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Alexander's Ragtime Band (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alexander's Ragtime Band
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHenry King
Written byIrving Berlin
Richard Sherman
Screenplay byKathryn Scola
Lamar Trotti
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringTyrone Power
Alice Faye
Don Ameche
Ethel Merman
Jack Haley
CinematographyJ. Peverell Marley
Edited byBarbara McLean
Music byIrving Berlin
Alfred Newman
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • May 24, 1938 (1938-05-24) (Los Angeles, press preview)
  • August 5, 1938 (1938-08-05) (New York, premiere)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.6 million (worldwide rentals)[4]

Alexander's Ragtime Band is a 1938 American musical film released by 20th Century Fox that takes its name from the 1911 Irving Berlin song "Alexander's Ragtime Band" to tell a story of a society boy who scandalizes his family by pursuing a career in ragtime instead of "serious" music. The film generally traces the history of jazz music from the popularization of Ragtime in the early years of the 20th century to the acceptance of swing as an art form in the late 1930s using music composed by Berlin. The story spans more than two decades from the 1911 release of its name-sake song to some point in time after the 1933 release of "Heat Wave", presumably 1938.

It stars Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Ethel Merman, Jack Haley and Jean Hersholt. Several actual events in the history of jazz are fictionalized and adapted to the story including the tour of Europe by Original Dixieland Jass Band, the global spread of jazz by U.S. soldiers during World War I, and the 1938 Carnegie Hall performance by The Benny Goodman Orchestra.

The story was written by Berlin himself, with Kathryn Scola, Richard Sherman (1905–1962) and Lamar Trotti. In 1944, a federal judge ruled that most of the story by Berlin and collaborating writers had been plagiarized from a 1937 manuscript by author Marie Dieckhaus,[5] but that decision was reversed on appeal.[6]

Alexander's Ragtime Band was 20th Century Fox's highest-grossing film of the 1930s and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning the award for Best Music, Scoring.

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Alexander's Ragtime Band features several hit songs by Irving Berlin including "Heat Wave", "Some Sunny Day", "Blue Skies", "Easter Parade", "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Previously released songs were re-arranged and used in conjunction with new songs written by Berlin for the film.


From left to right: Jack Haley, Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Tyrone Power.

The film had its New York premiere at the Roxy Theatre on August 5, 1938, with Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz heading the stage show.[7]

Contemporary reviews from critics were positive. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote, "With those twenty-six Berlin tunes at its disposal and with such assured song-pluggers as Alice Faye and Ethel Merman to put them over, the picture simply runs roughshod over minor critical objection and demands recognition as the best musical show of the year."[8] Variety wrote, "Superlative in conception, execution and showmanship, it provides a rare theatrical and emotional experience."[9] Film Daily declared it "solid entertainment that should play to big returns."[10] Harrison's Reports called it "Excellent entertainment, capably directed and acted."[11] Russell Maloney of The New Yorker called the music "reason enough to see the film," though he criticized the "small, persistent, mosquitolike irritation of the plot" and instances of anachronistic dialogue.[12]

At the time of its release, Alexander's Ragtime Band was 20th Century Fox's highest-grossing film ever with $2.63 million in domestic rentals[13] and $3.6 million in worldwide rentals.[4]

Plagiarism lawsuit

In 1937, composer Irving Berlin had been approached by 20th Century Fox to write a story treatment for an upcoming film entitled "Alexander's Ragtime Band."[8][6] Berlin agreed to write a story outline for the film which would feature many of Berlin's signature tunes.[8][6] Released on August 5, 1938, Alexander's Ragtime Band was a smash hit with audiences and grossed in excess of five million dollars.[8][5] However, soon after, a plagiarism lawsuit was filed by author Marie Cooper Dieckhaus against Berlin and 20th Century Fox.[5] In 1944, a federal judge ruled in Dieckhaus' favor that Berlin and collaborating writers had plagiarized a 1937 manuscript by Dieckhaus and used many of its elements.[5]

In 1937, Dieckhaus had submitted her manuscript to various Hollywood studio heads, literary agents, and other individuals for their perusal.[5] The trial court ruled that much of her manuscript's plot was included in the film's screenplay.[5] However, in 1946, this ruling was reversed on appeal because there was no evidence that Berlin and the others who worked on the film had ever seen Dieckhaus's manuscript.[6]

Awards and honors

Irving Berlin with actors Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche on the set of the 1938 film.

Alfred Newman won an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring.[14] The film was also nominated for:

Radio adaptations

Alexander's Ragtime Band was presented as a one-hour radio adaptation on two occasions on Lux Radio Theatre. The first broadcast was on June 3, 1940. This adaptation starred Faye and Robert Preston.[15] The second broadcast was on April 7, 1947, and starred Tyrone Power, Margaret Whiting, Al Jolson, Dick Haymes and Dinah Shore.[16] "A Birthday Tribute to Irving Berlin," an all-star celebration of Berlin's 50th birthday, broadcast on CBS on August 3, 1938, from New York, Hollywood, and Chicago, was coordinated with the premiere of the Fox film and concluded with a truncated dramatization of scenes from the film. Parts were read by Ethel Merman and Tyrone Power.


  1. ^ Bradley, Edwin M. (2020). Hollywood Musicals You Missed: Seventy Noteworthy Films from the 1930s. McFarland. p. 64. ISBN 978-1-4766-7358-5.
  2. ^ "Top Films and Stars". Variety. 4 January 1939. p. 10. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  3. ^ "Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) – Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on 2012-02-17. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  4. ^ a b Block, Alex Ben; Wilson, Lucy Autry (March 30, 2010). George Lucas's blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. It Books. pp. 212–213. ISBN 978-0-0619-6345-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Plagiarism Suit Upheld: Federal Court Rules on the Film 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'". The New York Times. March 5, 1944. p. 37. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. Dieckhaus". United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. March 25, 1946. Retrieved April 8, 2020 – via
  7. ^ Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from Its Beginnings to the Present (paperback). New York: MacMillan. pp. 141–2. ISBN 0-02-860429-6.
  8. ^ a b c d Nugent, Frank S. (August 6, 1938). "The Roxy Plays Host to 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' a Twentieth Century Tribute to Irving Berlin". The New York Times. New York. p. 7. Retrieved April 8, 2020.
  9. ^ "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. June 1, 1938. p. 12.
  10. ^ "Reviews of New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 3 May 28, 1938.
  11. ^ "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 123 July 30, 1938.
  12. ^ Maloney, Russell (August 13, 1938). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 47.
  13. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs". Variety. October 15, 1990.
  14. ^ "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-10-08. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  15. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
  16. ^ "Tonight! Lux Radio Theatre (advertisement)". The Pittsburgh Press. 1947-04-07. p. 25. Retrieved 2021-10-06.
  • Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 pages 82–83

External links

This page was last edited on 19 February 2024, at 23:09
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