This 1947 curio, saluting and partly filmed at the New York City cultural landmark, begins with a shot of the building’s exterior. Except that the “exterior” is a photograph with a dramatic yet distinctly ersatz night sky optically sutured above it. In short, Edgar G. Ulmer, the poet of Poverty Row, is up to his usual tricks—wresting dynamic imagery out of next-to-nothing, even if Carnegie Hall represents a comparatively upscale endeavor in his expressionist/minimalist career.
The film boasts an epic running time of 136 minutes and about half an hour’s worth of narrative. Silent-film actress Seena Owen is credited with the story, about an Irish immigrant (Marsha Hunt) whose mystical rapport with the Hall leads to her rise from cleaning woman to a kind of house-mother who helps musically talented kids go far. That’s partly because her son (William Prince) has gone right out of her life, asserting a passion for “modern music” (i.e., Vaughn Monroe’s dance band) over the classics to which she is devoted. The latter are exuberantly performed or conducted by the likes of Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Risë Stevens, Ezio Pinza, and—most memorably—Artur Rubinstein and Jascha Heifetz, who rate the most extended and visually bravura treatment.
It’s easy to kid this as virtually a one-film glossary of camp. Yet its sincerity seems genuine, and Ulmer’s resourcefulness at devising angles to exalt the bond between music and musician, performer and audience, is occasionally breathtaking. (Cinematographer and effects wizard Eugen Schüfftan was a key collaborator.) The black and white is lustrous in this digital transfer from the original 35mm nitrate negative. —Richard T. Jameson
Edgar George Ulmer was one of the very few genuinely creative filmmakers who, for a time, chose the world of low-budget B-films over the more opulent milieu of mainstream, high-profile A-pictures. Born in Vienna, Austria, he worked as a stage actor and set designer while studying architecture and philosophy, and later joined the company of the legendary German theatrical producer Max Reinhardt. He first visited America in connection with a Reinhardt production, and became briefly involved with Universal Pictures in the mid-‘20s. On his return to Germany he served as an assistant to filmmaker F.W. Murnau, and worked as art director on the latter’s film Sunrise, which was shot in Hollywood in 1927. Ulmer went back to Germany to co-direct Menschen am Sonntag (1929) in collaboration with Robert Siodmak. He emigrated to Hollywood in the early ‘30s, working as a writer on movies such as Tabu and as an art director. By 1933, Ulmer had been signed to Universal as… read more