Frank Borzage likes to funnel sexual intensity through surreptitious channels, here's a musical drama in the wholesome Deanna Durbin format but with the clandestine erotic charge of King Vidor. A Svengali narrative, played out in hotel rooms and concert halls where the screen space appears to contract and expand in tandem with the feelings of the characters: Catherine McLeod, the pianist heroine, is ushered into the musical expo where maestro Philip Dorn disinterestedly tries out potential pupils, ordering one to "play Bach, no nonsense." McLeod plays Beethoven and Dorn takes her as protégé, a favor to mentor Felix Bressart, her father; plucked from her Philadelphia farm for a tour of Europe, she flowers as a musician while experiencing the maestro's arrogance and childishness. McLeod dismantles the ivories with Liebestod as Dorn woos a girl during their South America stay, her Carnegie Hall debut playing Rachmaninoff becomes a duel of envy, elation, anger -- music turns into eruptions of suppressed emotions, and Borzage tracks from the physical vastness of the auditorium to the spiritual intimacy of the playing. The couple is separated, McLeod marries childhood sweetheart Bill Carter, yet, as Maria Ouspenskaya says, "walls cannot stop their voices": the characters' love, communicated telepathically through their pianos and Borzage's delicate editing, quakes the security of McLeod's household, a fireplace all aglow while lighting strikes in the darkness outside. McLeod passes her melodious quiddity on to her daughter (Vanessa Brown), but she is still scheduled for one final musical rendezvous with her old teacher, a reconciliatory concerto-as-extramarital-affair that matches Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much montage in tension and, in its ardent romantic crescendos staged in front of scores of viewers, translates into a profound live-sex show of emotions. Ouspenskaya once more: "Music goes on..." And love, and cinema, caps Borzage. With Elizabeth Patterson, Fritz Feld, and Cora Witherspoon.
--- Fernando F. Croce