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theatrical poster
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Jerry Wald
Written by Novel:
Fannie Hurst
Clifford Odets
Zachary Gold
Starring Joan Crawford
John Garfield
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Editing by Rudi Fehr
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) 25 December 1946
Running time 125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Humoresque is a 1946 Warner Bros. feature film starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield in an older woman/younger man tale about a violinist and his patroness. The screenplay by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold was based upon a novel by Fannie Hurst. Humoresque was directed by Jean Negulesco and produced by Jerry Wald.



In New York City a performance by noted violinist Paul Boray (Garfield) is cancelled. At his apartment, Boray is at rock bottom emotionally. His manager Frederic Bauer (Richard Gaines) is angry with him for misunderstanding what a performing career would be like, and for thinking that music is no longer part of his life as he has lived with it for too long. To the more sympathetic Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant) he says he has always wanted to do the right thing, but has always been outside of himself looking in. He cannot get back to the kid he once was.

In the past, young Paul (Bobby Blake) is choosing a birthday present in a suburban New York Variety store run by Jeffers (Harlan Briggs). He rejects as childish the suggestions of his father 'Papa' Rudy (J. Carroll Naish), a grocery store owner, but settles on a violin, which his father rejects as unsuitable; his price limit is $1.50. Esther, his mother (Ruth Nelson), sympathetic at this stage, buys the $8 violin for him.

A transition from his faltering first steps to being a gifted young violinist follows. On 15 October 1930, he overhears his father Rudy's dismissal of his chances, and the frustration of his brother Phil (Tom D'Andrea) in finding a job. He resolved to go out on his own and not be dependent on his family. He finds a job with locally broadcast orchestra in which Sid Jeffers is the pianist.

At a party, Paul meets the hostess Helen Wright (Crawford), a patroness in a loveless marriage with an ineffectual aging husband Victor (Paul Cavanaugh), her third. Helen is a self-centered, adulterous woman who uses men as sexual playthings and is initially baffled by the strong-willed and independent Boray. After being rude to him at the party, she sends a golden cigarette case to his home the next day. 'Papa' Boray is impressed, but his mother is now suspicious. At first interested in his talent rather than Boray as a person, though Boray is quick to press her on the second issue. He gains a manager Bauer from her connections, and is now in love with her. On the beach, near the Wright's Long Island home, he reaches out to Helen after a swim, but she runs away; later in the evening she falls off a horse and he kisses her, but Helen does not want to be touched and wishes to be left alone by Paul.

After a shot of ocean waves, everything is different. Helen warns him he might be sorry love was ever invented, but admits she cannot fight him any longer, and is in love with him. Waiting at home, Esther, his mother, is not fooled by his denials, and points out a missed date with Gina Romney (Joan Chandler), also a musician and his long-term sweetheart. Esther had earlier overheard Victor's putdown of Paul as a "savage" after a concert.

After a tour across America that takes several months, he has lunch with Gina. Sid arrives with Helen, who is immediately jealous of Gina, but Helen leaves in a hurry and Paul follows her; Gina cries. After a scene in Teddy's Bar, in which Helen smashes her drink ("What Is This Thing Called Love?" is performed by Peg La Centra in the background), she is angry with Paul at being neglected; Paul had never called her, even when close to New York. Paul points out her married status, but Helen urges him to let her become more involved in his career; she is jealous of Gina's musician status.

During the daytime, at his new apartment containing numerous photographs of Helen, he confesses his love for her to his mother. Later, at night in the Wright's home, disquieted by rumours he has heard, Victor asks his wife for a divorce. He is suspicuious of her real intentions, but Helen admits this is first time she has known real love.

At a rehearsal, Paul is passed a note from Helen claiming good news. She asks to see him immediately, but he crumples the note and continues with the rehearsal of the Carmen Fantasie (adapted for the film by Franz Waxman from Bizet's Carmen). At Teddy's Bar, Helen becomes increasingly drunk, and is unable to tolerate the house pianist/singer performing "Embraceable You". Paul arrives to take her home, but in reality to an impromptu conference. This time, it is Helen who is cool; she repeatedly does not really hear his stated wish to marry her.

Helen visits his parents grocery store, but Esther wishes they would part. Helen listens to Boray play his transcription of Wagner's Liebestod on the radio; Paul had been concerned of her absence. Helen, recalling her husband's words, realizes her dissolute past can only taint his future, and then walks to her death in the nearby ocean; in her jaded mind, the only logical resolution to their problems. Later a group of people wait on the shore. Paul, distraught, is comforted by the loyal Jeffers.

Returning to the opening scene, Paul asks Jeffers to tell Bauer not to worry. He is not running away.


The movie is a remake of the 1920 silent film Humoresque (directed by Frank Borzage) and was Crawford's first film after her Oscar-winning role in Mildred Pierce, and her third for Warner Bros, after being dropped by MGM. Costumes for Humoresque were designed by Adrian and Bernard Newman.


Franz Waxman orchestrated and conducted the score which features selections by Antonín Dvorák and Richard Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee, Bizet's Carmen, and Edouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole. Isaac Stern served as musical advisor, and the film includes close-ups of his hands playing the violin.

Critical reception

Lawrence J. Quirk in Screen Stars (Retrospective Review) commented, "Humoresque is undoubtedly Crawford's finest performance...Her timing was flawless, her appearance lovely, her emotions depthful."[1]

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times of 26 December 1946 observed, "...there is certainly nothing humorous about the lachrymose "Humoresque,"...It is rather a mawkish lamentation upon the hopelessness of love between an art-dedicated violinist and a high-toned lady who lives for self alone...the Warner Brothers have wrapped this piteous affair in a blanket of soul-tearing music which is supposed to make it spiritually purgative...The music, we must say, is splendid—and, if you will only shut your eyes so that you don't have to watch Mr. Garfield leaning his soulful face against that violin or Miss Crawford violently emoting,... you may enjoy it very much."[2]

Awards and honors

Franz Waxman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Box Office

The films budget was estimated to be around $2,164,000. The film fared well at the box office and grossed $3,399,000 and the film was hailed a success. With inflation in 2007 the gross is $35,737,750.[3]

In popular culture

Humoresque was parodied on the television show SCTV in 1981. The Joan Crawford role was played by Catherine O'Hara as Crawford, while the John Garfield role was played by violin virtuoso Eugene Fodor.[4]

In 1998, pop star Madonna released a video for her single The Power of Good-Bye which was based on several scenes from the movie.

See also


  1. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J.. The Films of Joan Crawford. The Citadel Press, 1968.
  2. ^ New York Times Review. Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  3. ^
  4. ^ SCTV Episode Guide

External links



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