Words and Music (1948)

Introduced and narrated by Tom Drake in the role of Dick Rodgers, Words and Music tells the fantastic origin story of famed songwriting team Rodgers and Hart. (The role of Lorenz “Larry” Hart is tackled by Mickey Rooney.)

(Image via Flixposed)
(Image via Flixposed)

The story is as follows: Larry is a talented lyricist with no music to accompany his words. Dick is a talented composer who thinks his songs feel empty without the words. They’re introduced by a mutual friend, but they don’t immediately take to each other. Dick is put off by Larry’s distracted, consistently tardy behavior.

That all changes when Larry puts words to one of Dick’s piano tunes for the first time, creating the song “Manhattan.” A creative partnership is born. They find that they make a fantastic pair and become close friends while trying to crack the music business together.

Words and Music was directed by Norman Taurog.

If you’re looking for a hard-hitting biopic about the complicated lives of the men behind some of Broadway and old Hollywood’s most famous songs… this ain’t it. There’s a bit of fictionalized romantic drama and a few bouts of illness, but that’s about the extent of it in terms of the script’s attempts at depth.

Words and Music tells a story of two characters named Rodgers and Hart, but it’s a “Hollywoodized” story through and through — clean, sweet, romantic, and everything you’d expect from a mid-century musical. And its timeline is very wacky, with songs performed out of publishing order and stars appearing in certain scenes at the wrong ages, adding to the confusing inaccuracy.

The real purpose of this film is not to tell an accurate story of two of the world’s most famous songwriters but to shine the spotlight on some of their beloved tunes, as well as give many MGM players the opportunity to show off their top-notch talents of song and dance.

(Image via TMDb)
(Image via TMDb)

The cast is full of big names, some filling the shoes of characters and some playing themselves. Mickey Rooney and Tom Drake are mentioned above; then there’s Perry Como, Ann Sothern, Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh, Cyd Charisse, June Allyson, Lena Horne, Vera-Ellen, Gene Kelly, and even the great Judy Garland, among others! A true parade of talent.

Because I love so many of its stars, I found Words and Music to be very fun to watch. On top of that cast, I’m a fan of the musical genre, and this one hits all the right notes. The songs are great (of course — they’re actual Lorenz and Hart songs), the romances are cute, the story moves quite quickly, and the bright photography is matched by the film’s (for the most part) light and airy mood. It could only be made in Technicolor, and only by MGM! So long as you don’t think too much about the truth behind the story, any musical fan should get some enjoyment from Words and Music. The score: 3.5/5

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