the film she also has a “relationship” with another woman, with whom she may go to Paris. This seems to confirm Amy’s sexuality theory.

The whole story is told from the perspective of “Smoke,” piano player and friend of Rick. In this way you will be involved in the story; the moments when Smoke is speaking are rare, but they also bring a certain tension. You keep wondering how it will continue, and whether it will all work out.

The film is characterized by a beautiful cinematography; because the film is shot in black and white, extra emphasis seems to have been placed on the light-dark effects and shadows. That worked very well, these effects ensure a beautiful decor time and again, both indoors and outdoors.

Ultimately, the story is not spectacular, and the dialogues are a bit unbelievable at times, but mainly because of the beautiful music it has become a very successful film. The typical 1950s aspects, for example the fact that everyone smokes and drinks throughout the movie, and the scenes in the car, where the background is clearly set behind it, are also always nice to watch. The beautiful lighting and the sympathetic Day and Douglas round it off well.

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