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Genres: Music , Romance
Actors: Arturo de Córdova , Dorothy Patrick , Marjorie Lord , Irene Rich , John Alexander , Richard Hageman , Jack Lambert , Bert Conway , Joan Blair , John Canady , Louis Armstrong and His Band , Billie Holiday , Woody Herman , Woody Herman and His Orchestra , Louis Armstrong
Director: Arthur Lubin
Country: United States
Year: 1947
IMDB Rating: 6.9/10 (166 votes)

It’s the Lowdown on Wicked Old Basin Street!

Film Review

Louis Armstrong and his band (African American), along with Billie Holiday (African American and she plays a maid who just happens to also be a singer!) originate "jass" (later in the plot renamed jazz) in this film. The (white) club owner sponsors them–until he becomes a music manager and lo and behold–his big jazz act becomes Woody Herman and his band (all white). By the end, Billie Holiday, Satchmo, and the rest are replaced as crusaders for this new music by the blonde heroine of the movie (white), a full symphony orchestra (all white), and the Woody Herman band as symbols of the acceptance of jazz into proper American music circles. The movie ends with the latter crew triumphantly and oh-so-blandly performing a song they learned from Satch and the gang, although we never do find out what happened to them! That said, the movie is an important jazz history artifact–Satchmo and Lady Day and their fellow musicians are incredible.

Anyone unborn at the time High Society was released has had much more chance of catching it in regular airings on TV and Revival houses than they have of checking out New Orleans, released nine years earlier (1947) after which it more or less dropped off the radar. Late-blooming fans of High Society could therefore be forgiven for thinking that when Bing Crosby name-checked the jazz sextet – rhythm section, Barrett deems, Billy kyle, Arvell shaw; front line, Trummy Young, Ed Hall, Louis Armstrong – in the number Now You Has Jazz, he was being innovative. Not so, Satchmo himself name-checked his own combo here, nine years earlier, though he lacked Cole Porter's ability to interlard it with such lines as 'well, you take some skins, jazz begins … take a bass, man, now we're getting' some place …' etc. If you dismiss out of hand the peurile 'plot' you're left with some pretty good examples of 'early' jazz performed by Armstrong himself…

I just saw this in January, 2005 so this is a different view. It’s difficult to know how professional movie people wouldn’t know this is a terribly acted movie. DeCordova reprises his previously cardboard acting although he has something, but it doesn’t come out. But the music of Armstrong, Holliday, and Herman etc. is magnificent. It surely is worth the time just to revel in the 1947 jazz. Bad acting doesn’t destroy the movie. Wonder what happened to all those actors. It must have been the directing for all to be so bland. I think the attempt is to make this an epic picture showing the intrusion of jazz into classical music. The voice sync with the singer is also poor enough to be disturbing to the viewer. Dorothy Patrick is lovely but apparently not a singer. It’s fun to see many old character actors that I knew by looks but couldn’t remember their names. I’m sorry DeCordova didn’t work out because I liked him in "Frenchman’s Creek."


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