Rhapsody in Blue (film)

Rhapsody in Blue is a 1945 fictionalized screen biography of the American composer and musician George Gershwin (1898–1937) released by Warner Brothers.

Rhapsody in Blue
Film poster
Directed byIrving Rapper
Produced byJesse L. Lasky
Written byHoward Koch
Elliot Paul
Clifford Odets (uncredited)
Harry Chandlee
Robert Rossen
Story bySonya Levien
StarringRobert Alda
Joan Leslie
Alexis Smith
Hazel Scott
Anne Brown
Music byGeorge Gershwin
Max Steiner
Ray Heindorf
CinematographyMerritt B. Gerstad
Ernest Haller
Sol Polito
Edited byFolmar Blangsted
Distributed byWarner Brothers
Release date
  • June 26, 1945 (1945-06-26) (New York)[1]
  • September 22, 1945 (1945-09-22) (US)
Running time
141 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4,856,000[2]

Production background

Starring Robert Alda as Gershwin, the film features a few of Gershwin's acquaintances (including Paul Whiteman, Al Jolson, and Oscar Levant) playing themselves. Alexis Smith and Joan Leslie play fictional women in Gershwin's life, Morris Carnovsky and Rosemary De Camp play Gershwin's parents, and Herbert Rudley portrays Ira Gershwin. Oscar Levant also recorded most of the piano playing in the movie, and also dubbed Alda's piano playing. Both the Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris are performed nearly completely, the "Rhapsody..." debut of 1924 conducted, as it was originally, by Whiteman himself.

The film introduces two fictional romances into the story, one with a woman named Julie Adams (played by Joan Leslie) and the other a near-romance with a rich society woman played by Alexis Smith.

The film notably features performances of Gershwin music by two talented and accomplished African-American musician/singers, Anne Brown (1916–2009) and Hazel Scott (1920–1981). Both were child prodigies whose training included study at the Juilliard School.

Anne Brown, a soprano, created the role of "Bess" in the original production of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess in 1935. In the film, Brown sings the aria Summertime from Porgy and Bess. But in the film, the song is completely rearranged, with the first verse sung by chorus only. William Gillespie, an African-American bass-baritone, appeared uncredited as "Porgy" in the 'Porgy and Bess' sequence, but did not sing.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Hazel Scott was raised in New York City and became known as a jazz and classical pianist and singer. Like Lena Horne, Scott was one of the first African-American women to have a career in Hollywood as well as television. Scott plays herself in the film, performing in a Paris nightclub.



Contemporary reviews praised the music but had more mixed opinions about the plot. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "standard biography," explaining: "There is never any true clarification of what makes the gentleman run, no interior grasp of his nature, no dramatic continuity to his life. The whole thing unfolds in fleeting episodes, with characters viewing the genius with anxiety or awe, and the progression is not helped by many obvious and telescoping cuts. Throughout, the brilliant music of Mr. Gershwin is spotted abundantly, and that is the best—in fact, the only—intrinsically right thing in the film."[3] Variety reported that the film "can't miss" with "such an embarrassment of musical riches," to the point that "corny lapses" in the script "can easily be glossed over."[4] Harrison's Reports wrote that the musical score was "in itself worth the price of admission," while the film also offered "an inspiring, heart-warming story."[5] Wolcott Gibbs of The New Yorker called the music "magnificent", but criticized the plot as a "monumental collection of nonsense," describing the romance as "silly and tiresome."[6]

Box office

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $3,342,000 domestically and $1,514,000 foreign.[2]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for the Grand Prize at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.[7] The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards; Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture, lost to Anchors Aweigh) and Best Sound (Nathan Levinson).[8]


  1. "Rhapsody in Blue". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  2. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1–31 p. 26 doi:10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. Crowther, Bosley (June 28, 1945). "Movie Review – Rhapsody in Blue". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2016.
  4. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 16 June 27, 1945.
  5. "Harrison's Reports". June 30, 1945: 102. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. Gibbs, Wolcott (July 7, 1945). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp.: 36.
  7. "Festival de Cannes: Rhapsody in Blue". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  8. "The 18th Academy Awards (1946) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
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