What’s The Story? John Garfield plays a poor but very talented classical violinist in early 30s New York who meets wealthy arts patron Helen Wright (our Joan) at one of her cocktail parties. She tries at first to break him down like all of the men in her orbit but, well, Garfield isn’t having it.
The sparks continue to fly as the younger brash artist and his wealthy but troubled — and unhappily married — benefactor fall in love. It’s a sweeping film that very grounded; that’s not only a tribute to director Jean Negulesco but also Garfield’s and Crawford’s performances. (More on Joan below) It’s a gorgeous film - everyone is shot very lovingly and handsomely. The story is engaging and you do root for them to be together even though you know it’s not going to work out. (Spoiler) It serves as a good parallel to “The Fountainhead” which will come out 3 years later. Both feature younger handsome artists who are bound to their craft and the difficult women who fall for them. “Humoresque” works a lot better because it draws their main characters more three dimensionally than Ayn Rand’s work and also lacks Rand’s right wing politics and gonzo camp. Also, there is a lot of classical music on display here and it all sounds amazing.
Joan and John Garfield share equal billing for a reason. Joan doesn’t appear until 33 minutes in. Before that, it’s all about Garfield’s character’s history with falling in love with violin and his difficult relationship with his parents. Garfield is great and so is Oscar Levant as his wise-cracking best friend. If you are coming in looking for Joan, just be patient.
Side note: John Garfield is hella sexy in this. I wasn’t familiar with Garfield until hearing about him on “You Must Remember This.” If you want to know more about his history — and how he got screwed over during the Black List — you can listen to the “You Must Remember This” episode about him right here.
Oh, And How’s Joan? “Humoresque” was Joan’s first film after winning the Oscar (and revitalizing her career) with “Mildred Pierce” and she is at the height of her powers. She’s in her most iconic of looks — arched eyebrows, Adrian-designed gowns with the big shoulder-mah-pads, bold lipsticks. But it’s her acting that is so impressive. Joan had a very difficult childhood — growing up poor, having to work her way through both boarding school and college. This background gave her a core of steel, which is something she brings to all of her characters. As beautiful as she was, you always bought that she was tough. As the counter-balance to that, she was also quite vulnerable. Both of these dovetail beautifully with her portrayal of Helen. She’s tough, a bit bitter but longing for true love can connection. And watching her swoon as she listens to Garfield playing Mozart or Dvorak, you feel how the music is affecting her. She really nails that. (Which also serves as a dry run of her 6 minute reaction in “Sudden Fear” which we’ll cover later.) She knows exactly what she’s doing; she’s showing us sides to a character in a way that doesn’t feel manufactured or stagy.
Should You See It? Absolutely. This was my first time seeing “Humoresque” and I’m kicking myself for waiting this long. See this. It’s great.
How Can I See It? I got my DVD copy from the LA library (a great resource) but you can rent it streaming on YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes and Vudu.