Young Man with a Horn (film)

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Young Man with a Horn
Young Man with a Horn (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Carl Foreman
Edmund H. North
Based on Young Man with a Horn
by Dorothy Baker
Starring Kirk Douglas
Lauren Bacall
Doris Day
Hoagy Carmichael
Music by Lauren Kirk
Cinematography Ted D. McCord
Edited by Alan Crosland Jr.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
February 9, 1950 (1950-02-09)
Running time
112 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.5 million[1]

Young Man with a Horn is a 1950 musical drama film[2][3] based on a novel of the same name by Dorothy Baker inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, the jazz cornetist. The movie stars Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, and Hoagy Carmichael, and was directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Jerry Wald. The screenplay was written by Carl Foreman and Edmund H. North.


As a young boy, after his mother dies, Rick Martin sees a trumpet in the window of a pawn shop. He works in a bowling alley to save up enough money to buy it. Rick grows up to be an outstanding musician, tutored by jazzman Art Hazzard. He lands a job playing for the big band of Jack Chandler, getting to know the piano player Smoke Willoughby and the beautiful singer Jo Jordan.

Chandler orders him to always play the music exactly as written. Rick prefers to improvise, and one night, during a break with Chandler's band, he leads an impromptu jam session, which gets him fired.

Jo has fallen for Rick and finds him a job in New York with a dance orchestra. One night, her friend Amy North accompanies her to hear Rick play. Amy, studying to be a psychiatrist, is a complicated young woman still disturbed by her own mother's suicide.

She claims to be incapable of feeling love, but she and Rick begin an affair and eventually are married. Rarely together at the same time because of their demanding schedules, Rick and Amy constantly quarrel. She fails in her attempts to become a doctor and takes it out on Rick, demanding a divorce. He begins drinking and his mood deteriorates to the point that one day he even takes it out on Art Hazzard, a man who had done so much for him. Before Rick can apologize, Art is hit by a car and killed.

Rick becomes an alcoholic who neglects his music and even destroys his horn. He disappears, until one day Smoke finds him in a drunk tank. Jo is contacted and rushes to Rick's side, helping him to recover his love of music and of her—a happy ending found neither in the novel nor in the life of Bix Beiderbecke. Amy becomes the patron of a young woman artist.


The film is notable as being an example of 1940s film noir with a central character who isn't heterosexual. In the Baker novel, Amy is described as having lesbian tendencies, and using the usual Hollywood connotative methods and hints to circumvent the Motion Picture Production Code, this is implied in the film. Regarding Jo, Amy says: "It must be wonderful to wake up in the morning and know just which door you’re going to walk through. She’s so terribly normal."[4][5]


Kirk Douglas in Young Man With a Horn, Third Avenue El in background.

Production notes[edit]

Composer-pianist Hoagy Carmichael, playing the sidekick role, added realism to the film and gave Douglas insight into the role, being a friend of the real Beiderbecke.[6] Famed trumpeter Harry James performed the music Kirk Douglas is shown playing on screen.[7]

In her authorized biography, Doris Day described her experience making the film as "utterly joyless", as she had not found working with Douglas to be pleasant. In the book, Douglas said that he felt her ever-cheerful persona was only a "mask" and he had never been able to get to know the real person underneath. Day countered that while Douglas had been "civil", he was too self-centered to make any real attempt to get to know either her or anyone else.[8]


According to The New York Times, "banalities of the script are quite effectively glossed over in the slick pictorial smoothness of Michael Curtiz's direction and the exciting quality of the score. The result is that there is considerable good entertainment in Young Man With a Horn despite the production's lack of balance."[7]

In spite of the screenplay, the Times praised the performances of Douglas, Day and Hoagy Carmichael, but noted "the unseen star of the picture is Harry James, the old maestro himself, who supplies the tingling music which flows wildly, searchingly and forlornly from Rick Martin's beloved horn. This is an instance where the soundtrack is more than a complementary force. It is the very soul of the picture because if it were less provocative and compelling the staleness of the drama could be stultifying."[7]

Radio adaptation[edit]

Young Man with a Horn was presented on Lux Radio Theatre March 3, 1952. Kirk Douglas re-created his role from the film. The one-hour adaptation also starred Jo Stafford and Patrice Wymore.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Top Grosses of 1950". Variety. January 3, 1951. p. 58. 
  2. ^ Variety film review; February 8, 1950, page 11.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; February 11, 1950, page 22.
  4. ^ Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet. Harper and Row. p. 100. ISBN 0-06-096132-5. 
  5. ^ Benshoff, Griffin (2006). Queer Images: A History of Gay and Lesbian Film in America. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 36. ISBN 978-0742519725. 
  6. ^ Johnson, David Brent. "The Road to Stardust: Hoagy Carmichael And Bix Beiderbecke in 1924". Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c "Kirk Douglas Seen as 'Young Man With a Horn,' New Bill at Radio City Music Hall". The New York Times. February 10, 1950. Retrieved 2012-06-05. 
  8. ^ Hotchner, A. E. (1975). Doris Day: Her Own Story. William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0688029685. 
  9. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 2, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read

External links[edit]