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The Benny Goodman Story

(1956 c 116')

En: 6 Ed: 6

A youngster in Chicago learns to play clarinet and becomes the leader of a top jazz band while a wealthy young woman falls in love with him.

         In Chicago in 1919 Papa Dave Goodman (Robert F. Simon) brings home a few groceries but no milk. He is bothered by youths, and he tells his three sons what he expects of them. Young Benny (David Kasday) asks to go with his older brothers. Professor Schoep (Fed Essler) tells Dave Goodman they can use instruments for free, but the lessons are fifty cents an hour. Benny gets a clarinet.

         At age sixteen Benny (Barry Truex) is playing well, and he asks to replace a friend playing with a band on a ship. He tells the leader he has joined the union. He is introduced to Thelma, who laughs at his short pants. He admires a band playing in New Orleans style, and he asks to sit in.

         Mama Goodman (Berta Gersten) tells Dave that Benny gave her some money he got for his playing. Dave hears him playing alone on the roof and asks him what is the matter. Benny says he got a job with a band going to California. He will be playing dance music, but his father says finishing high school is important. Benny says he needs a tuxedo to go, and Papa says he will get one for him.

         Benny joins the band of Ben Pollack (himself) in his tuxedo, and they take a train across the country. Benny Goodman (Steve Allen) puts on a black tie for his family. His brother Harry (Shen Menken) tells him that Papa was killed in an accident. He tries to console Mama, and he plays clarinet on the roof.

         Alice Hammond (Donna Reed) asks her brother John Hammond Jr. (Herbert Anderson) about the gangsters going into a club. They meet Benny Goodman, who says the gangsters don’t bother them. He asks her if her brother books bands. She is from New York, and he asks if she likes hot music. She says no; she came to keep John out of trouble. John gets them a chance to play in New York. Benny tells the band that he will talk to the boss Jake Primo (George Givot) so that they can go. Jake tells him he would be making a big mistake. Jake recognizes him, and Benny says Jake threw rocks at him. Jake tells Sammy to take care of them. They are given wine and told they can go.

         Benny goes into the Trombone Club and sees Teddy Wilson (himself) playing piano. Benny asks Alice if she likes hot music. Benny tells Gene Krupa (himself) he turned down an offer because he has ideas to play music for dancing. John says he is a great clarinetist, and he tells Alice he will prove it.

         At his room Benny gets a note to call Chicago. Harry tells him Mama does not know what to do with herself. Benny tells him to bring her to New York. Harry says he is playing the bull fiddle. John brings Willard Alexander (Hy Averback), who learns that Benny has been playing a Mozart concerto. Willard gets him a chance to play classical music. Benny takes his Mama and Harry to a mansion, and they meet John Hammond’s father and mother. Alice reprimands her brother for hiring Benny because she is afraid he will be humiliated. Alice learns his mother is there, and she introduces herself to her. Benny starts playing the concerto with the orchestra, and Alice watches him. She listens and begins to smile. Alice tells him she owes him an apology. He thanks her for sitting with his mama. He says he would like to show her his music. She says he is eloquent with music. She says she was moved, and he says that was Mozart.

         Alice is dancing with Roger Gillespie and notices Benny Goodman playing with the band. She asks him why he is playing music he does not like, asking about his convictions, and he walks away. Benny is late when the band is ready to play. He is reprimanded and walks out. Alice feels she is to blame.

         Benny play jazz, and he says Willard can get them a chance to play as a band for NBC. He says he has some special arrangements with room to improvise. Benny Goodman and his orchestra plays on the radio. Fletcher Henderson (Sammy Davis Sr.) listens in a taxi cab. He introduces himself to Benny and says he would like to do arrangements for them. Benny says it is a real break. They play on the radio, and people dance in different time zones. Willard tells Benny their option is not being picked up, but he is getting inquiries. Benny says they need work and can start a tour in a couple months.

         At a dinner Alice is glad to see Benny, and he says they are leaving soon for four or five months. She says she will miss him, and she was hoping he would call her. He says she does not go around with jazz musicians. She asks why they are attracted to each other. He says they are different, and she admits it is confusing. He asks her to listen and plays a tender song. Harry asks Mama if Alice is nice. Mama is afraid that Alice is falling in love with Benny. Alice tells Benny it was beautiful, like spontaneous Mozart, and he says it was him.

         Benny’s band plays in Columbus, Ohio. The owner complains that only a trio is playing as Benny plays with Krupa and Wilson. The next owner says he likes their waltzes. Benny plays with three other clarinetists, and a few people dance. Clark in Denver asks if they play tangos or have trick hats. Benny says he is looking for a three-ring circus.

