Overblown, but handsome musical by Martin Scorcese about two post-war lovebirds trying to make it in the music business, one as a musician, the other a singer, while struggling to maintain their own tumultuous relationship. The films first half-hour is the best, with the slow romantic build up between Robert DeNiro’s criminally arrogant saxophonist, Jimmy, and Liza Minelli’s guarded USO crooner, Francine. Once their career’s begin to soar and the film begins to find its groove, the suspense is kind of deflated; we know these two have problems, and they hooked up despite them, so watching them bend and squirm at each other’s mercies (particularly DeNiro, whose nearly sociopathic character is the most magnetic in the film) becomes pretty tasking by the end of the 160 minute running time. The music, mostly big band and jazz, is great, as are the period elements of the piece; the sets, costumes, and hairstyles are all very evocative of a dreamy, blissful vision of post-war America. Scorcese’s framing is inventive and lively, and is only restricted by the repetitive quality of the film’s script; the greatest success of the film is that, due to Scorcese and DeNiro, the inherently destructive and anti-social Jimmy ends up coming off as likable. Minelli is, surprisingly, stronger off-stage than on; she has an endearing, haunting openness in her acting that does not come through in her comfortable, exuberant stage performances.
Recommended for fans of Scorcese or DeNiro (all 4 of you out there) and really glitzy, old-school musicals with an edge; I’m really thinking of Pennies from Heaven, which this film roughly equals in quality. This is not the bane on Scorcese’s filmography that I was let to believe, but rather an interesting experiment (far superior and more inventive than his worst work) that gives DeNiro yet another opportunity to display his mastery of acting for the screen.