Young Man With a Horn (1950) airs on TCM Friday August 30th at 8AM EST for the Kirk Douglas Summer Under the Stars day and it's not a film to be missed. This post is my second contribution to this year's Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill and Michael.
The story is based on the novel Young Man With a Horn by Dorothy Baker. The books is considered to be the first jazz novel and is loosely based on real life jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke but is really in essence a work of fiction. I plan to review the novel for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge so stay tuned for that!
The film follows the life story of Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas), a jazz trumpeter, from beginning to end. We first see Rick as a young boy. He's parentless and being raised by his sister. He discovers music, jazz in particular, purely by accident and is instantly enamored. Rick watches jazz musicians turn out tunes and dreams of owning the trumpet he sees in a local pawn shop. He's a white kid amongst a lot of African-American jazz musicians including Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), who would become his life-long friend. The years pass and Rick fine tunes his skills and becomes a professional jazz musician.
Rick meets Jo Jordan (Doris Day), the girl he should be with, and Amy North (Lauren Bacall), the girl he wants to be with. Jo is a singer who befriends Rick and tries to help him out during his many low points. However, Rick has his eye on Amy, a sophisticated and glamorous socialite who is enamored with Rick. She's talentless and is intrigued by Rick's wealth of talent. She goes to school and parties to fill the hours of her days because she's terribly bored. Rick and Amy marry but it's a turbulent marriage that sends Rick on a downward spiral.
Young Man With a Horn is a wonderful film. When reading the novel, I discovered that while the film doesn't stay very true to the original story, it focuses more on Rick's romantic life and downward spiral, it still stands well on its own. The film was released 63 years ago and is notable because, as of today, all three main stars are still alive: Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. It deals with issues of race, love and alcoholism. Kirk Douglas is really good at playing characters who are intense and passionate and the character of Rick Martin is no exception. Doris Day has an opportunity to sing as well as to play the good girl character she's become known for in the years that followed. Lauren Bacall is really enticing as the femme fatale whose siren call is Rick's downfall. Lesbianism is hinted at in the story when Amy North brings home a female companion for what looks like a romantic rendezvous. Author Dorothy Baker didn't include this in the novel but was interested in homosexual characters and they appear in several of her novels. We talk a lot more openly today about homosexuality so for modern audiences this doesn't mean much but probably did mean a lot in 1950.
I've seen this film several times and feel a sort of bond with it. I watched the film early on when I started to develop an interest in classic movies and it has stuck with me ever since. Each time I watch it I get something new out of it.
So get up early or set your DVR for Young Man With a Horn (1950)! If you do miss it, it's available to rent from ClassicFlix and Netflix and you can purchase it as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Legends: Kirk Douglas DVD Set or the Doris Day Collection Volume 1. It used to be available as a stand-alone DVD but has since gone out of print.