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With a Song in My Heart

With a Song in My Heart(1952)

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teaser With a Song in My Heart (1952)

A popular singing star in the 1930s in nightclubs, radio, theater and films, Jane Froman was among the first entertainers to volunteer to entertain the troops during World War II. She was on a USO flight to Europe in 1943, when the plane crashed into the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal. Many of the passengers died, but Froman survived, critically injured, after she was rescued by the plane's co-pilot. One leg was nearly severed and doctors wanted to amputate, but Froman refused. She endured dozens of surgeries and struggled with physical and emotional pain for the rest of her life, but managed to resume her career.

In 1952, Froman's inspirational saga became a 20th Century Fox biopic, With a Song in My Heart, that combined the gloss of a 1940s Fox musical with a strong dramatic story tailor-made for the talents of Fox's powerhouse star, Susan Hayward. The Brooklyn-born Hayward had built an impressive career since arriving in Hollywood in the late 1930s, one of the many hopefuls who auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind (1939). In 1949, after working at several studios, she signed a contract with Fox. By the time she appeared in With a Song in My Heart, she had two Academy Award nominations as Best Actress under her belt, for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947), and My Foolish Heart (1949), and was fresh off a popular success in Fox's biblical epic, David and Bathsheba (1951).

Hayward plunged enthusiastically into the role of Froman. Proud of her thick, lush mane of red hair, she had it written into her contract that she didn't have to cut it for a film. But for With a Song in My Heart, she agreed to a shorter hairdo more like Froman's. Hayward was on hand when Froman pre-recorded the songs for the film, studying Froman's gestures as she sang; in return, the singer was often on the set during filming of the musical numbers, watching Hayward closely and coaching her as she expertly lip-synched the songs. Fortunately, Hayward's low speaking voice was an excellent match for the singer's contralto vocals.

Hayward's co-stars in With a Song in My Heart were David Wayne as Froman's first husband and manager, and Rory Calhoun as the co-pilot who saved her life. Although it's not explicit in the film, Froman eventually divorced her husband and married the pilot. But the actor who made the biggest impression was a young newcomer who appeared briefly in only two scenes. Robert Wagner had recently been signed to a Fox contract, and had played bit parts in a few films. In his first scene in With a Song in My Heart, he plays a shy young paratrooper whom Froman singles out to croon to during a nightclub performance. Later in the film, the same soldier, now shell-shocked, is moved to tears when she sings "I'll Walk Alone" to him. Wagner later recalled that Hayward asked director Walter Lang to shoot the scene from behind her. Then, with her focus on Wagner and her own emotional reaction evident to him, she coaxed a tear from the young actor. The critics noticed him, and Wagner's career was launched. "One Robert Wagner plays the scene with quiet force," one reviewer wrote.

The public loved With a Song in My Heart, making it one of the top ten grossing pictures of the year, and hundreds of critics voted it one of the year's top ten films in Film Daily's poll. But New York Times critic Bosley Crowther disagreed. "[It] is just about as grandiose and mawkish as Hollywood homage can be." However, Crowther admitted that "The Technicolor is dazzling and the production numbers are full of splash." Variety was kinder, calling it "a heartening drama."

Hayward won the third of her five Academy Award nominations for With a Song in My Heart. She lost to Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba, but Hayward won a Golden Globe for her performance. With a Song in My Heart won an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, beating Singin' in the Rain. It also earned Thelma Ritter a Best Supporting Actress nod, as well as nominations for Color Costume Design and Sound.

Hayward finally got to sing in her own voice in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), the biography of alcoholic singer Lillian Roth, and earned another nomination. She finally won her Oscar for I Want to Live! (1958), a true story about a woman convicted of murder who fights to avoid execution.

Director: Walter Lang
Producer: Lamar Trotti
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Editor: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Costume Design: Charles Le Maire
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Joseph C. Wright
Musical Director: Alfred Newman
Principal Cast: Susan Hayward (Jane Froman), Rory Calhoun (John Burn), David Wayne (Don Ross), Thelma Ritter (Clancy), Robert Wagner (Paratrooper), Helen Westcott (Jennifer March), Una Merkel (Sister Marie), Richard Allan (Dancer), Max Showalter (Harry Guild), Lyle Talbot (Radio Director)
117 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri

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