My Two Cents (Daily) - Criterion's May slate, 4 new BD reviews & back on March 4th Criterion reveals Limelight,... http://t.co/YzxsoWg0aX
Release Date(s)1955 (May 14, 2013)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Warner Archive)
There seems to be some sort of rule that has been enforced since the introduction of talking pictures. Every popular musician must take at least one stab at movie stardom. In a way, it makes sense. Captivating an audience live on stage is hard, so performing on film should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately (or fortunately for lovers of bad cinema), it almost never works out that way. For every A Hard Day’s Night, there’s at least two From Justin To Kellys.
Liberace made his single ill-fated attempt at screen immortality with 1955’s Sincerely Yours. The flamboyant pianist stars as Anthony Warrin, a very thinly disguised version of himself. Nervous about an upcoming Carnegie Hall gig, Lee pays a visit to his old mentor where he meets wealthy society girl Dorothy Malone. They instantly fall in love and plan to get married. But things go sour when he is suddenly and inexplicably struck deaf just before his big Carnegie Hall debut.
Unable to hear the music he loves so much, Liberace retreats to his penthouse where he cuts off all contact with humanity and becomes an expert lip reader. He acquires a high-powered set of binoculars and spends his days spying on people in the park across the street, learning about their lives and problems by reading their lips. He takes pity on a poor crippled boy who is constantly shut out of the other kids’ football games and anonymously pays for an operation to restore the use of his legs. A recently married woman is ashamed to introduce her poor, unsophisticated mother to her rich in-laws and meets her clandestinely in the park to give her a little money. So Liberace swoops to the rescue, bankrolling a fabulous makeover and arranging for her to accompany him to a charity auction the in-laws will also be attending. And when he spies Malone, whose company he spurned while he was wallowing in self-pity, meeting a soldier she’s fallen for, he gallantly releases her so she can be with her new man. Ultimately, he decides to gamble on a risky operation to permanently restore his hearing. No prizes for guessing if that operation is a success or not.
That’s a whole lotta story for any movie and I haven’t even mentioned Liberace’s faithful secretary, played by Joanne Dru. She’s madly in love with her boss but he doesn’t see her that way (well, duh, right?) until the very end because it was 1955 and he had to end up in the arms of some woman. As you might suspect, the movie juggles these disparate elements clumsily at best. The whole deafness angle, which is basically the driving plot of the movie, doesn’t even come up until about 45 minutes in. Until then, we get a whole lot of Liberace at the piano, playing classics, pop tunes, even “Chopsticks” at the behest of an adorable moppet in the audience of one of his concerts. It’s almost as if the filmmakers had no idea how to structure a movie around Liberace, so they tried a little bit of everything and when it wasn’t working, they just abandoned it and moved on to something else.
As an actor, Liberace makes an excellent pianist. Director Gordon Douglas was able to wring more heartfelt performances out of the giant ants in Them! than he can muster from his star here. The solution to Liberace’s limited range was to just get him sitting behind a piano as much as possible. Liberace was famous for taking requests from the audience and the movie takes that to a hilarious extreme. He’s repeatedly forced to play on demand at the drop of a hat. Even a museum security guard blackmails him into playing on some priceless pianos after he “saves” him from presumably being mobbed in a crowded elevator. Ever accommodating, Liberace gives an impromptu concert on Mozart’s harpsichord. What a guy!
The print used on Warner Archive’s DVD is in moderately good shape. The biggest issue is the color timing, which varies wildly, sometimes within the same shot. Still, it’s good enough for a Manufactured On Demand release. The mono sound is fine with no major hiccups. As usual with Warner Archive discs, there are no extras.
Sincerely Yours is a bona fide camp classic and one of the most bizarre attempts to transform a musician into a movie star you’ll ever see. Even if you can ignore the fact that this is an attempt to make one of the most famously closeted gay men in history into a heterosexual screen icon (which isn’t easy to overlook), the story itself is so lurching and weird that it has to be seen to be believed. If you’ve always wanted to see a concert pianist go deaf and turn into a benevolent voyeur solving all the world’s problems, this is the movie for you.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke