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Young Man with a Horn (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Young Man with a Horn
Young Man with a Horn (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Curtiz
Screenplay byCarl Foreman
Edmund H. North
Based onYoung Man with a Horn
1938 novel
by Dorothy Baker
Produced byJerry Wald
StarringKirk Douglas
Lauren Bacall
Doris Day
Hoagy Carmichael
Juano Hernández
CinematographyTed D. McCord
Edited byAlan Crosland Jr.
Music byLauren Kirk
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
February 9, 1950 (1950-02-09)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.5 million[1]

Young Man with a Horn is a 1950 American musical drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael, and Juano Hernandez.[2][3] It was based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist. The film was produced by Jerry Wald. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North.


As a young boy, after his mother dies, Rick Martin sees a trumpet in the window of a pawn shop. He works in a bowling alley to save up enough money to buy it. Rick grows up to be an outstanding musician (adult Rick played by Kirk Douglas), tutored by jazzman Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez). He lands a job playing for Jack Chandler's big band, getting to know piano player Smoke Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael) and beautiful singer Jo Jordan (Doris Day). Jack orders him to always play the music exactly as written. Rick prefers to improvise, and one night, during a break with Jack's band, he leads an impromptu jam session, which gets him fired.

Jo has fallen for Rick and finds him a job in New York with a dance orchestra. One night, her friend Amy North (Lauren Bacall) accompanies her to hear Rick play. Amy, studying to be a psychiatrist, is a complicated young woman still disturbed by her own mother's suicide. Though she claims to be incapable of feeling love, she and Rick begin an affair, which consumes him so completely he begins to neglect his old friends. Jo eventually tries to warn him against getting too involved with Amy, suggesting that she will hurt him because of her mental health, only for Amy to stun her by telling her that she and Rick have already married.

Amy does not enjoy Rick's music and is not interested in his career, focusing on her own psychiatry studies. Rarely together because of their demanding schedules, they begin to quarrel and Amy sometimes does not even come home at night. All this affects Rick profoundly; his mood deteriorates and he begins drinking. Art finds him in a bar and tries gently to offer advice and help. Rick feels guilty about neglecting their friendship but takes his frustrations out on Art, this man who has done so much for him. Unbeknownst to Rick, Art is struck by a car after leaving the bar and is severely injured. Later, arriving late for his job at the club, Rick hears about Art and rushes to the hospital. Before he can see him, however, he is told that Art has died.

At home, Rick finds Amy restlessly playing piano after failing her final exams; she is considering either trying again or going to Paris to become a painter. She admits to Rick that she only married him because she is jealous of the security he has in knowing what he is good at and being able to do it; and rejects his attempts at comfort. The next night, after Art's funeral, Rick returns home at the end of a cocktail party Amy has thrown; she is drunk and angry at him for not showing up to meet her friends. They argue viciously and he tells her she is sick and should see a doctor, and leaves her.

Now an alcoholic, Rick gets fired from the orchestra and neglects his music. At a recording session with Smoke and Jo, he plays erratically and loses control of his instrument, trying to reach a magic note he has dreamed of. He destroys his horn and drops out of sight, wandering aimlessly, getting thrown out of bars. One night, he collapses in the street and a cab driver takes him to an alcoholic sanitarium. He has pneumonia, however, and the officials there call Smoke, who arranges for Rick to be moved to a hospital. Jo hurries to his side and helps him recover his health, and both his love of music and of her — a happy ending found neither in the novel nor in the life of Bix Beiderbecke.


Kirk Douglas in Young Man With a Horn, the Third Avenue El in the background
Kirk Douglas in Young Man With a Horn, the Third Avenue El in the background


The film is notable as being an example of 1940s film noir with a central character who is bisexual. In the Baker novel, Amy is described as having lesbian tendencies, and using the usual Hollywood connotative methods and hints to circumvent the Motion Picture Production Code, this is also implied in the film. Regarding Jo, Amy says: "It must be wonderful to wake up in the morning and know just which door you’re going to walk through. She’s so terribly normal."[4][5]

Production notes

Composer-pianist Hoagy Carmichael, playing the sidekick role, added realism to the film and gave Kirk Douglas an insight into the role, being a friend of the real Beiderbecke.[6] Famed trumpeter Harry James performed the music Douglas is shown playing on screen.[7]

In her authorized biography, Doris Day described her experience making the film as "utterly joyless", as she had not found working with Douglas to be pleasant. In the book, Douglas said that he felt her ever-cheerful persona was only a "mask" and he had never been able to get to know the real person underneath. Day countered that while Douglas had been "civil", he was too self-centered to make any real attempt to get to know either her or anyone else.[8]


According to The New York Times, "banalities of the script are quite effectively glossed over in the slick pictorial smoothness of Michael Curtiz's direction and the exciting quality of the score. The result is that there is considerable good entertainment in Young Man With a Horn despite the production's lack of balance."[7]

In spite of the screenplay, the Times praised the performances of Douglas, Day, and Carmichael, but noted "the unseen star of the picture is Harry James, the old maestro himself, who supplies the tingling music, which flows wildly, searchingly, and forlornly from Rick Martin's beloved horn. This is an instance where the soundtrack is more than a complementary force. It is the very soul of the picture because if it were less provocative and compelling, the staleness of the drama could be stultifying."[7]

Radio adaptation

Young Man with a Horn was presented on Lux Radio Theatre March 3, 1952. Kirk Douglas recreated his role from the film. The one-hour adaptation also starred Jo Stafford and Patrice Wymore.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "Top Grosses of 1950". Variety. January 3, 1951. p. 58.
  2. ^ Variety film review; February 8, 1950, page 11.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; February 11, 1950, page 22.
  4. ^ Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet. Harper and Row. p. 100. ISBN 0-06-096132-5.
  5. ^ Benshoff, Griffin (2006). Queer Images: A History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. ISBN 978-0742519725.
  6. ^ Johnson, David Brent. "The Road to Stardust: Hoagy Carmichael And Bix Beiderbecke in 1924". Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  7. ^ a b c "Kirk Douglas Seen as 'Young Man With a Horn,' New Bill at Radio City Music Hall". The New York Times. February 10, 1950. Retrieved 2012-06-05.
  8. ^ Hotchner, A. E. (1975). Doris Day: Her Own Story. William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0688029685.
  9. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 2, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via open access

External links

This page was last edited on 11 January 2022, at 03:34
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