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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

'I'll See You in My Dreams' DVD: Danny Thomas as a Man Who Wrote the Songs That Made the Whole World Sing

I'll See You in My Dreams
Warner Archive's recent release of the 1952 Doris Day musical "I'll See You in My Dreams" provides a good chance to see Day in an early
role before becoming one of Alfred Hitchcock blondes and then moves onto the awesome '60s comedies that provided the fodder for countless Sunday afternoon marathons on independent UHF stations in the '70s.

Day plays Grace LeBoy Kahn, who meets future husband lyricist Gus Kahn literally during horse-and-buggy days. In a plot consistent with Day's films from the '60s, Danny Thomas does a wonderful job playing Gus as a working-class slob/aspiring song writer who is badgering Grace in her capacity as an employee of a sheet-music company.

Gus' persistence pays off in the dual forms of convincing Grace that he has talent and is a man who is worthy of her affections despite his numerous personalty flaws and fondness for cheap cigars; this leads to a personal and professional relationship that produces one successful song and a strong marriage.

In other words that are highly apt regarding Thomas, Grace finds one boy to love, only one boy to love. Gus is that boy.

The good folks at Archive share on the back cover of the "Dreams" release that that film includes 23 of the more than the 800 songs that Kahn wrote; this cliff notes version of that man's biography states that the better known compositions in this catalog include "It Had to Be You," "Makin' Whoopee," and the especially uber-awesome "Love Me or Leave Me."

Gen Xers and Baby Boomers on the Gen X cusp will recognize many of these songs from '60s sitcoms. The reason for including these tunes in those shows is that the fact that any song written in 1922 or before is in the public domain, which means that it can be performed with having to pay a royalty.

Gus' relationship with his wife, his roller coaster career, and his collaborations with well-known composers that include Walter Donaldson and George Gershwin provide good material for a film. Subtler aspects of his story are what make "Dreams" great.

Gus refusing to compromise his integrity or his pride regarding either his work or the periods in which no one is knocking on his door and he is essentially down to his last dime make him a fascinating character; it is also refreshing to see Grace both stand by her man for better or worse and to swallow her pride and/or risk the wrath of her husband to get Gus badly needed work.

Further, seeing the Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (or Rob and Laura Petrie) vibe that Day and Thomas emit when collaborating or performing is awesome; they are real troupers during a grueling tour of Army bases during WWI  (then known as the Great War) and perform an incredibly cute and very mildly racy rendition of "Whoopee." 

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of Day and Thomas performing "Whopee" does not show the "must-see" scene described above but includes great stills from the film that they made (kudos to folks who get that obscure reference) and how the song is a perfect showcase for their individual talents.

It is also nice to see that many themes in "Dreams" remain true today; many of the aforementioned Gen Xers who are currently unemployed or underemployed can relate to the extra blow that Gus experiences at the beginning of the Depression.

Folks whose computer skills are less than top-notch and do fully understand the concept of SEO realize how the crash of '29 coinciding with the increasing popularity of radio substantially reducing the market for sheet music and "discs" hit Kahn hard. The fact that popular tastes were shifting away from the style of music that Kahn wrote only pounded the nails a little deeper into the coffin in which his career was resting.

On a more general note, the fact that Kahn survived and had periods of thriving after 1929 awesomely shows that his supporters followed the tenets of a wise modern little-known philosopher; this sage recognizes that many difficult people that most of the world at best ignores and at worst brutalizes are merely creatively and/or productively frustrated. Kahn shows the value of giving these misfits a chance to shine.

The special features on this release truly warrant that designation. A 1951 documentary titled "The Screen Director" is a witty look at the important role of the titular professional in making a film. Richard L. Bare, who is arguably best known for directing episodes of the '60s sitcoms "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres" wonderfully directs this short in the style of educational films that provided school children in the '60s and '70s nice breaks from classroom instruction.

The second feature is the 1951 Foghorn Leghorn cartoon "Lovelorn Leghorn." This hilarious animated film has the titular rooster and the barnyard dog who is his nemesis using spinster hen Prissy as the unwitting dupe in their battle to torment each other. Prissy may lay eggs, but this offering does not come close to doing so. This one further has a "Petticoat" tie-in in that Bea Benaderet of that series provides the voice of Prissy.

Anyone who has questions or comments regarding "Dreams" or is interested in adding a productively frustrated DVD reviewer to their staff is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.