         Mr. Stewart expects them to play for one night, and he won’t let them play their own numbers either. On their last night Benny tells the band they are going to play their own music, and more people dance. He sees that Alice is there. People stand around and listen, and Alice asks why they are not dancing. They applaud and cheer. A waiter tells Mr. Stewart that he hit the jackpot. Afterward Benny signs autographs. Alice waits for him and says he must be exhausted. She asks what happened. He says they had heard their music, and they were waiting for them. He asks why she is in Los Angeles and says she brought them luck. She says he worked hard, and it is not luck. She says she has his records and is his fan. He says she changed, and she says she is in love with him. He assumed she knew that he loves her too, but she is surprised. He mentions his responsibility to the band, and she says she does not expect her to marry him. She says she will never get over him, and he kisses her.

         The band is successful. They played a benefit at Avalon on Catalina Island and order drinks in San Pedro. They eat chili and listen to Lionel Hampton (himself) play vibraphones. Alice hands Benny his clarinet, and he joins in. Wilson plays piano and Krupa drums. John tells Alice that he knows she is in love. She says Benny Goodman now has a quartet.

         Benny returns to Chicago with Lionel. Kid Ory (himself) tells Benny his band is the best. Benny greets Alice, and they dance. There were separated for two months. She is hoping he would come to New York. He says he has unpleasant memories there. She says she may stop chasing him around.

         The Goodman band opens at the Paramount Theater. Alice learns that Benny arrived last week, and she asks what is wrong. He says he failed there three times, and he is afraid of playing to empty seats. He says they go on at ten in the morning, and she agrees to be there. He says he feels relaxed when she is there. She says she has never been alone with him and wonders what it would be like. He puts his hand on her arm and asks her to have breakfast with him. She asks him to say it now. He says he has to go to a rehearsal and leaves.

         As the orchestra comes up, the Paramount is crowded with cheering people. They play their hot music. Stan Getz (himself) plays saxophone. People start dancing in the aisles, and Alice joins in.

         Alice comes home with a ripped dress, and her father asks why she went to a movie theater in the morning. She says it was thrilling. He says Benny could be a fine musician, but it is a waste. Alice calls to send him a telegram, and her father hears the word “love.” Mama reads the telegram and notices “love” too. She tells Benny it is wrong. He says he has to go on, and he does not want to talk about it.

         At the airport Benny tells Alice he is going to Los Angeles for two or three months. He asks what kind of life it would be for her. He thanks her for coming and boards the plane. Harry tells Alice he does not understand Benny. She says Benny does not need anything but his music. Harry says it is Mama.

         Alice tells Mama that she loves Benny and that he loves her. She says Benny wants to marry her but has not asked her. She asks Mama why. Mama says you cannot mix caviar with bagels. She hopes Benny will find the right girl. Alice says she can make him happy. Mama asks if her family feels as Mama does, but Alice says they do not. Alice says she will never ask Benny to marry her; he will have to ask her.

         Willard asks Benny to give a concert at Carnegie Hall. He says Alice will be impressed, and they get the top musicians. Benny rehearses his band in Carnegie Hall. Benny asks for tickets for his mother, and Willard says they are sold out. Benny is worried because they only had one rehearsal. Willard says his reputation his at stake. Benny calls a new tune “Don’t Be That Way.” Benny asks John where Alice is, but he has not seen her lately.

         Benny calls John Hammond Sr. and asks to speak to Alice. Hammond says she left for Vermont, and Benny learns that she knew about the concert. On the roof Mama asks Benny what is worrying him. She says she understands it is Alice. She says she wants him to be happy. Benny says he has been too busy. Mama says Alice is a fine girl. She tells him that he will have to ask her because she will never ask him. Mama calls Alice in Vermont.

         Harry James (himself) plays a trumpet solo with Goodman’s band in Carnegie Hall. The band plays “Twenty Years of Jazz.” Mama has an empty seat next to her, and she looks around. Alice is on an airplane. Martha Tilton (herself) sings “Angels Sing,” and Ziggy Elman plays trumpet. The concert goes on, and Alice takes a taxi. Harry James and Benny play “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Alice comes in and sits next to Mama, and Benny sees her. Mr. and Mrs. Hammond are tapping their toes. The audience applauds, and Benny sees Alice embrace his Mama. She tells Alice not to worry because he will ask her. Benny plays a tender song, and Alice says he is asking her now.

         This biopic musical depicts how Benny Goodman pioneered swing music and made it respectable by playing at Carnegie Hall on January 16, 1938. He was one of the first band leaders to hire Negroes and integrate his band. He married Alice in 1942. People who like music will enjoy this movie.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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