Till the Clouds Roll By
Musical, Comedy | 132 mins | Released: 1946
Director: Vincent Minnelli
Starring: Robert Walker, Van Heflin, Lucille Bremer, June Allyson, Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne
Our Rating: 6
Known as one of Broadway’s greatest songwriters, Jerome Kern is the subject of this biographical story. Consisting of many musical numbers, the cast includes a bevy of Hollywood talent including Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, June Allyson, etc. In this production, the part of Jerome Kern is played by Robert Walker.
On the success of his latest and most elaborate Broadway musical Show Boat, composer Jerome Kern reminisces to his chauffeur about his life that led to this point. He talks about: his long time friendship with arranger James Hessler who in large part helped him hone his craft, and who himself wanted to get out of arranging to focus on composing serious music; how he overcame the mentality of the time of Broadway producers of featuring the English music halls revues; how he met an English country lass named Eva Leale, who would become Mrs. Kern; his near death experience in almost boarding the ill-fated Lusitania sailing, the liner which was ultimately torpedoed and sank on that sailing; his longtime friendship with Hessler’s daughter, Sally Hessler, whose want, as an adult, to be a Broadway performer led to a certain estrangement; and the specific events that led to the creation of Show Boat with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. With the advent of talking pictures, Kern’s music, both existing songs as well as new songs written expressly for, would hit a broader audience through Hollywood movies.
Till The Clouds Roll By is a 1946 American musical film made by MGM. The film is a fictionalized biography of composer Jerome Kern (portrayed by Robert Walker) who was originally involved with the production of the film, but died before it was completed.
Till the Clouds Roll By contained a large cast of well-known musical stars of the day who appear in cameo roles performing Kern’s songs. The first 15 minutes of the film consist of a condensed adaptation of Act I of Show Boat, with the order of some of the songs shifted – “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” is sung after “Life upon the Wicked Stage”, and “Ol’ Man River” was used as an Act I Finale, dissimilar to the show. “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” as sung by Lena Horne was filmed, like many of her other musical numbers in MGM films, so that it could be easily eliminated by sensitive Southern distributors.
Perhaps to appeal directly to teen audiences of the day, the film included two versions of “Ol’ Man River” – the first a straightforward version sung by African-American actor-singer Caleb Peterson and a black chorus as part of the “Show Boat” medley, and the second a “crooner version” performed by Frank Sinatra (then wildly popular with bobbysoxers), featured as the film’s grand finale.
When the film started production in the fall of 1945, Judy Garland was signed as Broadway singer-dancer Marilyn Miller. Garland, who had just returned to California after a long New York honeymoon with her new husband, director Vincente Minnelli, had just discovered that she was pregnant. MGM decided that all of Garland’s scenes and musical numbers would be directed, supervised, and completed by Minnelli as soon as possible. During this time, Jerome Kern regularly visited the set and was photographed with Minnelli and Garland while they were filming the musical number “Who?”. Soon after, Kern returned to New York towards the end of October and died in November, 1945. Garland’s work on the film was finished by December, 1945.
Famed circus performer Barbette consulted on the creation of the film’s circus sequence.
Upon its release in December, 1946, Till The Clouds Roll By received mixed reviews, but was a huge box-office success.
Lena Horne sings “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”.
Till the Clouds Roll By is credited as one of the first motion pictures to have a soundtrack album released concurrent with the film arriving in theaters. The soundtrack was produced by MGM Records. The album originally contained four 78-rpm records featuring various artists and songs from the movie and front-cover artwork by Lennie Hayton. Later this album was released on LP. No official authorized version has yet been released on CD, but several unauthorized versions have (Rhino Entertainment currently owns the rights to issue an authorized CD of the soundtrack, under license from Turner Entertainment; in the past, MCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment held such rights). This is due to MGM allowing the film to fall into public domain.
The film was a big hit, earning $4,748,000 in the US and Canada and $1,976,000 elsewhere, but because of its high cost the profit was only $732,000.
When MGM originally began planning this film, it asked Jerome Kern what he thought about Robert Walker being cast. He said it sounded all right, but he wanted to hear his wife’s opinion. He phoned her from the office and she told him to stay and play himself and send Walker home to her.
Because of disagreements Robert Walker was having with his MGM bosses, they billed the rest of the cast first, and then “and Robert Walker as Jerome Kern”.
The script for this film had to be rewritten after Jerome Kern died.
Judy Garland sings two numbers in the film: “Look for the Silver Lining” and “Who?”. She also sang “Do You Love Me?” but it was cut before release. Her sequences were filmed by her then new husband, Vincente Minnelli.
Judy Garland, who played real-life singer-dancer Marilyn Miller, was pregnant with her first daughter, Liza Minnelli. She was placed behind stacks of dishes while singing “Look For the Silver Lining”, but it was not to “hide her belly” as some have thought, because moments before her number, she is shown walking over to the set and even during her song as she is standing behind the dishes, her abdomen is not disguised.
When Jerome Kern was told that MGM wanted to make a movie of his life he told them that, frankly, his life had been so boring they would have trouble making an interesting movie from it. In order to add some drama, the writers invented the Hesslers and especially the hunt for Sally Hessler.
During the “Who?” segment Judy Garland and the chorus move smoothly down the staircase. They did this by standing on a slide that was hydraulically controlled. It was supposed to ease to a stop at the bottom but, instead, stopped abruptly. There is a quick cut that partly hides this but it can still be seen as everyone suddenly gives a little lurch just before the cut.
Kathryn Grayson would again portray Magnolia Hawks in the 1951 MGM color production of Show Boat (1951).