The Fabulous Dorseys


The rise to fame of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, brothers who achieved stardom as big-band leaders during the swing era, is depicted in this biographical drama. Despite early encouragement from their father, the Dorsey brothers must learn to overcome their sibling rivalry in order to achieve real success.


When talking to a colleague of mine a few weeks ago, we go into a discussion about how most jazz artists were African American, especially the ones from the “jazz age”. This got me thinking, who are some of the non-black jazz artists from that time? First names that popped in my head were Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, both of which have had their own biopics. After some more pondering, I came to the name Tommy Dorsey who, along with his brother Jimmy, had big band known as The Fabulous Dorseys.

What is this about?

The rise and rise of the Fabulous Dorsey brothers is charted in this whimsical step down memory lane, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey play themselves in this vehicle for their excellent music. From being raised by their father who insists on them learning music, to the split that just saw their careers rise even further.

What did I like?

Jimmy. For someone who knows a fair amount of music history, especially jazz history, it brings me a great shame to let it be known that I am not that familiar with Jimmy Dorsey. I know a little of Tommy, mostly because he has a small part in one of my all time favorite movies, A Song is Born. With that said, it is good to get to know a little more about Tommy and some basics about Jimmy. From here, I can go and do my own research.

Development. As the film starts, we meet the Dorseys as kids trying to get out of practicing, but their father makes them do it anyway. This sets the stage for the work ethic that would make them the proficient players that would headline their own big bands in the future. The development of their characters was something that needed to be done correctly and the filmmakers seemed to have done a sufficient job doing so.

Sibling rivalry. Brothers fight. It is just going to happen, especially when they are as competitive and different as these two. Since they played themselves, I doubt that many facts were flubbed in certain pivotal scenes, such as the breakup that occurred on stage at a gig. I’ve always wondered what it was that drove a wedge between these two, and now I know.

What didn’t I like?

Love story. The Dorseys apparently had a singer with whom they grew up with. I don’t know how true this is, but she was a big enough influence on them that she not only made it into the film, but was also given a love story. Let me make this clear, Tommy and Jimmy, who both got married during her time on the road, don’t even get a mention of their wives, but this random chick gets to have an entire affair with the pianist.

Rushed ending. Most of the film is well planned out and decently paced. Then we get to the last 5 minutes or so and its as if the studio was about to run out of money and needed to put a nice ending on the film, regardless of where the plot was in regards to the story.

Montage. I don’t know about you, but when I watch a movie about a famous musician, rights be damned, I expect to hear their music! After Tommy and Jimmy have their breakup we are treated to a quick montage of their greatest hits. For the music fan, it is a huge letdown, because it could have been done better and we are short changed some great tunes. Perhaps this was another cost cutting measure? If so, cut some of the fat from the story and leave the music be!

Final verdict on The Fabulous Dorseys? I’m a huge fan of these old black and white films. This copy just happened to still have the screen pops, which really made it very authentic. With that said, there wasn’t anything about this made me super excited. Granted, I’m not a huge Jimmy or Tommy Dorsey fan, so that may be why this didn’t do anything for me, as opposed to The Glenn Miller Story. Do I think it would do anything for a casual movie fan? Given today’s society and their tastes, probably not, but there is an audience out there for this kind of film and they are the ones that will truly enjoy this the was the filmmakers intended.

3 out of 5 stars


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