"Alexander's Ragtime Band" is wonderful entertainment in so many different ways and its chief fame rests undoubtedly on the fact that it provided a perfect showcase for almost two dozen Irving Berlin tunes that have gone down into musical history. Who can forget the magical "Blue Skies", and of course the celebrated title tune "Alexander's Ragtime Band". Twentieth Century Fox pulled all the stops out with this 1838 production not only providing Irving Berlin with a stunning showcase for his musical genius but with an opulent no expense spared tribute to the enduring talents of lead performers Tyrone Power and Alice Faye.
Tyrone Power has the lead role of Nob Hill raised Roger Grant ne: Alexander, an earnest young conductor in 1911 San Francisco committed to the elevation of swing as a musical force in its own right. The story covers over 3 decades as we see his rise and fall and rise again as his fortunes change with each passing decade. In particular the focus is on his love/hate, on again/off again relationship with the band's lead singer Stella Kirby (Alice Faye)a brassy saloon singer from the Barbary Coast with no refinement but alot of energy and a great talent. Their's is a tumultous relationship which sees them unwillingly thrown together in their work, through a veiled attraction to each other, to separation by war, to Stella developing refinement and then finding fame in New York as a solo singer through to her unhappy marriage to a member of the Band Charlie Dwyer (Dom Ameche in another underrated performance) Of course the resolution at the conclusion is a happy one with the pair being finally reunited in a rousing rendition at Carnegie Hall of, you guessed it "Alexander's Ragtime Band"!
Having just previously worked together in Fox's classic "In Old Chicago", Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche were by this stage a well oiled team of professionals that were as effective in period dramas as they were in this production. Alice Faye in particular has a real showcase in this production with her development from the loud saloon singer into a world acclaimed artist in her own right.Her unusual deep smoky singing style in particular really suits the tunes she performs here. In particular her rendition of "Blue Skies" is unforgettable and really is the most memorable song used here. Tyrone Power was just reaching his peak when "Alexander's Ragtime Band", went into production. His stylish good looks often hide the fact that his was a fine acting talent and he certainly proves it in his playing of the determined young band leader who encounters all kinds of difficulties in his climb to the top in swing. His onscreen chemistry with Don Ameche and with Alice Faye in particular works wonderfully and he would work with her rather sadly only one more time in the next year in "Rose of Washington Square". Also of great interest in this film is a rare early appearance by the legendary Ethel Merman as Jerry Allen who comes in as the replacement singer when Stella leaves the band. Merman was a formidable talent but somehow with the exception of her classic "Call Me Madam", never really became a successful movie actress. Her great stardom came fittingly on Broadway where her name became legend. Merman is best in her musical numbers in this film where her terrific vocal range and delivery are evident. Her rendition of "Blue Skies" is also one of the films show stoppers.
The Beauty of "Alexander's Ragtime Band", also lays in the great attention to period detail employed here. Fox went all out as befitted a Darryl F. Zanuck production with lavish sets, stunning costumes and brisk energic direction by the legendary Henry King who always worked so well with Tyrone Power. Indeed the look of this film is really eye stopping and it was Fox's most expensive production that year. All the effort resulted in a stunning six Academy Award nominations including one for Best Picture, it being a rare honour for a musical to be included in that category.
For anyone looking for a musical feast for both the ears and the eyes "Alexander's Ragtime Band", is unsurpassed entertainment from the old school of movie making. Knowing that so many of Irving Berlin's signature tunes came from this production certainly reserves it a special place in musical history. For those that love his work, and admire Tyrone Power and Alice Faye at the peak of their success and beauty then you can't go past this film rendition of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band".