‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ (Film)

‘ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND’

Please feel free to comment on my review.

Come and Hear Alexander’s Ragtime Band

As a kid, I thought Alexander was a real person like Glenn Miller. 😀

Irving Berlin is regarded as one of the best well-known songwriters and composers of the 20th century. He’s written many hit songs such as ‘Easter Parade’ and ‘White Christmas’. He’s also contributed a number of songs and scores for various musical films produced from the 1920s to 1950s.

I’ve reviewed a number of Irving Berlin-related films over the years on ‘Bradley’s Basement’. These include films like ‘Holiday Inn’, ‘Blue Skies’, ‘Carefree’ and ‘Follow the Fleet’. Most of these films feature stars like Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. I’ve enjoyed the films featuring Irving Berlin’s music.

And his music is clearly well-showcased in the 1938 film called ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’. I first saw ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ as a kid when my parents recorded the film on videotape when it was shown on TV one time. My Dad later purchased the DVD of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ around 2004.

The film features the song ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ which was released in 1911. The film came about later in 1938 with the story by Irving Berlin and Richard Sherman and the screenplay was by Kathyrn Scole and Lamar Trotti. Darryl F. Zanuck was the producer and Henry King directed the film.

The story takes place in the early 1900s where Tyrone Power as San Francisco aristocrat Roger Grant gets to lead a band with a whole new sound to it called ‘swing’. He also changes his name to ‘Alexander’ as the song they play on their first night at a seedy tavern is ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.

This isn’t something Alice Faye as Stella Kirby wanted as she wanted to get a job for herself before being joined up with a band as its lead singer. But over time, Roger/Alexander and Stella form an on-and-off love affair with each other that meets with trials and tribulations relying on musical success.

I like how the film progresses, starting off in the early 1900s and going through the years right up to where it ends in 1938. It’s also nice to see how the characters progress in the film as they change for the better compared to where they had started off in meeting each other at the band’s formation. 🙂

I also like the nostalgic atmosphere featured in ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ as a film. The ‘swing’ atmosphere does feel ‘feel-good’ and it seemed like a happy time before trouble ensued with war-time occurring. In fact, some of the film takes place during the First World War itself in the 1910s. 😐

My experience of the film has changed quite significantly compared to how I saw it as a kid in the 1990s to how I see it as a grown-up in the 2010s and 2020s. It does feel like a timeless classic. It’s even considered a ‘studio classic’ by 20th Century Fox itself, as it was called at the time of its release.

The film was even an Academy Award winner in 1938 as it was nominated for six Academy Awards and won the award for Best Music (Scoring). It was also the highest-grossing film of the 1930s. I can only imagine how popular the film must’ve been when it was released at cinemas/theatres then.

As well as the song ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’, the film also features songs like ‘Heat Wave’, ‘Some Sunny Day’ and ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody’. There are also the songs ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Easter Parade’ which are very well-known and which I’ve heard in films like ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Easter Parade’.

During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, my parents and I watched the film ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ to keep our spirits up during difficult times. It’s certainly a film that does allow you to cheer you up and it helps reflect on the good times that were had in years gone by, especially the 1930s. 🙂

Tyrone Power plays Roger Grant/Alexander in the film. It’s interesting how he starts off as a violin player in classical music before wanting to do ragtime/swing when leading Alexander’s Ragtime Band. It’s also intriguing he’s an aristocratic and that sometimes can lead to quite snobby behaviour.

Now I’m not saying Roger/Alexander’s an outright snob and is dismissive of people, but sometimes his background can clash with Stella Kirby, especially in how he moulds her to be their lead singer. Thankfully there is this spark between them and they do love each other despite occasional clashes.

Alice Faye plays Stella Kirby. It’s interesting how Stella’s character develops. She starts off as a rather rough girl and not being of a fine class like Roger/Alexander is. But as the film progresses, Stella becomes softer and elegant. She also sees something in Roger/Alexander by falling in love with him. 🙂

Like I said, the relationship between Stella and Roger/Alexander is on and off. There’s a period where Stella leaves the band to work in New York. She also doesn’t see Roger/Alexander for a while during the First Word War. Stella marries Charlie Dwyer, but still holds this torch for Roger/Alexander.

Don Ameche stars as Charlie Dwyer, the band’s pianist in the film. In a way, Charlie is the one persuades Stella to stay with the band when she doesn’t want to at the beginning. He also has a thing for her and even writes a song for her before she eventually falls in love with Roger/Alexander.

Charlie sort-of leaves the band at the same time as Stella does when she falls out with Roger/Alexander about going to New York. Charlie and Stella marry for a bit, but he quietly agrees to ‘happily’ divorce her as she’s in love with Roger/Alexander. Wow, I wish all divorces were like that. 😀

The film also features Ethel Merman as Jerry Allen, who becomes the next lead singer after Stella leaves and eventually marries Charlie during the First World War, I believe. Ethel Merman was a well-known singer of her time. She even appeared in an episode of ‘The Muppet Show’, didn’t you know?

Jerry Allen’s character is interesting. She’s not a match on Stella with her singing, but she can sing remarkably well. It’s also intriguing that Roger doesn’t end up falling in love with Jerry in the film. He does propose to her at one point, but Stella knows Roger can never love her in the way she wants him to. 😐

There’s also Jack Haley as Davey Lane, who’s the band’s drummer, I believe. Jack Haley is well-known for playing the Tin Man in the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with Judy Garland. It’s amusing to see Jack Haley in the film without the Tin Man make-up, yet still sounding like him when seeing the film.

Jean Hersholt stars as Professor Heinrich and Helen Westley stars as Aunt Sophie in the film. At first, Professor Heinrich and Aunt Sophie are disapproving of Roger becoming Alexander in the film. They wished him to be in ‘serious’ music rather than ragtime. But they seem pleased with him by the end.

John Carradine stars as the Taxi Driver in the film. I’ve no idea who this Taxi Driver character is; where he came from and how he recognised Stella Kirby for being with Alexander’s Ragtime Band from the start. But he manages to encourage her to return to the band when driving her to Carnegie Hall.

I like how the film concludes with Stella returning to see the band backstage at the Carnegie Hall. Roger/Alexander sees her and encourages her to sing ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ when they’re about to finish their performance for the evening. Stella meant a lot to the band all those years ago.

Incidentally, it was amusing when Roger/Alexander, Stella and Charlie tried to impress a Mr. Dillingham (I believe) to hear their band whilst also providing him some ‘baby lobsters’ which he likes. Incidentally, my parents and I previously had an Iceland’s KFC before we watched the movie. 😀

The DVD special features are as follows. There’s an audio commentary by film score restorationist Ray Fiola, 3 deleted scenes, ‘Alice Faye: The Star Next Door’ as seen on BIOGRAPHY on the A&E Network; Fox Movietone News footage, two ‘studio classics’ including ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ and ‘How to Steal a Million’, a still gallery and a theatrical trailer for the film.

‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ is a classic 1930s film with some lovely Irving Berlin music and songs. It also has a good story featuring Tyrone Power as Roger/Alexander, Alice Faye as Stella and Don Ameche as Charlie. Even after watching it all these years later, I still find it to be a very inspiring film.

It’s certainly a film that can cheer you up during a difficult time. I’m glad the story reflects how America and music changes from the early 1900s to the 1930s. It’s a film I would gladly like to watch again and again. I’m very happy to have seen it again in order to review it on ‘Bradley’s Basement’. 🙂

‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ rating – 9/10


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