Humoresque is a 1946 American film noir drama by Warner Bros. starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield in an older woman/younger man tale about a violinist and his patroness. The screenplay by Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold was based upon a story Humoresque in a collection of stories entitled Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It (1920)[1] by Fannie Hurst. Humoresque was directed by Jean Negulesco and produced by Jerry Wald.


In New York City, a performance by noted violinist Paul Boray (John Garfield) is cancelled. At his apartment, Boray is at rock bottom emotionally. His manager Frederic Bauer (Richard Gaines) is angry with him for misunderstanding what a performing career would be like, and for thinking that music is no longer part of his life. To the more sympathetic Sid Jeffers (Oscar Levant), Boray says he has always wanted to do the right thing, but has always been "on the outside, looking in," and cannot "get back to that happy kid" he once was.

In the past, young Paul (Bobby Blake) is choosing a birthday present in a suburban New York Variety store run by Jeffers (Harlan Briggs). He rejects as childish the suggestions of his father "Papa" Rudy (J. Carrol Naish), a grocery store owner, but settles on a violin, which his father rejects as unsuitable; his price limit is $1.50. Esther, his mother (Ruth Nelson), sympathetic at this stage, buys the $8 violin for the boy.

A transition from his faltering first steps to being a gifted young violinist follows. On 15 October 1930, he overhears his father Rudy's dismissal of his chances, and the frustration of his brother Phil (Tom D'Andrea) in finding a job. He resolves to go out on his own and not be dependent on his family. He finds a job with locally broadcast orchestra in which Sid Jeffers is the pianist.

At a party, Paul meets the hostess Helen Wright (Joan Crawford), a patroness in a loveless marriage with an ineffectual aging husband Victor (Paul Cavanagh), her third. Helen is a self-centered, adulterous woman who uses men as sexual playthings and is initially baffled by the strong-willed and independent Boray. After being rude to him at the party, she sends a golden cigarette case to his home the next day. "Papa" Boray is impressed, but Paul's mother is now suspicious.

Helen seems at first interested in his talent rather than Boray as a person, though Boray is quick to press her on the second issue. He gains a manager, Bauer, from her connections, and is now in love with her. On the beach, near the Wrights' Long Island home, he reaches out to Helen after a swim, but she runs away; later in the evening she falls off a horse and he kisses her, but Helen does not want to be touched and wishes to be left alone by Paul.

After a shot of ocean waves, everything is different. Helen warns him he might be sorry love was ever invented, but admits she cannot fight him any longer, and is in love with him. Waiting at home, Esther (Ruth Nelson), his mother, is not fooled by his denials, and points out a missed date with Gina Romany (Joan Chandler), also a musician and his long-time sweetheart. Esther had earlier overheard Victor's putdown of Paul as a "savage" after a concert.

After a tour across America that takes several months, he has lunch with Gina. Sid arrives with Helen, who is immediately jealous. After a scene in Teddy's Bar, in which Helen smashes her drink ("What Is This Thing Called Love?" is performed by Peg La Centra in the background), she is angry with Paul at being neglected. Paul points out her married status, but Helen urges him to let her become more involved in his career.

At his new apartment containing numerous photographs of Helen, he confesses his love for her to his mother. Disquieted by rumors he has heard, Victor asks his wife for a divorce. He is suspicious of her real intentions, but Helen admits this is first time she has known real love.

At a rehearsal, Paul is passed a note from Helen claiming good news. She asks to see him immediately, but he crumples the note and continues with the rehearsal of the Carmen Fantasie (adapted for the film by Franz Waxman from Bizet's Carmen). At Teddy's Bar, Helen becomes increasingly drunk, and is unable to tolerate the house pianist performing "Embraceable You". Paul arrives to take her home. This time, it is Helen who is cool; she repeatedly does not really hear his stated wish to marry her.

Helen listens to Boray play his transcription of Wagner's Liebestod on the radio.[2] Recalling her husband's words, Helen realizes her dissolute past can only taint his future, and then walks to her death in the nearby ocean; in her jaded mind, this is the only logical resolution to their problems. Paul, distraught, is comforted by the loyal Jeffers.

Returning to the opening scene, Paul asks Jeffers to tell Bauer not to worry. He is not running away.



The movie is the second adaptation of the novel, the first being a 1920 silent version directed by Frank Borzage. It was Crawford's first film after her Oscar-winning role in Mildred Pierce, and her third for Warner Bros, after being bought out by MGM(who paid Crawford $100,000 when the contract was terminated by mutual consent). Costumes for Humoresque were designed by Adrian and Bernard Newman.

During an August 15, 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show, Robert Blake stated he had been unable to generate tears during one of his scenes. John Garfield cleared the set and began to tell him about his own childhood, his mother's death and growing up on the streets in the Bronx. It had the desired effect on the young Blake and he was able to complete the scene.


