Like other high-Hollywood melodramas whose strength is their very baroqueness, Humoresque has been scorned by some critics as preposterous popcorn fodder. This welcome video release not only rescues the movie from late-night oblivion but proves it to be one of the most vibrantly stylish odes to classical music and romantic masochism ever filmed, an overripe treat that has you tickled in kitsch delight one moment and startled with unexpected feeling the next.
John Garfield is the ambitious Brooklyn kid who wants to be the world’s greatest concert violinist (Isaac Stern dubs his fiddle licks), and Joan Crawford is the married Park Avenue snob who sponsors and snares him into a doomed romance. As a full-tilt neurotic, Crawford gives one of the few emotionally vulnerable performances of her long career: Tremulous behind chic eyeglasses, she’s both heartrending and surprisingly sexy. Garfield, by contrast, comes off as a humorless prig — as in all good soap operas, Humoresque‘s ”bad girl” is much more sympathetic than its nominal hero.
With lush black-and-white photography and a surprisingly formal visual design (the lovers’ intense orbit around each other is echoed in circles, rings, and pools of light), this is director Jean Negulesco’s oddest and best film — an over-the-top hankie-wringer that burns its way through camp to find delirious truths. A+