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1920 75 mins

Frank Borzage
Fannie Hurst, William LeBaron, Frances Marion
Gaston Glass, Vera Gordon, Alma Rubens

Presented by Chicago Film Society

Live musical accompaniment by David Drazin!

Free Screening for Music Box Members - Pick Up Your Ticket the Day of the Show!

Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst founded Cosmopolitan Productions to boost the screen career of his mistress Marion Davies, but the studio found its first major critical and commercial success with Humoresque, a heart-tugging drama about a Jewish family with no role for comedienne Davies. (The film was adapted by Frances Marion from a Fannie Hurst story that first ran in Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Magazine, so corporate efficiency won out regardless.) Set in New York’s Lower East Side ghetto, where kids wrestle on the sidewalk for used cigarette butts and junkmen peddle dubious antiques, Humoresque follows the Kantors, a Russian émigré family dominated by the original Yiddishe Momme (Vera Gordon, a stage actress from Yekaterinoslav) who dotes on her son Leon. He grows up and becomes an acclaimed violinist (Gaston Glass) whose talent serves as a ticket to upward mobility for the Kantor clan — until World War I interrupts the march of assimilation. (“When there is talk in the press of Jewish radicals and bolshevists,” observed Educational Film Magazine, “it is good to see a strong photoplay featuring the patriotism of a Jewish youth in whose grasp was fame and fortune but who deliberately gave it all up to fight for his Uncle Sam.”) Voted the best film of 1920 by readers of Photoplay, Humoresque announced Frank Borzage as a master of urban melodrama and launched a legion of sentimental imitators. The film was loosely remade in 1946, with the violinist’s shiksa girlfriend Joan Crawford taking top billing and engineering an over-the-top exit scored to Tristan and Isolde, but it’s the original that leaves us verklempt. 

Preceded by: “The Boy Friend” (Fred Guiol, 1928) – 20 min – 35mm from UCLA Film & Television Archive

75 mins

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