Words and Music (1948)
Tom Drake, in the guise of composer Richard Rodgers, opens Words and Music by apologising for the lack of trials and tribulations you’d ordinarily expect in a biopic. Not that this should be cause of concern for a 1940’s musical, particularly with Arthur Freed listed as the film’s producer. Yet despite having all the resources of his MGM unit thrown at the film, Words and Music cannot overcome its perfunctory script.
The film starts brightly enough. Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart performs his usual shtick, barely able to contain his boundless enthusiasm while Rodgers tickles the ivories. Before too long the pair have churned out their first hit, ‘Manhattan’, immediately showcasing Hart’s gift for clever rhymes. Yet it’s almost an hour before another of their more recognisable songs is delivered. In the interim, Hart transforms from an energetic sprite to an apathetic sight, unable to recover from his girlfriend rejecting him.
The remainder of Rodgers and Hart’s songbook is lazily introduced by such devices as Rodgers forgetting a movie is preceded by a show based on one off his tunes, or stumbling upon Lena Horne singing 'The Lady is a Tramp' at a nightclub. Indicative of this lack of care is the seven minute wordless ballet 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' immediately following a scene in which Hart receives a pep talk praising his gifts as a lyricist.
It is stated during the film that “a tune without a lyric is a mighty lonesome thing". The same can be said for a musical without a decent story.
as Lorenz Hart
as Richard Rodgers
as Herbert Fields
as June Allyson
Lorenz Hart did not lapse into depression because his marriage proposal was rejected by a female friend. In reality, he was perpetually troubled by his closeted homosexuality.
According to the documentary ‘A Life in Words & Music’, the character of Joyce Harmon is based on stage and film actress Vivienne Segal.
The character of Peggy Lorgan McNeil is a composite character.