Lauren Bacall gives Kirk Douglas the Horn
When you think of Kirk Douglas and his various movies usually you think of him playing tough guy characters such as Midge in "Champion" or Doc Holliday in "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" you don't necessary think of him playing a character that sings or plays an instrument. But Douglas did lend his voice to the occasional musical number and in the movie "Young Man with a Horn" or "Young Man of Music" as it was also known, he did sing in one scene and wasn't that bad either. But aside from Kirk Douglas singing "Young Man with a Horn" is very much an entertaining, old fashioned movie, a tale of success and failure which also features Lauren Bacall, Doris Day and Hoagy Carmichael.
As a young orphan Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas - My Dear Secretary) finds himself falling in love with music and the trumpet having listened to Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez) and his band play jazz music in a night club. Having dedicated himself to becoming a trumpet virtuoso Rick soon becomes a hit, working his way through various bands where he meets sweet band singer Jo Jordan (Doris Day - The Glass Bottom Boat). But he also meets Amy North (Lauren Bacall - The Mirror Has Two Faces) who he falls for but her split personality leads to his life coming crashing down.
Although "Young Man with a Horn" is purely a fictional tale of a young man who whilst a talented musician struggles to lead a normal life, it is loosely connected to the life and music of Bix Beiderbecke, having been adapted from Dorothy Baker's novel which in itself drew from articles written about Beiderbecke. As such it does have that biographical feel, as if Rick Martin was in fact a real person.
Starting with an opening narration from jazz pianist Willie 'Smoke' Willoughby we are introduced to Martin as a young boy who with no parents and just a sister to care for him seeks solace leading him to music and then we follow his career and personal life. It does feel familiar almost a little routine as you can guess that Martin will have troubles at some point leading to a crash both in his career and personal life, but at the same time you don't know how it will all work out, will it be a happy ever after ending or a more depressing solemn ending. It's because "Young Man with a Horn" is fictional it keeps you engrossed because you do want to find out what happens.
As such there is a side to "Young Man with a Horn" which feels like it's trying to deliver us a lesson about life. Firstly you get the single mindedness of Martin who seems to substitute living just so he can play his trumpet. It's as if it's trying to give us a warning about being too single minded. Then there is the personal side to it with Martin falling in love with Amy and again there seems to be a sort of lesson about falling in love with not just the wrong woman but also too quickly. Both of which actually combine to deliver an insight into a character who what ever he does gives it 100%. Sounds a little heavy but thankfully it isn't because first and fore mostly "Young Man with a Horn" is purely entertainment.
What is for certain is that "Young Man with a Horn" is a movie for jazz lovers. Coming in at just under 2 hours there are so many great musical moments with virtuoso trumpet pieces which whisk you away to another time and place. Even if you're not a huge jazz fan the music is so magical that it charms you.
As already mentioned in "Young Man with a Horn" we get Kirk Douglas giving us a quick song but it's his performance as Rick Martin which is more impressive. Douglas is so good at playing the single minded characters, the strong willed ones and he does it again here, but at the same time he is charming, he is instantly likeable with his mindset of not needing anything other than his trumpet. Although dubbed by Harry James, Douglas even looks right as a trumpet player and someone who is in love with music, although occasionally his eye popping playing tends to be a little comical.
Aside from Douglas, who really is the star of "Young Man with a Horn", you have Lauren Bacall delivering sophistication and sexiness as Amy, yet at the same time she is dangerous, almost bi-polar with one minute enjoying the company of Rick then the next turning on him. It's a strong performance and although the chemistry is lacking between Douglas and Bacall the pairing work in an almost volatile way. And then there is Doris Day as band singer Jo Jordan who lends her wonderful voice to a whole list of musical numbers. Doris Day's character is very much a stereotype, the nice young woman who becomes a close friend to Rick and Day delivers it perfectly, but there is almost an undercurrent of romance as you sort of feel that Jo loves Rick yet never tells him, losing out to her friend Amy.
But in many ways it's the supporting performances which makes "Young Man with a Horn" such a joy. Hoagy Carmichael who narrates much of the movie is just magnificent as piano player Willie 'Smoke' Willoughby and he is matched by Juano Hernandez who is just as impressive as musician and Rick's trumpet mentor Art Hazzard.
What this all boils down to is that "Young Man with a Horn" is a very entertaining movie which draws you into this fictional tale of trumpet player Rick Martin. It does feel familiar with the rise and fall of this talented, singled minded musician but at the same time it's not completely predictable because you don't know how it will all end up. But it is made all the better by some solid performances from Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Hoagy Carmichael and Juano Hernandez. And even if the storyline doesn't impress you the numerous musical moments, the trumpet virtuoso's and songs from Doris Day most likely will.