Musical Memoir all About Musical Memories
"Till the Clouds Roll By" is supposedly a musical biopic all about composer Jerome Kern, I say supposedly because whilst various events relate to Kern's life most of the movie is made up and most certainly doesn't deliver a look at his life. Why this is the case, well it may be down to that whilst Jerome Kern was okay with them making a movie about him he died before it was produced and it is reported that those close to him were not keen on a proper look at his life. The outcome of this is that "Till the Clouds Roll By" becomes a movie for fans of various songs which Kern composed as they become the main focus with various stars lending their talents to sing them. Once you let go of the fact that this isn't a biopic and little more than Kern's many memorable pieces linked together "Till the Clouds Roll By" does end up being entertaining.
It doesn't take long to for you to realise that "Till the Clouds Roll By" is going to be a movie about Kern's music as we are taken back to the 27th December 1927 and the opening night of "Show Boat". What follows is almost 20 minutes of songs from the musical, 6 in total which whilst entertaining also feels excessive. But it does provide the lead in for the story which sees Kern reminiscing about where it all began as his driver listens to him.
Now as to the main story well it is a case of plenty of fiction mixed in with some fact as we watch Kern meet musical arranger James I. Hessler and his daughter Sally who according to the movie would be lifelong friends. I say according to because Hessler is fictitious, created in order to make Kern's story work and as such a later part of the movie which see Kern searching for a grown up Sally is also fictitious. But this friendship which we watch form basically provides the glue to link everything together as we watch kern go from a struggling composer to the toast of Broadway.
Along the way various true elements of Kern's life are incorporated into the story as in he met Eva Leale whilst in England and married her, although how he met her and where they lived is changed. Also mentioned is that Kern was meant to be on a boat with producer Charles Frohman but missed it, the boat sank killing Frohman. Although again the truth of this has been altered to not only make it work with the story which has been created but also not to tell the complete truth as to why Kern missed the boat.
The thing is that unless you know about Kern's life it is impossible to know what is fact and what is fiction and it is why as a biopic "Till the Clouds Roll By" is not a good movie. Although when you take as just a story which draws on various real life events it does work and is entertaining.
But the thing about "Till the Clouds Roll By" is that this is really a musical all about Kern's music and they dominate things. Now again if you know about Kern's music it most certainly helps but even if you haven't seen many of his musicals many of his songs are instantly recognizable. And it also helps that each of Kern's musical numbers has the added benefit of star power performing it and the cast which includes Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra, Lean Horne and June Allyson to name but a few is serious impressive and each does Kern's music credit.
But whilst the star power of the musical numbers is impressive the performances from Robert Walker as Jerome Kern and Van Heflin as James I. Hessler are just as good and you do get a real sense of friendship forming between them. Okay so Hessler is a made up character but because it feels believable that Kern is his friend it helps make what little story there is work.
What this all boils down to is that "Till the Clouds Roll By" is entertaining but not for being a musical biopic but because it features so many great musical pieces and a cavalcade of stars singing them. And even if you don't think you know many of Kern's pieces by the time this movie ends you will realise you know more than you realise.