Review: Song of Love

Classical pianist Clara Wieck (Katharine Hepburn) weds struggling composer Robert Schumann (Paul Henreid), despite her father (Leo G. Carroll) not approving of her choice. They greatly love one another and start a family together, however Robert starts to have a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, into their lives comes young composer Johannes Brahms (Robert Walker), who will come to be a great friend of the duo. Henry Daniell plays renowned composer/pianist Franz Liszt, also a family friend and supporter of the couple.

Biopics about classical musicians aren’t my thing, and anything starring Katharine Hepburn has a tough road ahead of it for me. This 1947 flick from director Clarence Brown (“The Yearling”, “Plymouth Adventure”) overcomes all obstacles to be a truly underrated minor classic in my view. The performances in particular sell this one. Hepburn gives one of her least affected performances, even though she’s far too old for the role (or at least seems to be). However, this is Paul Henreid’s film in my view, so much so **** SPOILER ALERT **** that the film’s one flaw for me is its final quarter, which doesn’t feature Henreid, the film’s best asset. **** END SPOILER **** Henreid was always a fine actor, but for me he was never better than he is here as the loving and well-meaning, but troubled and tormented Robert Schumann. There have been many troubled musicians throughout time, but your heart truly does break for Robert. This poor man- a good and decent man- already somewhat in the shadow of his talented wife, is now slowly losing his mind. His descent into madness causes great strain for him both professionally and personally. Henreid is excellent at showing all facets of the man without losing audience sympathy for even a moment.

The supporting cast here is excellent, but the standout for me is veteran disdainful-looking screen villain Henry Daniell, cast effectively against type as renowned pianist/composer Franz Liszt (They don’t look entirely different, either from images I’ve seen of Liszt). You don’t normally associate Daniell with being a sympathetic friend but he does it amazingly well here as a man whose enormous influence in the music world at the time is of great help to Clara and Robert Schumann. Also playing a role wildly different to at least his most famous role in “Strangers on a Train”, Robert Walker plays a pretty sympathetic character here. As Johannes Brahms, Walker does something pretty amazing, really. His character has romantic affections for another man’s wife, yet due to Walker’s remarkably sensitive, genteel and likeable portrayal, you never dislike him. Also worth a mention, the adorable Gigi Perreau and (particularly) Janine Perreau are a couple of little scene stealers as two of the Schumann’s children. Veteran character actor Leo G. Carroll is perfect casting as Clara’s disapproving, headmaster-ly father, and Elsa Janssen is hilarious as Bertha the family cook.

A criminally underrated romance movie from the 40s that also happens to be a good musical biopic. Three terrific leads, and top supporting cast, and interesting characters make this one well worth a look. Based on an unproduced play by Bernard Schubert (“Mark of the Vampire”, “The Mummy’s Curse”) and Mario Silva, the screenplay is by Ivan Tors (“Watch the Birdie”), Irma von Cube (the touching and sensitive “Johnny Belinda”), Allen Vincent (ditto), and Robert Ardrey (“The Three Musketeers”, “Quentin Durward”, “Khartoum”).

Rating: B+


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