Young Man with a Horn (1949)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 13-Apr-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category DRAMA WITH MUSIC Trailer-Original Theatrical in 1.37:1 aspect ratio
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1949
Running Time 107:34
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:19) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Michael Curtiz

Warner Home Video
Starring Kirk Douglas
Lauren Bacall
Doris Day
Hoagy Carmichael
Juano Hernandez
Jerome Cowan
Mary Beth Hughes
Nestor Paiva
Orley Lindgren
Walter Reed
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Ray Heindorf
Max Steiner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, Period and setting needed it.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Panning shot of Manhattan skyline behind credits.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


"A white-hot drama about a red-hot jazzman."

      Behind the credits of Warner Bros 1949 produced musical-drama  Young Man With A Horn , there is a panning shot moving from the towering peaks of Manhattan, across the city ending on a narrow tenement street. On the soundtrack we hear the lonely wail of a trumpet playing the blues. The credits end and we dissolve into the interior of a deserted bar. There is a lone figure seated at the piano. We move into closeup, he turns and speaks to us as he lights his cigarette. This is Willy "Call me Smoke " Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael ), and he tells us the story of his friend Rick Martin ("What a guy!").

     Rick was born in New York and by the time he was "nine or ten" he had lost both parents. He goes to live with his sister, ending in California. There young Rick is an isolated boy, wandering the urban streets alone. Drawn by the singing, he wanders one day into a church. He is fascinated by the  accompanying pianist and when the church is empty he tinkers on the keyboard. He teaches himself to play and becomes fascinated with music.

    Later, passing a pawn shop with various musical instruments in the window, young Rick goes in and asks, "Which one is the cheapest?"  He decides to work after school to buy the cheapest, the trumpet. He gets a job in a bowling alley and one night hears a jazz band playing across the alley. Peering from the door, he is invited in by the black band's leader, trumpeter Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez ). Art becomes Rick's mentor, helps him buy his trumpet and starts Rick on his  journey as a "young man of music" towards the holy grail of jazz.

    Adult Rick (Kirk Douglas) pursues his jazz dream in a journey that does not contain any real surprises. Rick, in an intense, moving performance by Douglas , battles to play the jazz he loves, but is forced to compromise with what is commercial. He meets a "simple and uncomplicated" band singer Jo Jordan (Doris  Day) who understands his dream. This was only Miss Day's fourth movie and she gives real credibility to the role, no doubt from her many years as a band singer before going to Hollywood. Jo introduces Rick to rich and confused Amy North (Lauren Bacall ), whom he marries. Bacall gives a biting, black edge to her character, who describes Latin as "a dead language that ideally suits me". The scenes between Douglas and Bacall have real dramatic sting.

    Along the way Rick also meets up again with Art Hazzard, and finds that there has been a considerable change in his idol's life. Trusty narrator cum piano-playing sidekick "Smoke" weaves, or wafts (does he ever stop smoking), through Rick's life providing a sympathetic ear or helping hand at key points on his journey.

    This is all pretty standard Warner territory and there is no prize for guessing where it is all heading. Based very loosely on the short (dead at twenty-eight) life of Bix Beiderbecke, legendary cornettist with the Paul Whiteman orchestra around 1930, the script opts for a much happier final fadeout. Nevertheless this is a strong, powerful drama that gives insight into the creative urge that drives a jazz musician. The Warner studio was famed for its gritty black and white urban dramas, and despite the considerable musical content of the film, this is a drama. In fact, the book on which the screenplay was based was bought by Warners in 1945 for John Garfield, then the studio's reigning young "bad" boy.

    The real heart and star of this film, however, is the music under the inspired musical direction of Ray Heindorf. The brilliant trumpet we hear throughout is Harry James, very well "mimed" by Kirk Douglas. James is one of the great trumpet players of all time, and his playing and the choice of music could not be better. From jazz greats  Moanin' Low and Get Happy, to standards like The Man I Love and With A Song in My Heart the soundtrack is an almost unending flow of great jazz, standards and spirituals. Get Happy is a highlight. Lasting on screen for just under one minute, it is performed and photographed so brilliantly that it is unforgettable.

    And then we have Doris Day! Miss Day was never a jazz singer, but she was a great band vocalist. She is captured in this film, like in no other. Beautifully photographed and dramatically lit in black and white, standing in front of a band and simply singing . (Interestingly she refers to herself as singing " in " and not "with" the band.)

    The movie makes extensive use of excellent location work in New York. It is fascinating to see Kirk Douglas in character moving through Times Square and other street locations around the city. There is also, I suspect, much interior location work in clubs, joints, halls and hospitals around New York, all adding to the great atmosphere of the film.

    Young Man With a Horn is fascinating and compelling, a well-acted, well-directed (Michael Curtiz ) product of the Warner Brothers machine, made with all that studio's technical efficiency and expertise. Camerawork and lighting are first rate. As a musical-drama, the drama is gripping, but the music is tremendous!

    Trivia time! In 1950s Australia and the UK the movie's title was changed to Young Man of Music .

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality



    The feature is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, approximating the original 1.37:1 of its theatrical release. Of course, there is no 16x9 enhancement.

    The black and white image is wonderfully clear and sharp throughout, with no evidence of low level noise and just the occasionally excessive grain, usually in a processed shot.

    The black and white photography is beautifully rendered, with extensive grey scale and deep, solid blacks. The location shots in the streets of New York are graphically beautiful. There is a film noir look to many scenes  and the entire production has the look of  Warners classics such as  Key Largo, White Heat and Humoresque .

    There was very little in the way of debris, with just the occasional white fleck appearing on the screen.

    Aliasing was present at times, on suit jackets, car grills and the like, but was not distracting. After the first few minutes I was not aware of it at all.

    The layer change occurs at 56:19 and is not noticeable occurring in a blackout after Kirk Douglas closes a door. (Watch for a crew member's head or shoulder when he ducks just a second too late as the door begins to close.)

    Subtitles are provided in English, French, Italian, Dutch and Arabic. It is closed captioned for the Hearing Impaired in English and Italian.

    The English titles were sampled and were accurate.


Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   There are two audio tracks on this disc, English and Italian. Both are Dolby Digital mono.

    The overall sound quality is very satisfactory for a film that is almost sixty years old.

    Dialogue is distinct, clear and sharp. There are no sync problems.

    There is a little low level hiss and the occasional pop or crackle but apart from this the soundtrack is in good condition and more than adequate.

     It would be great to have better sound for the music, but the original mono soundtrack is quite satisfying, and the music remains exciting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use





    The menu is presented on a red background with a coloured still from the film. The main theme, played by Harry James and the studio orchestra, is excellently reproduced behind. There is no animation.

  There are four options: Play Movie

                                     Selected Scenes - thirty-one, with a black and white thumbnail for each, on three screens 





Original Theatrical Trailer (2:18)

    A good trailer with excellent quality on a par with the film.

    Very typical of the period, with writing slashed across the screen repeatedly.

    Presented 1.37:1 and is slightly matted.


R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on :

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on :

      On this basis, a draw.


    A very fine transfer of an outstanding 1949-1950 drama with music from Warner Brothers. Good story, big stars, solid performances all delivered with expert Hollywood know how. The music is magnificent and, of its kind, could not be bettered.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE