Published on March 15th, 2021 | by Natalie Salvo
A Song to Remember DVD Review
Summary: This is a handsome bio-pic about Chopin’s life. A shame it doesn’t convey as many emotions as his incredible music…
Elton John once said, “Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player.” This quote could also be applied to the film, “A Song to Remember.” This 1945 bio-pic was shot in Technicolor and is about the composer, Frédéric Chopin’s life. It’s a handsome one to watch but is not overly accurate in a historical sense.
Charles Vidor directs this film and he was nominated multiple Oscar nominations at the time. Cornel Wilde plays Chopin and was also nominated for his role. He is a dashing actor to watch and his fingering at the piano appears very convincing. But he is not always convincing as the sickly and frail Chopin who was declining due to tuberculosis in his late thirties.
The script by Sidney Buchman offers a fictionalised account of the composer’s life. We are introduced to Chopin as a child prodigy performing Mozart songs. He was learning the piano from an eccentric instructor named Professor Joseph Elner (Paul Muni). As a young man, Chopin ruffles feathers by refusing to perform for a Russian governor. Chopin came from a working-class family and he believed that Poland shouldn’t come under the Russian monarchy’s rule.
Chopin and Professor Elner flee to Paris. It is here that Chopin forms a friendship with fellow artist, Franz Listz (Stephen Bekassy). Chopin also meets an accomplished but controversial novelist named George Sand (Merle Oberon). In this film their relationship seems rather superficial but in reality, they spent a decade together. Sand has children (though they do not appear here) and she invites Chopin to live with her in Majorca.
This film looks at the rivalry between the composer and his former teacher. The characters are a tad one-sided. Sand is pitched as the real villain of this piece and the Professor is a quirky cat. There are moments where this feels like a Hollywood-styled version of the events rather than an honest account of proceedings. If audiences can overlook this, they will at least witness a handsome film with some sumptuous period costumes evocative of the Romantic period.
The biggest drawcard for this film is its incredible soundtrack. José Iturbi performs the film’s score. Audiences will enjoy the full spectrum of emotions conveyed in these incredible sounds. The music is more nuanced and textured than the narrative and characterisation here. The film could have done with a good edit and Chopin’s legacy was ultimately deserving of a better film.
“A Song to Remember” has memorable music but the story is a tad throwaway. The historical inaccuracies and caricatured characters make for a shallow viewing experience rather than an emotional one. “A Song to Remember” could have been a sensitive look at an accomplished composer’s life and legacy but at times this film is simply too one note.