Films about the lives of famous composers were rampant during the 1940s, and many of them were wildly popular allowing each studio’s roster of musical stars a chance to perform some of the world’s most famous tunes. Fox went a somewhat different route with Irish Eyes Are Smiling, a pseudo-biographical film of the turn-of-the-century composer Ernest R. Ball who turned out a handful of admired Irish-themed ballads. There are no big guest stars to sing the songs, and the movie’s fictionalized life story of Ball is pretty much confined to the first half of the picture with the second half reserved for the making of a musical comedy star of a one-time showgirl. Odd notions for a musical biopic.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 29 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/16/2013
Working as a song plugger in Cleveland, composer Ernest R. Ball (Dick Haymes) meets and is taken with lovely showgirl Mary (Irish) O'Brien (June Haver). She’s leaving for New York the next day to try her luck in the theater, but Ball is flat broke and can’t afford the fare, so they separate. By the time he finally makes it to New York, Mary is nowhere to be found, so he goes about his business trying to sell his Irish ballads to interested music publishers. While plugging someone else’s tune one night to tepid response, he pulls his own composition out and charms the crowd. Overnight, Ball becomes a big success with his sentimental Irish ballads, but when he stumbles across Mary working as a hatcheck girl at a nightclub, he’s determined to use all his influence to get producer Edgar Brawley (Monty Woolley) to give her a chance. Brawley doesn’t know about her talent, but he makes a $25,000 bet with gambler Al Jackson (Anthony Quinn) that he can turn her into a star. Jackson meanwhile has his own nefarious plans for making sure he wins the bet even if it means quashing Mary’s big chance.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
The screenplay by Earl Baldwin and John Tucker Battle is quite tedious with its continual misunderstandings between Mary and Ernest, and the film’s first half is completely dominated by Dick Haymes’ baritone renditions of many of Ball’s classics including ”I’ll Forget You,” “Boy o’ Mine,” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By.” Other Ball classics like “Mother Machree” and “A Little Bit of Heaven” are handed to opera personalities Blanche Thebom and Leonard Warren whose big, plummy voices completely overpower the lovely simplicity of Ball’s uncomplicated melodies. In the film’s second half, June Haver takes center stage in numbers that do her no favors: “Lizzie Brown,” a blackface number of no significance; “Bessie in the Bustle” with June in male attire surrounded by upstaging chorus boys in elaborate Floradora female drag in what has to be one of the most bizarre numbers in the entirety of Fox’s filmography; and the finale which features a medley of Ball’s tunes previously heard (including the title tune) which Haver and Haymes only enter into at the very end. There’s another completely outrageous sequence earlier in the movie where Ball enters the ring with middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel (Maxie Rosenbloom looking about fifty pounds over the middleweight limit) trying to last three rounds in order to win prize money to get to New York. The sight of the skinny Haymes trying to do battle against the lumbering, clubbing fists of Rosenbloom is not a pretty sight nor is it particularly amusing.
Though June Haver was obviously being groomed by Fox as the successor to Betty Grable once Grable decided to step down (and that was made even more obvious when the two were paired the next year in The Dolly Sisters), she simply doesn’t have the sparkle or pizzazz to be the next in line after Alice Faye and Betty Grable. As a singer and dancer, she’s rather mediocre, and her personality doesn’t generate any sparks despite being paired with the bland Dick Haymes whose voice is lovely but whose acting talent is rather scant. Top-billed Monty Woolley goes through his bag of slow burning, officious vocal tricks that worked for him in previous films, but they get irritating here. Scheming, smirking Anthony Quinn shows obvious screen presence in his scenes as the wily Al Jackson, and Veda Ann Borg seizes her early opportunities as a brassy burlesque showgirl who’s everything Haver’s Mary isn’t.
The film is framed at its theatrically correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While brighter than some of the previous Fox MOD titles, the images are still very inconsistent with contrast and sharpness which is erratic and color which sometimes fluctuates disconcertingly. While probably stunning in its original Technicolor, what we’re left with here is rather dull, dated-looking color that is often disappointing. There is also a fair amount of dirt and some colored debris that distracts on occasion. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 9 chapters present.
Video Rating: 2.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Once again, users will have to adjust their volume controls downward to prevent serious distortion. There is also hiss that is consistently present and some noticeable pops and some crackle. Still, dialogue is always understandable, and Alfred Newman’s Oscar-nominated music adaptation has decent fidelity.
Audio Rating: 2.5/5
The Fox MOD discs do not offer any bonus material, not even a trailer.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
Irish Eyes Are Smiling has decent music sung by some engaging voices, but its love story and the rising-to-fame-in-show business tale are both rather tiresome and have been handled far better of scores of other musical movies. Mediocre picture and sound also offer nothing much of merit here.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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