Edgar G. Ulmer made his share of odd movies. After starting out strong with the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi horror picture The Black Cat in 1934, Ulmer soon found himself wandering through the wreckage of a career because he had an affair with the wife of a nephew of Carl Laemmle, president and founder of Universal Pictures. He ended up turning his hand to anything that came along from Yiddish movies to black movies, even to the tantalizingly titled Ukrainian-language film Cossacks in Exile (1939). Finally he settled into poverty-row movies for the lowliest of the low studios, PRC, where he achieved some distinction, which somehow led to his participation in this very odd movie made up of 70-odd minutes worth of dismal drama—enlivened by Ulmer’s visual flourishes—and 60-odd minutes of sometimes breathtaking performances from some of the most important names in classical music of that era.
The silly story—one of those pop music vs. classical music tales—is negligible, but the musical segments make up for this (including one that incorporates the Schumann Piano Quintet Ulmer had used to good effect in The Black Cat). Where else are you going to see Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, Bruno Walter, Ezio Pinza, Risë Stevens, Fritz Reiner and, best of all, Leopold Stokowski in one movie? You have to slog your way through the whole film to get to Stokowski conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, but it’s worth it. Beautifully lit (Stoki’s wild hair was a lighting director’s dream) and shot from clever angles, you immediately understand Rex Harrison extolling the beauty of the maestro conducting with only his hands in Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours, made the next year: “Ah, but they’re so beautiful—so large, so white, so free and easy on the draw.” More, you realize the lack of any such wonderfully preposterous—and preposterously wonderful—musical interpreter on the scene today, and you wonder why this should be so.