The Making of 'Mary Poppins
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“You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one”.
The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)
Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey weren’t talking to each other when they first began appearing in films. Six years after falling out, Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra appeared in The Gay City (1941), best remembered for being the film debut of lead singer Frank Sinatra. The following year Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra appeared in The Fleet's In (1942) and for a while the brothers enjoyed their own separate successes. Though they may have been back on speaking terms by the time this biopic was made, their stilted delivery almost indicates otherwise.
Not that the brother’s thespian skills are totally to blame. Veterans Arthur Shields and Sara Allgood also struggle to overcome the script’s banality, with Allgood given the added burden of providing the film’s narration. Glancing through a family photo album, Mrs Dorsey recalls how her sons didn't like being taught music by their father, but enjoyed fighting each other and sneaking off to the movies. Jump forward a few years and the Dorseys now visit the movies to find recruits for their failing band. Their bickering continues though and after one heated exchange, the boys go their separate ways despite the best efforts of their parents and the band's singer.
This is where the script really hits a bum note. Not only does this fictional friend play an integral part in trying to get the band back together (with the help of Paul Whiteman no less), but her rudimentary romance with a piano player takes up much of the film’s running time. Many of the Dorsey Brothers most popular hits are missing, while a new composition ‘To Me’ is sung in its entirety twice.
It is particularly instructive that one of the film’s few highlights, a jam session featuring pianist Art Tatum, consigns the Dorseys to the background.
as Tommy Dorsey
as Jimmy Dorsey
as Paul Whiteman
as Art Tatum
“It was full of untruths, it was in black-and-white, it was the first of the movie biographies of bandleaders, and it didn’t have Jimmy Stewart”.
Janie New (Tommy Dorsey’s widow)
Biopic features no scene recreations from the Dorsey Brothers many film appearances.