Sunday, July 12, 2009

Symphony of Six Million

Director: Gregory La Cava
USA 1932
94 min

A City --
Six million human hearts -
Each with a dream --
a hope -- a goal ---
Each soul a vagrant
melody in the eternal
Symphony of Life!

Well, you wouldn't be surprised by a laugh from a modern audience at that intro - but it actually sums up the spirit of this film pretty good.

A lovely pre-code melodrama, about a poor and loud Jewish family living in the ghetto. It doesn't take too many minutes into the film until you realize that one of the three children, Felix Klauber, has high ambitions - he wants to be a doctor. His best friend is Jessica, another poor ghetto child with a spine problem, Jessica.

Felix and Jessica being bullied by some tough guys.

Felix reads a book while playing chess with his temperamental father.

We jump ahead a few years. Felix (Ricardo Cortez) is now a beloved doctor in the ghetto, and Jessica (Irene Dunne) is a school teacher for blind children - all the while limping around because of her spine defect. Felix seems to enjoy his life and get energy for helping those in need, but his brat brother Magnus has some other plans for his talented brother. Magnus manipulates their mother to convince Felix that she doesn't enjoy her life, and that she wishes for him to get a doctor's practice in the fancier part of the town so the family can move. Said and done (who wouldn't do anything for their mother?).

Still best friends, Felix visits Jessica and the blind children every once in a while.

"Oh, Felix, I don't like it here..." That spineless woman!

We take another leap in time. Felix now has a fancy office uptown, and financially supports his whole family. He is too busy with appointments with frustrated high society women who wants to be examined by their handsome, young doctor, that he nearly looses all contact with his family - and Jessica. When he misses an operation on one of Jessica's blind boy students, and he sadly looses his life, Jessica gives him an eye-opener to get nightmares about. What has happened to Felix? What happened to his strong will and moral? Is he happy with his life, even if it includes a lot of money and social status?

A sick boy, waiting for his favorite doctor - Felix Klauber.

Who wouldn't go to the doctor more often if he looked like Ricardo Cortez?

When he finally realizes that he wants to spend more time with his family, he gets to them just in time for his father to get a brain tumour. And who does his family think is the most suitable person to operate him, if not Felix.

It is no surprise that the director behind this enthrilling film is Gregory La Cava, directing My Man Godfrey (1936) four years later. The whole film is very beautiful and engaging - I especially admire the operating scene where Felix is forced to perform brain surgery on his own father. The music grows more and more intense, until it abruptly stops dead when Felix grabs the first operating instrument. It almost feels mean - in an important and intense scene like that, a little musical distraction would help to tell the film apart from real life - but oh, no. This is serious stuff, and you're supposed to feel it.
Behind the camera is cinematographer Leo Tover, also responsible for the photography work of two other films I've reviewed - Thirteen Women (1932) and I'm No Angel (1933).

As Felix grabs the scalpel, the merciless silence falls upon us.

Felix Klauber - not so popular in the ghetto anymore.

A great example of the beautiful photo by Leo Tover.

One more thing. Before seeing this film, I had only encountered Cortez in sleezy bad guy parts (something he is exceptionally good at), so I had some worries that he wouldn't be able to put off a serious dramatic role. But was I wrong? Oh, yes.
More Cortez for the people!


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Lotten said...

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Matthew Coniam said...

Can I come too or is it strictly chicks only?

Lolita of the Classics said...

Matthew Coniam:
Oh, if you're in touch with your masculine femininity it's okay! I hate these spams, but I don't want to force people to type in those silly letter combinations just to leave a comment, either!

Christopher said...

mmmmm...wonderous women.. on the hoof!Lets take a look shall we junior?.."shes captured my affectionnn...shes my dream selectionnn.."
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Symphony of Six Million sounds like some of those Mexican soap operas I watch..

Lolita of the Classics said...

Why do you watch Mexican soap operas? And you should give this film a shot, it's really great. No masterpiece, but you'll be glad to have seen it.

Christopher said...

I love latin soaps(Novelas)..been watching them for ages..they're like old movies...
Felix and this out of your new pre-code box sets miss Loli?

Lolita of the Classics said...

Nope, this one is from "another source", so to say. But I think they show it on TCM every once in a while.

Unknown said...

I love this film so much, it really gives Ricardo a chance to shine!!

I don't like having those stupid word combo things either on my blog (and I hate having to type them on everyone elses!) so I just delete spammers, which are pretty rare anyway..

I just noticed your birthdays of the week feature! LOVE IT! I totally forgot about Barbara Stanwyck's this week! And Cagney!! I'm going to have to give them a little blog love :)

Lolita of the Classics said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Great you like the film too! I fear it's an unappreciated little gem.

Thank you! I thought it might be a fun little thing to have - if not to have a use for all star pictures I have on my computer ;)

* R e N a * said...

I liked this film but Irene was too good for that role...the film was lovely but her character appeared briefly! That's the only thing I didn't like about it =)