Franz Waxman orchestrated and conducted the score. Violinist Isaac Stern served as musical advisor, and the film includes close-ups of Stern's hands playing the violin, ostensibly the hands of Garfield. Stern (not Garfield) was the actual solo violinist on the movie's soundtrack.[3] Oscar Levant, who played Sid Jeffers, was a celebrated pianist and it is Levant's piano playing that is on the soundtrack.[4]

Parts of these classical music pieces are heard in the film:[5]

Songs in the film:[5]

Columbia Masterworks released an album of music from this movie consisting of four 78-rpm phonograph records (Columbia Masterworks set MM-657, copyright 1946).[6]

In 1998, Nonesuch Records released an album of music from this movie, recorded in 1997 in London and New York, featuring violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.[7][8]

Critical reception

Lawrence J. Quirk in Screen Stars (Retrospective Review) commented, "Humoresque is undoubtedly Crawford's finest performance...Her timing was flawless, her appearance lovely, her emotions depthful."[9]

Bosley Crowther in The New York Times of December 26, 1946 observed, "[T]here is certainly nothing humorous about the lachrymose 'Humoresque' . . . . It is rather a mawkish lamentation upon the hopelessness of love between an art-dedicated violinist and a high-toned lady who lives for self alone. . . . [T]he Warner Brothers have wrapped this piteous affair in a blanket of soul-tearing music which is supposed to make it spiritually purgative. . . . The music, we must say, is splendid—and, if you will only shut your eyes so that you don't have to watch Mr. Garfield leaning his soulful face against that violin or Miss Crawford violently emoting, . . . you may enjoy it very much."[10]

Awards and honors

Franz Waxman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Box office

The films budget was estimated to be around $2,164,000. The film fared well at the box office and grossed $3,399,000 and the film was hailed a success. With inflation in 2007 the gross is $35,737,750.[12]

According to Variety the film earned $2.6 million in rentals in 1947.[13]

In popular culture

Humoresque was parodied on the television show SCTV in 1981. The Joan Crawford role was played by Catherine O'Hara as Crawford, while the John Garfield role was played by violin virtuoso Eugene Fodor.[14]

In 1998, pop star Madonna released a video for her single The Power of Good-Bye which was based on several scenes from the movie.[15]


  1. Hurst, Fannie (1920). Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It. New York City: Harper & Brothers. 
  2. (2010-02-26) Wagner and Cinema. Indiana University Press, page 170-171. ISBN 9780253221636. “The 'Liebestod' music is now underway -- not its very beginning but the mid-to-final sections. A close-up of Paul bonded with his instrument dissolves into Helen's emoting face in close-up, wind tossing her hair about. From here to her death there is no cross-cutting with the concert hall. Graced by stunning black-and-white cinematography and lyrical shots of Crawford's tortured face, the gripping move to suicide against Wagner's sexually charged music takes place.” 
  3. Script error
  4. Barber, Charles. "Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972)". Classical Net. Retrieved on 2015-12-21.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Maciejewski, Neil. "'Humoresque' 1946". Legendary Joan Crawford. Retrieved on 2016-01-11.
  6. "Isaac Stern in Music from 'Humoresque'". (2015-02-11). Retrieved on 2015-12-23. "Warner Brothers originally wanted Jascha Heifetz for the job of playing the violin on the soundtrack, but he demanded more money than Jack Warner was willing to pay, so ... [Franz Waxman] went to San Francisco to hear Stern in a recital, and hired him on the spot."
  7. "Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg: Humoresque". Nonesuch Records. Retrieved on 2015-12-23. "Inspired by the 1947 Warner Bros. film of the same name"
  8. "Music Review: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg: Humoresque - Nonesuch 79464-2". Mr. Lucky. Coconut Grove Media (September 2000). Retrieved on 2015-12-23. "In listening to Humoresque, your world becomes black and white. ... You don the smartest of evening clothes. Your every utterance is loaded with insight and meaning. The beauty of 'serious' music obsesses your soul, and yet you remain tortured because your fingers can't produce the exact same sounds that haunt your dreams. A cup of coffee is a nickel."
  9. Quirk, Lawrence J. (October 1970). The Films of Joan Crawford, Film Books. Lyle Stuart, Inc., page 163. ISBN 978-0806503417. “Humoresque is undoubtedly Crawford's finest performance...Her timing was flawless, her appearance lovely, her emotions depthful.” 
  10. Crowther, Bosley (1946-12-26). "Movie Review: 'Humoresque' at the Hollywood". Retrieved on 13 September 2008. 
  11. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees". (PDF). Retrieved on 2016-08-19.
  12. "Box office / business for Humoresque (1946)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 2015-12-21.
  13. "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  14. "Series 4 Cycle 2 - SCTV Network". Second City Television. Retrieved on 2015-12-21.
  15. "Joan Crawford vs. Madonna". (2005-07-30). Retrieved on 2015-12-20.

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