Blu-ray Review: The Eddy Duchin Story - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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However painfully outdated some of the melodramatic storytelling techniques are in The Eddie Duchin Story it’s hard to resist this 1956 biopic. While certain elements of pianist Duchin’s life are played with tearjerking aggressiveness, the film is graced by moments of beautifully restrained understatement. In addition to the soapier events in this partly fictionalized account, there’s also an appropriate focus on the “sweet band” music of a popular entertainer who has largely faded into obscurity since his 1951 death. Never a pioneering artist, Duchin’s florid piano style is nonetheless ear-pleasing and exciting to watch (at least as presented in the film, more on that later). Twilight Time has brought the film to Blu-ray part of their Limited Edition series.

Though Tyrone Power was excessively long in the tooth to play Duchin at the outset of his career, he handles the story’s increasingly maudlin emotional beats exceptionally well. It begins in the late 1920s, with an enthusiastic Duchin having quit his job as pharmacist, journeying to New York City to play piano in Leo Reisman’s orchestra. Turns out he was mistaken in thinking a job was waiting for him, but rich socialite Marjorie Oelrichs (Kim Novak) sees his talent and get him hired to play nondescript incidental music between big band sets. There’s a great scene early on, perfectly played by Power, in which Eddy is dismayed to see people in the nightclub virtually ignoring the wallpaper noodling he’s been hired to provide. Soon he asserts himself, with his irrepressible showman instincts taking the forefront, along with his dynamic, cross-handed piano pyrotechnics.

Marjorie and Eddy eventually marry and have a child, but their lives turn sour when—and though this is a matter of public record and occurs rather early in the film, I will offer a spoiler alert here—Marjorie passes away suddenly only days after their son Peter is born. Again, Power is to be commended for his sensitive portrayal of a shattered widower. Determined to have nothing to do with young Peter’s life, he turns the boy over to family members and a nanny named Chiquita (Victoria Shaw).

Eddy Duchin cover TMR.jpgHe carries on with his career, but life without Marjorie obviously isn’t the same. Eventually he serves in the Navy during WWII, stationed in the South Pacific. Another brilliant scene involves Eddy playing an impromptu piano duet with a random young boy—possibly a war orphan—that attracts a gathering of fellow servicemen. Here Eddy rediscovers his passion for music and realizes for the first time that he wants to be a father to his son. The youngster’s reaction at the conclusion of their duet is possibly the film’s most genuinely heartfelt moment (though one wonders what became of the kid; I fleetingly wished Eddy would adopt him).

After his return from the war, the focus shifts to Eddy’s attempt to connect with his son. Peter (Rex Thompson, wonderfully subtle in a performance that eschews any hint of precocious cutesiness) has deeply bonded with his mother figure, Chiquita. He and Eddy begin a prickly, uncomfortable relationship. By this point, Power has shifted convincingly from the eager-to-please Eddy of old to a mature, moody, and sometimes even insolent Eddy. Peter turns out to be a chip off the old block, something of a piano prodigy, which provides some believable common ground for father and son to walk upon. A musical highpoint occurs when Peter and his musician friends lead Eddy’s band in a jazz jam.

Reports of exactly who provided the piano playing for the film’s soundtrack and whose hands are actually doing the “playing” on screen seem to conflict. Apparently both Carmen Cavallero and George Greeley contributed the playing heard during the film, and if I understand correctly Greeley was responsible for the lion’s share (those more intimately familiar with Duchin’s actual style say the imitation heard in the film is not entirely accurate). Some sources report Greeley’s hands are shown tinkling the ivories, while others cite piano lessons as the reason Power was so convincing in miming the playing.

Since Power’s torso and face are visible during the majority of the piano playing sequences, I find it hard to believe Greeley served as “stunt player.” The technological capacity for that exists now (see Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, in which Michael Douglas’ head was grafted onto pianist Philip Fortenberry’s body for performance scenes), but if any visual trickery is on display in The Eddy Duchin Story it would qualify as being among the greatest ever caught on film of its era.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation comes from Sony’s 1080p transfer, framed at 2.55:1. It’s a clean presentation that looks superb for the most part, if a tad bit overly high contrast at times. Detail gets a bit enveloped by blackness in the darkest shots, but overall this is a splendid image that carries all the natural grain expected of a 1956 movie. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is flawless, offering surprisingly full-bodied audio that allows the most important part (the music) to shine.

Speaking of the music, the only special feature is an isolated music-and-effects track (also DTS-HD MA 2.0). Well, that and a pair of trailers. As usual, Julie Kirgo offers her thoughts via an essay in the Blu-ray booklet. For ordering information on this limited edition release (only 3,000 copies total were pressed), visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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