Revisited: The Benny Goodman Story

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The young Benny Goodman is taught clarinet by a Chicago music professor. He is advised by bandleader Edward Ory to play whichever kind of music he likes best, but to make a living, Benny begins by joining the Ben Pollack traveling band.

In New York, where the band gets a lukewarm reception, Benny meets jazz lover John Hammond and his sister Alice. He is invited to the stately Hammond home to perform a Mozart clarinet concerto. Alice fears he will be embarrassed, but his playing is impeccable and Benny appreciates her concern.

Benny’s performances on a popular Saturday night radio program result in Fletcher Henderson volunteering to do some arrangements for him. On the west coast, the radio show’s early start has made Benny’s music a sensation with a younger generation. He puts together a quartet featuring Gene Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano and Lionel Hampton on vibes.

The romance with society girl Alice is disconcerting to Benny’s mother, but by the time her son plays Carnegie Hall, all is well and Mrs. Goodman has personally invited her future daughter-in-law to sit by her side.


Of all the movies to review, I can imagine you are wondering why The Benny Goodman Story, right? Well, first of all, I’m a big jazz fan, as if you couldn’t tell if you keep up with this blog. Second, today is Benny Goodman’s birthday. Good reasons to give this a shot, so let’s see if this pays proper respect to the legend.

What is this about?

An incredibly low-key Steve Allen makes his big-screen debut in this biopic about the legendary “King of Swing,” a real treat for music fans. Allen faultlessly mimes the prerecorded clarinet licks of the real Benny Goodman.

What did I like?

Swing, swing, swing. Before going to bed last night, I came across an article about how pop was becoming the new jazz. It was quite the interesting read and brought up some valid points. I’ll have to share it with you all at some point. In the meantime, when you look at the time frame in which this film takes place, jazz was the popular music of the time and the film is sure to show us that. Some may even go so far as to say that the music is the best thing about this picture.

Behind every good man. A good woman is hard to find. Donna Reed sure fits the bill for what I would consider a good woman, yessir, she does. Here character, Alice, flies halfway across the country just to support Benny and his band, even before they officially start dating! Who knows what other ways her love was shown throughout their marriage.

Actual musicians. While Steve Allen was a musician in his own right, he played piano, clarinet was not his thing. Benny Goodman his self played most of the song in this film, along with many of his band’s alumni. This is a big change from normal, where we get a half-asses attempt to sound like professional recordings from some guys off the street.

What didn’t I like?

Mama used to say. Being a Jewish kid growing up in New York, you can imagine the kind of stereotypical mom Goodman had in the film. With him being the youngest child, you also know that she is going to be a bit more protective of him that normal. My issue with the mother is that, for all the good she believes she is doing, her overprotectiveness nearly cost her son happiness. Who knows what else her interference in his life could have done?

Story. Liberties tend to be taken in biopics to make the subject seem either more human or legendary, depending on the film. With this, though, I feel the story was just as bland as the real life account of Goodman’s life. Surely they could have done something with this. As it stands the most interesting, part if there was one, involved the meeting with Lionel Hampton, who was working some 5+ jobs before he was convinced to join the band.

Get a clue. I will never profess to being the world’s greatest authority on reading people. As a matter of fact, I suck at doing this. That being said, with Donna Reed practically throwing herself at him, travelling across the country for the guy and whatnot, he still shoots her down  for most of picture. WTF?!? I doubt the real Benny Goodman was like that, but still, he surely couldn’t hae been totally oblivious to the feeling of those around him, or could he?

Final verdict for The Benny Goodman story? As far biopics go, you can do worse, but you can also be assured that this is not even close to being the best in the genre. Would Benny be proud? I can’t say that he would. The music is done justice, but his life is made out to be nothing special and make one wonder why they even made a film about him. All that aside, I did enjoy myself and think many can get pleasure out of this flick. Do I recommend? Yes, a look into one of the great pioneers of jazz can never be a bad thing.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars


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