If ever a real-life drama screamed to be made into a great musical, it's the story of the spectacular rise and tragic fall of the Comedian Harmonists. This, unfortunately, is not that musical. The Comedian Harmonists -- a six-man, close-harmony group founded in
Berlin in the late 1920s -- combined popular German music with jazzy, American syncopation and humor, quickly becoming one of Europe's hottest musical acts. Their overnight success, however, was brief. This terrifically unimaginative treatment of their story opens in 1927, as floundering character
actor and musical arranger Harry Frommermann (Ulrich Noethen) is trying to put together a singing group. A fan of American a cappela acts, Harry takes out a newspaper ad seeking like-minded individuals to form a "unique performing ensemble." Harry finds his combo -- four other singers and
piano player -- but the sound doesn't gel until the night a drunken rendition of a Duke Ellington classic finds the boys tight and in tune. Stardom, sold-out concerts and world tours are theirs, but the Harmonists' success is overshadowed by the simultaneous rise of the Third Reich and its heavy
restrictions on "Jewish" material and performances by non-Aryans. Suddenly, the Harmonists' meteoric rise comes to a screeching halt: Three of them, including Harry, are Jewish. The years are ticked off as the Harmonists struggle through in-fighting and romantic rivalries, all the while remaining
stubbornly oblivious to the obviously gathering storm. Music, comedy, human drama and history... it's all there, but director Joseph Vilsmaier presents the material as prosaically as possible, and a few well-done musical numbers and some expert art direction can't keep the movie from dragging.
It's all so broadly presented that one is left yearning for the scorching ironies of Cabaret or even the relatively intense characterizations of the Von Trapp children.
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: R
- Review: If ever a real-life drama screamed to be made into a great musical, it's the story of the spectacular rise and tragic fall of the Comedian Harmonists. This, unfortunately, is not that musical. The Comedian Harmonists -- a six-man, close-harmony group found… (more)