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Music in My Heart

Music in My Heart(1940)

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Rita Hayworth got her first starring role in a musical at her home studio, Columbia Pictures, with Music in My Heart (1940). It may not have given her the opportunities to dance and sing (lip-synch is more accurate) she would have in such classics as You'll Never Get Rich (1941) and Cover Girl (1944), but at least it anticipated the latter film by casting her as a respectable girl working her way up from poverty who's torn between a wealthy suitor (Alan Mowbray) and a brash young musical star (Tony Martin). And like her best musicals, it also showcased some great comic character actors in supporting roles.

Music in My Heart was actually intended as a vehicle for Tony Martin, the popular singer who had just left his contract at 20th-Century-Fox (and a marriage to their resident musical leading lady, Alice Faye) to freelance. This was his first film on his own, but far from floundering after leaving the security of his studio contract, Martin was flourishing. He had just signed a recording contract with Decca, and his first release, "Begin the Beguine" backed with "September Song," had sold a million copies. His popular radio series Tune-Up Time paired him with bandleader Andre Kostelanetz, who would play himself in the film.

Hayworth had been at Columbia a few years already, mostly with minor roles in low-budget films. She had just completed a juicy supporting role as Richard Barthelmess' faithless wife in Only Angels Have Wings (1939), but studio management had not yet realized the impact she had made in the film. In fact, she only got the lead in Music in My Heart because Martin asked for her. With her next film, Blondie on a Budget (1940), she was back to the Bs, still waiting for her breakthrough.

Hayworth's role in Music in My Heart was really just window dressing, as the action focused primarily on Martin's attempts to stay in the country when he's threatened with deportation just as he's about to become a Broadway star (a plot reflected in the film's working title, Passport to Happiness. Despite her early fame as a dancer, she only got to do a brief routine in the film, hardly a showcase.

If Music in My Heart showcased anyone, it was the comics. Eric Blore, best remembered for his roles in such Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classics as Top Hat (1935), had another role as the ultimate gentleman's gentleman, joining forces with employer Mowbray to keep Hayworth from getting too close to Martin. George Tobias, who would go on to play Abner Kravitz in the television series Bewitched, got to steal scenes as a Russian expatriate living in Martin's boarding house.

With Martin in the male lead, the film had to feature some top tunes, most of them by the team of Chet Forrest and Bob Wright. One of the most successful teams in music history, Forrest and Wright worked together as partners for 72 years. The two had first scored with "The Donkey Serenade," then signed on at MGM where they wrote scores for Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald among others. After their Hollywood years, they would win Broadway's Tony Award for the Arabian Nights musical Kismet and also score with The Song of Norway. For Music in My Heart, they gave Martin a hit with "It's a Blue World," which won an Oscar® nomination for Best Song (it lost to "When You Wish Upon a Star" from Pinocchio). Martin's recording of the song stayed on the hit parade for 13 weeks, followed by a 14-week run for Glenn Miller's version. In 1952, it became a hit again in a recording by The Four Freshmen.

Hit status would be a little longer in coming for Hayworth. Although Music in My Heart did well at the box office, it would take a pair of loan-outs, to Warner Bros. for The Strawberry Blonde and to Fox for Blood and Sand (both 1941), to convince Columbia that they had a star on their hands.

Producer: Irving Starr
Director: Joseph Santley
Screenplay: James Edward Grant
Based on the story "Passport to Happiness" by Grant
Cinematography: John Stumar
Music: Morris Stoloff
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Principal Cast: Tony Martin (Robert "Bob" Gregory), Rita Hayworth (Patricia "Patsy" O'Malley), Edith Fellows (Mary O'Malley), Alan Mowbray (Charles Spencer Gardner III), Eric Blore (Griggs, Gardner's Valet), George Tobias (Sascha Bolitov), Joseph Crehan (Mark G. Gilman), Andre Kostelanetz (Himself).

by Frank Miller

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