Night Song, 1947. 7/10

Dana Andrews and Merle Oberon star as blind musicians in this romantic drama. They’re Dan and Cathy; Notable also are some real musicians, Hoagy Carmichael, Artur Rubenstein, and Eugene Ormandy, play themselves. Then there’s Ethyl Barrymore as Cathy’s aunt, and Donald Curtis as George, Jacqueline White as Connie, Walter Reed as Jimmy, and Jane Jones as Mamie.

Cathy goes the distance to woo Dan by feigning her blindness; much of the plot concerns her getting a cure for Dan. In fact, Cathy invents an entire persona for herself; Dan unwittingly thinks the blind woman is other than the woman he snubbed early-on.

The gang (Cathy, George, and another twosome) is up for hijinks after a concert. That’s to say, slumming at a sleazy club; they get quickly seated by the garrulous Mamie. Cathy goes to check out the pianist–Dan. He’s bitter, all right. Hoagy lets him know that, although he’s a jerk, he can still attract the ladies. The couples up and leave.

At home, Cathy plays some piano herself, her aunt looking on. Aunty can tell there’s something funny about niecy. She guesses correctly that Cathy’s thinking of a guy; so Cathy explains about Dan. Then we see him at home, also getting in some late night tunes. Looks like Chick/Hoagy’s his roommate.

Chick tries to pump up his talent “when a guy goes blind…it shouldn’t let it get to your music.” More philosophically “It’s not the guy, it’s the music.” Back with Cathy; she’s in dreamland thinking of Dan. When aunty talks about Cathy’s father’s ambition, Cathy makes a good point about life “you don’t create a million dollars, you make it.” George, her old flame, is a momentary topic of discussion. But Cathy wants to look up Dan.

Chick’s playing at the club. It seems Dan has quit; Chick fills her in on Dan’s bio. “What do slum after him for?” Good point, but she already figures out a plan…Finally, we get outdoors–Chick, Dan, and Cathy at the beach (now she’s Mary, and blind).

Chick ‘introduces’ them. It’s a slight suspension of disbelief to assume that he doesn’t recognize her voice; on the other hand, for all we know, they’ve only met once. Chick goes off to “get the beer” giving them time to get acquainted. She knows what to say, about music and such. Still, he isn’t exactly warming up to her.

Next thing though, the guys are visiting Mary and Auntie. Mary announces “I had my piano tuned.” We could take that a couple of ways, but she just plays for him. Then he plays; they talk about going out, so it’s concert time. Going back to the batchelor pad…Dan tells her she “plays real pretty.” He asks her “what do you see when you play?” That’s interesting; this is a notably intelligent script.

He relates his blindness story; pretty ironic, he’d been sitting in a drugstore and got hit by broken glass when a car ran into the building. After the ladies have left, Chick and Dan talk, and play. Chick notices that Dan plays better; in fact, he’s going back to play at the club. So, there we there.

Chick is there to talk to Mary. Basically, she springs the sight/cure plan. Chick knows he won’t go for somebody paying for it. Their plan: a contest. The best new composition for $5k (enough for an eye operation in those days). Now, Mary has to talk him into entering the contest. He begs off, as we might expect; but when she leaves he gets into the piece he’s been working on.

Chick lets Cathy in on the good news. A bunch of composing/creative slump/creative frenzy scenes. A bit of a problem is that Mary/Cathy has to rig the contest so that Dan wins; sounds a bit unscrupulous. Anyway, they all go fishing. A weird sidenote is auntie’s disdain for eating fish (more because she saw it caught and then struggle…). I keep waiting for Mary to flub up the blindness deal.

A nice moonlight chat for the love-birds. Back at Auntie’s digs, there’s a telegram…it says Dan wins the $5k prize. Another slight problem–he’s magnanimous, and wants her to get ‘cured.’ He does relent. He’s soon reporting from New York; he’s had the operation, but has to wait a few weeks for the bandages to come off. “He’s going to be all right!” Yeah, but how’s she going to undo her ‘blindness’?

Back in their hotel, he’s actually stalling Mary…why? Because now she hasn’t blindness in common with him; she’s merely a ‘cripple’? So she goes to New York; she introduces herself as Cathy! Now it’s impossible to imagine that he doesn’t think she isn’t Mary.

Dan gives a recital. Cathy’s highbrow accent is her only disguise. She reminds him of someone(!). Anyway, for a moment, you’d think that Mary never existed, except as a fossil. Well, he hasn’t forgotten her. Time for Mary/Cathy to consult with Chick; he wisely says that she’s got to give up the “gag.”

Anyway, Cathy has become his ‘new’ girl. Strange, he has these recurring feelings of having known her before–geez, how do you figure? Well, we’re used to seeing him gloomy. His piece is being played by Ormandy and Rubenstein at Carnegie Hall. He’s been in touch with Mary, and understandably nervous about attending the performance.

Since the drama is mostly about the romance, what do we really care about his music? Playing in the club circuit establishes character and atmosphere, but Carnegie Hall, and the famous conductors of the era, fit better in a documentary or biographical movie. On the plus side, it gives Dan a chance for some extended reverie about Mary, and/or Cathy.

The music does work on him. “Tell Cathy I’ve gone back to that blind girl.” Who? Well, they travel seperately, of course. The denouement is going to be unrevealing to everyone but Dan. I’m surprised he takes the whole expose in stride. Cathy is Mary, Dan’s still in. The end.

Nightsong is a somewhat jarring mashup of a nicely-done romance with a hardly-plausible background premise. It’s weird that Dan doesn’t seem to mind being played for a chump; plus he’s dumber than a clam for not realizing (sight or no sight) that the two women are one in the same.

With those huge caveats, this plays very well romantically; both leads have easy chemistry with each other. Why have the blindness theme at all? It sets up so many deadends. For example, it’s no exaggeration to say that Cathy would have to get the mafia to ‘fix’ the contest. It’s essentially fraud. Chick’s role is the pivot for this elaborate ruse.

Carmichael is fundamentally a musician–undoubtedly a fine one. But his flinty persona doesn’t really translate well to his role here; he’s in many scenes and holds all the cards. But he never really inhabits his character. For a guy who’s supposed to be the voice of reason–pretty much a counterpart to Aunt Willey–he’s witty, but too passive.

Night Song might’ve worked better as a crime mystery. There’s a couple of film noirs involving blindness or facial surgery as covers for a dangerous identity. It would be easier to buy faking blindness, and/or mistaken identities, if there were any existential purpose. Romance doesn’t exactly qualify as a life or death proposition.

With all that said, this is an thoughful movie (romantically and emotionally speaking anyway) that’s worth a look. 7/10

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