Movie Morsel: Till the Clouds Roll By
Have you ever wanted to see a completely accurate biopic about composer Jerome Kern? Well, don’t expect to find that in the 1946 MGM film musical Till the Clouds Roll By, a fictional telling of the life of Kern with a few facts thrown in to keep it honest. No, there is a better reason to see the movie Till the Clouds the Roll By. The film is who’s who of MGM’s finest talents singing some of the best songs from the Jerome Kern songbook. Each musical sequence is cleverly staged and full of eye-popping opulence. The film opens with a twenty minute recreation of the best of the musical Show Boat (1927) and it is perhaps the most-stirring of all the musical sequences. A particular favorite of mine from this mini-Show Boat has always been “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” delivered with dry aplomb by Virginia O’Brien. The whole twenty minutes, however, is packed to the hilt with great performances. Lena Horne plays Julie LaVerne, giving an impassioned take on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. Kathryn Grayson and Tony Martin sing the roles of Magnolia Hawks and Gaylord Ravenal (respectively), voices melding in a sumptuous “Make Believe”. Caleb Peterson and the MGM Studio Orchestra give an achingly intense “Ol’ Man River” to finish off the Show Boat portion of the proceedings. But there are other delights to be found in Till the Clouds Roll By. Angela Lansbury, putting on her best cockney accent, is devilishly coy in “How’d You Like to Spoon with Me?”, June Allyson is a ball in the “Cleopatterer” number, and Allyson and Ray McDonald take a jubilant turn on the title song, singing and dancing in a rainstorm. Arguably, the film’s best moments come when Judy Garland arrives on the scene to play Broadway legend Marilyn Miller. As Miller, Garland mines all aspects of her talent, from comedy to drama, from dancer to singer, on such numbers as “Look for the Silver Lining”, “Sunny” and “Who?”. Robert Walker plays Jerome Kern, but with all these great performances surrounding him, he blends into the background. Perhaps that is exactly what was required, to put the man’s music on a pedestal and not his life or personality.
However you feel about fictional biopics, take some time to watch Till the Clouds Roll By and revel and in MGM doing what it did best: musical numbers.
Fun Fact: Gene Kelly was originally intended to play Jerome Kern in Till the Clouds Roll By, but that casting never materialized.