When Irish Eyes aren’t smiling? Start worrying.
Before screening Irish Eyes Are Smiling, I knew nothing of Ernest R. Ball (1878-1927), the man behind the melody of the title song, and a bushel of other early twentieth century standards, “Will You Love Me In December As You Do In May?,” “Mother Machree,” “Let The Rest Of The World Go By,” and “A Little Bit Of Heaven,” among them.
After screening it, I still knew next to nothing about the life of Mr. Ball. Ostensibly a biography of the Cleveland born composer, Irish Eyes Are Smiling bears no resemblance to reality, trading believability for banality. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boys wins…Never mind — no point in spoiling things for those who haven’t been fortunate enough to catch it yet.
Actually, I consider myself fortunate indeed to have discovered this unpolished gem (released with plenty of snaps, crackles, and pops, via Fox’s Archives-On-Demand program), loaded as it is with top flight talent. While it’s true that in the role of Ball, Dick Haymes’ (State Fair) non-singing performance is as wooden as a stage door, with his well-scrubbed boy-next-door looks and his near perfect baritone croon, one hardly has reason to complain.
I’m not at all convinced there ever really was a scrappy little blonde chorus girl named Mary “Irish” O’Neill, (June Haver, Love Nest) who inspired Ball’s classic tributes to the Emerald Isle (in fact, he was strictly a composer — the words came from his collaborators, none of whom get a mention here). No matter — Haver, a nifty little actress possessed of heavenly beauty and an angelic singing voice, manages to breathe life into a historical figure that likely never existed with consummate skill.
In fact, everyone who appears on screen manages to bring something to the party, with special kudos going to Veda Ann Borg (The Falcon In Hollywood) for her artful turn as brassy, ill-tempered Burlesque star Belle La Tour, and one-time World Light Heavyweight Champion boxer Max “Slapsie Maxie” Rosenbloom; a genuine hoot as the hard-hitting big ol’ sentimental softy his mother named Stanley Ketchel.
The songs are unassailable, earning nine-time winner Alfred Newman (The Song Of Bernadette) yet another much-deserved Oscar nomination for his score. Oscar-winning choreographer Hermes Pan (A Damsel In Distress) does equally fine work with his horde of hoofers, and director Gregory Ratoff (Sally, Irene and Mary) deserves credit for keeping things moving, while making the best of a script so hackneyed that it actually employs a procession of newspaper headlines in order to advance its plot — Quick, somebody get on the horn to MST3K!
The shoddy state of the full-screen transfer, with its washed out color scheme (and apparent Hail damage) is another matter altogether. The mono mix remains flat when it’s not sounding off like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Honestly, I can’t imagine people actually demanding this “Video On Demand” version once they know what they’re getting.
It’s a real shame, too — Irish Eyes Are Smiling has so much more to offer than what’s on display here. But like the man says: That’s showbiz, right?
Guilty only of bad representation.