The Joan Crawford Blogathon – Humoresque (1946)


John Garfield’s untimely death at age 39 in 1952 may have robbed him and us of a long and prolific career, but the performances and movies he left behind more than make up for it. Not least his performance in Humoresque (1946, dir. Jean Negulesco), one of the most tragic of all 1940s melodramas.

Written by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold based on the short story by Fannie Hurst, Humoresque tells the story of Paul Boray (Garfield), a violin virtuoso consumed by his love for party-girl socialite Helen Wright (Joan Crawford). Told in flashback, the film documents Paul’s life, from childhood to adulthood, in one of the most surprisingly accurate, if underused, depictions of what the life of an artist can be. As we see in the flashback, Paul has always wanted to be a musician. He navigates through his childhood years feeling like a misfit and an outsider, until he comes face to face with his destiny when he stumbles across a violin in a shop. His father (J. Carroll Naish) strongly advises him against it while his mother (Ruth Nelson) encourages him. Sure enough, he proves to be quite the talent and through the years, his career takes off, alongside his wise-cracking, piano-playing friend Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant). Then one day, he meets Helen at one of her high-society parties and everything changes. Their relationship starts off as a love-hate thing but it quickly becomes serious. More serious than either of them expected…

John Garfield and Joan Crawford have the type of chemistry that melodramas are made of and while Garfield’s fantastic performance is the best thing about the movie, Crawford’s gloriousness takes it to a whole new level. Helen’s non-committal ways and resistance in accepting her feelings for Paul, along with the frustration that comes from the those feelings, result in a simultaneously restrained and over-the-top performance, that can only be described as a masterclass on how to make love to the camera, even when John Garfield is in the room. She knew just how much the camera loved her and if there has ever been any doubt about that, look no further than the famous beach scene, which, for lack of a better word, is… sensational. Garfield, on the other hand, turns in a performance that keeps Humoresque from the type of film that gives melodramas a bad name. One of the original Method actors, he seems to have understood the emotional turmoil that artists often experience and he puts that into action beautifully, in a carefully understated and nuanced performance. He is the yin to Crawford’s yang and the two of them wander through Humoresque challenging its melodrama status and elevating it to full-blown tragedy. Humoresque‘s lessons on life, love and showbiz may go unnoticed amongst the music, the shadows and Joan Crawford’s fabulousness, but they’re there. For all they’re worth.

Humoresque has always struck me as one of the quintessential Joan Crawford movies, so when Pale Writer and Poppity Talks Classic Film announced their blogathon, I knew I wanted to talk about it. Mostly because Helen Wright is probably the most Joan Crawford-y Joan Crawford has ever been – and that includes her entrance in Rain (1932), which is nothing short of unbelievable.

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21 thoughts on “The Joan Crawford Blogathon – Humoresque (1946)

  1. You’ve done a marvellous job on your article, Carol! 🤗
    (Speaking of the name “Carol”, I just watched 3 of Joan’s movies recently where there is someone with that name: Possessed (1947), Queen Bee & Strait-Jacket.)

    It’s funny because I did not initially care for ‘Humoresque’ for some reason. Now that I look back, I think I failed to truly understand the character of Helen. It was never hard for me to appreciate the scenes of Paul as a youngster and with his family. You are perfect in your description of the scenes. I think it is so neat that Sid and Paul meet when Paul is so young yet later become the best of friends.
    Another thing to appreciate is

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (Sorry, sent too fast! 😄)
      This is the second film appearance of the beautiful Joan Chandler who would complete only one more film after this. (The questions!!)

      Thank you so much for your wonderful entry and for participating in our blogathon! 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you Erica!! 😀
      Yes, I feel like it starts out incredibly strong (the childhood scenes being particularly good), but I think it loses itself a little bit in the second act, Thankfully it picks up again, and it’s quite engrossing overall.
      Thanks for hosting the blogathon! Can’t wait to read all the entries!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely love how you approached this film, Carol, giving equal attention to Joan and John’s performance, which as you said, are perfectly counterbalanced. I adore the scene where they first see each other, both of them show how time seems to come to a halt. I haven’t watched this film in a long time because I always sob when I do, but I think I’ll definitely have to revisit it now that you’ve written about it so beautifully. Thank you so much for contributing to our Blogathon 💚💚

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: All Hail the Queen! The Joan Crawford: Queen of the Silver Screen Blogathon has arrived! – Poppity Talks Classic Film

  4. Mike Noonan

    Nice analysis Carol. Yes, I wonder what performances-he could have given if he lived longer. You’re right as he was one of the early method actors. He was truly underrated.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Bow to the Queen: The Queen of the Silver Screen Blogathon has arrived!t – Pale Writer

  6. I do love this film. And you’re right – it is soooooooo Joan Crawford. It is great to see her with a worthy leading man and, as wonderful and dramatic as it all is, I remain astounded by her beauty in this film. She looks amazing. Great post about one of Joan’s great later films.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Welp, this is another Joan Crawford film that I haven’t yet seen for some reason, despite the fact that John Garfield is her leading man. (Sheesh!) However, I enjoyed your review and I really liked your analysis of the Crawford-Garfield chemistry.

    Also, I agree with previous commenters who say Joan looks amazing in this film. She looks stunning in every still I’ve seen from this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Funny thing about the film is that Crawford is clearly supporting Garfield, yet you keep thinking about her even when she is off the screen … She’s tremendous, and the music and camera work are fantastic!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Humoresque is such a good movie – plus, it has Joan Crawford with glasses!
    I agree with you: the portrayal of the artist’s beginnings is so painfully accurate that it’s a shame other movies don’t follow this route.

    Liked by 1 person

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