Sunday, May 2, 2010

Symphony Of Six Million

Publicity for "Symphony Of Six Million" with Ricardo Cortez

Release date April 29.  1932

"I dedicate these two hands in service...That the lame may walk, the halt be strong...lifting up the needy, comforting the dying...This is my oath in the Temple of healing."

In every Hollywood career seems to be at least one film which makes you wonder ,well, this is one of those. It´s a small role, it´s back to second billing again and if there is a Dunne film in which she is miscast that´s the one.
Some possible reasons: studio politics? There is always a star rooster to consider...
Putting the increasingly popular Irene in as many vehicles as possible? It seems that Pandro S.Berman - new associate producer under Selznick  - was determined to do so...
Trying go give Cortez a boost by pairing him with an established leading lady? Cortez doesn´t look excactly like a newcomer to me...I personally remember him mainly as being killed off early in several of Kay Francis´ films and erotically dancing Tango with Joan Crawford in "Montana Moon".

                                           as Jessica

And why did Irene accept that? In that period  she is described as being "pliable in accepting roles handed to her"("The RKO Gals", James Robert Parish). I imagine that this was partly due to her private situation: Irene and her husband Francis Griffin lived bicoastal from 1930 till 1936 and she tried to spend as much time as possible with him in New York. Irene had a clause in her contract that the studio had to provide her with a ten days notice before the beginning of the next film. The sheer amount of work - she made about half of her films in her first six years in Hollywood - and keeping a relationship alive from coast to coast must have been quite a task without fighting about every film...but who knows? Not me, but I know about the result:

                      family evening...

Jessica (Irene) - handicapped by a limp and the inability to use her right hand - and Felix (Ricardo Cortez) grew up together in Manhattan´s Lower East Side in the Jewish quarter. Since his childhood days Felix had dreamt of becoming a surgeon and at last - with a lot of hard work and the loving support of his working class parents - this dream came true. He practices happily and sucessfully in his poor Jewish neighborhood and spends his little spare time with Jessica who found her place in life working as a Braille teacher. The disturbing influence in this setting is Felix´ brother Magnus (Noel Madison) having the idea that his brother´s profession ought to gain the family some money. Loving his family and feeling a deep obligation towards them Felix moves on to West End Avenue and ultimately to Park Avenue. The more money comes in the more Felix loses his Hippocratic ideals and the track of what he really wanted to do in life - which certainly was not to take care of rich hypochondriacs.
The real crisis comes when Felix isn´t able to rescue his father who dies on his operating table. In his sorrow and feeling that he can´t go on with medicine Felix turns back to Jessica, who takes a vital step to help him...

                                working in the "ghetto".....

                              Felix´new clientele

The best about this filmization of a Fannie Hurst novel is the description of  Jewish life in the Lower East Side "ghetto". We get a wonderful look at young Felix´ family life, just a normal evening, the family members all trying to do the things they like, neighbors popping in and out - a bunch of atmosphere.
Just to mention it all of this takes place before Irene even enters the screen.

                      all the family members together...

My secret stars of the film are Mama (Anna Appel) and Papa (Gregory Ratoff) handling their family affairs or chatting with acquaintances - all well directed by Gregory LaCava. This film has a full-fledged score which wasn´t common in 1932, and though I love Max Steiner in latter years, his music distracts me this time. It´s just too pathetic interpreting Felix´ emotions, which brings me to Ricardo Cortez who is rather strained carrying a film like this. Irene - with dark dyed hair but still somehow looking out of place in this Jewish ambience - hasn´t much to do here but offers us a foretaste of what is lying ahead of Miss Dunne and us - a lot of on screen suffering...

                   taking a vital step...and some suffering!

My bottom line: interested in the portrayal of Jewish life on screen? This film is a must see!
Interested in medical issues? Watch it and don´t miss "The Citadel" and "Men In White" either!
Only interested in Miss Dunne? Well, only recommended for human beings who like me have an urgent desire for completeness. For the rest of mankind: move on to more interesting Dunne movies!


  1. Interesting...and I love the picture of Irene at the top! It sounds like Felix' family has a lot in common with the Paul Boray's in "Humoresque"--why not, Fannie Hurst wrote both, as well as "Back Street" (which has to coming soon from the Irene Dunne Project), quite a prolific writer, Miss Hurst! I'm guessing your ideas are correct--the studio recognized a popular leading lady and wanted to put her in as many films as possible-I hope she was well-paid for her efforts!

  2. Though there are similarities Jewish life is far more important in "Symphony Of Six Million" than in "Humoresque". Thinking about it I wonder how the character of Helen Wright is described in "Humoresque" because they bolstered that role up for Joan...anyway "Back Street" has that Jewish background in the book but not in the film - in the novel it´s very important that Ray is a "Schiksa".
    As you know there are always a lot of different reasons to make a film - and don´t worry: Irene was well paid. She started with $1.000 a week in 1930, increasing to $1.500 in 1931 and $2.000 in 1932.In addition Irene got very early a percentage of the grosses of her films which wasn´t common in that era...and a real extra was that clever husband of hers who knew how to take care properly of the money. Later on Irene was one of the highest paid female stars of her time - well-paid efforts,indeed! Susanne

  3. I liked this one, the plot is nice but Irene appears briefly =( That's the only thing I didn't like about're right, she was miscast here!!!!

  4. I just came across Irene this evening (can't recall how). Got to you site, and will now view her movies. I think she is absolutely gorgeous. OMG, what an angel. I vaguely recall seeing her (I think), when I was a boy, in some movies— hard to say, as the make-up of the period is so forging. Anyway, will now take a serious look. Interesting that her and her husband seems to be so learned and socially involved. To tell you the truth, that is what clinched my interest. Thanks for the site.

  5. One of my favorite early RKO's. Max Steiner's theme was our wedding march (played on harp and cello). Viewed in the context of an early talkie, this is a very successful picture.

  6. Can anyone tell the movie, Felix's sister plays a tune on the piano (when they were still youngsters). Isn't it the same tune heard at the end of Schindler's List after the Jewsish workers were freed? Is it a Yiddish melody and what is the name of it?