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A Song to Remember

Principal Cast List:
Cornel Wilde, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon.
Excerpts from newspapers of the day:
The New York Times, January 26, 1945
Since movie producers usually approach classical music in an obvious state of trepidation, Columbia Pictures deserves to be heartily congratulated for the generous assortment of Chopin’s popular piano compositions rendered in the new music-drama, or quasi-biographical study of the Polish composer, called “A Song to Remember.”…It is at once a treat for those who are addicted to concerts and a most pleasurable way of acquainting others with the myriad tonal qualities not to be found in the off-beat of modern swing.
…José Iturbi, the unseen and unbilled double for Chopin (Cornel Wilde) at the piano, is the real star of the picture, for it is the score which sings most brilliantly.
From Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movies Guide:
A Song to Remember (1945) C-113m. **1/2
Director: Charles Vidor
Cornel Wilde, Paul Muni, Merle Oberon, Stephen Bekassy, Nina Foch, George Coulouris, Sig Arno. Colorful but superficial biography of Chopin (Wilde) with exaggerated Muni as his mentor, lovely Oberon as George Sand; good music, frail plot.
Thoughts of ManyFountains.com: Iturbi is not in this movie, but he plays the Chopin soundtrack you’ll hear. His ghosting the piano is the best reason to watch. If you want a more interesting account of Chopin, watch Impromptu with Hugh Grant (with an unconvincing Polish accent). But they have several different pianists playing Chopin’s music, and in my view, it doesn’t compare.
Interesting Trivia:
Iturbi was under contract to MGM, and was only allowed to provide the music for rival studio Columbia’s “Song to Remember” under the condition that he receive no billing—and a mere $35,000 payment. Iturbi played the music and went home. Cornel Wilde, by his own account, could, with some difficulty, play “Chopsticks” on the piano, but his pianistic abilities went no farther than that. However, although the movie’s reviews were lukewarm both acting and plotwise, all the reviewers raved about the music—and no one knew who had done it. But Wilde suddenly found himself being invited to parties all over town—and then expected to play the piano. The secret could not remain hidden for long. When one ecstatic viewer wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune saying, “Wilde is a marvelous pianist. Why haven’t we seen or heard of him before? I really think he tops Iturbi!” the editor wrote back dryly, “Mr. Wilde could not possibly top Iturbi, as Iturbi himself was doing the playing.”
Victor Red Seal Records, with whom Iturbi had a recording contract, wasted no time. In April of 1945, Victor announced Iturbi’s two-record set “Music to Remember, from the Life of Chopin.” He also recorded a single in August of 1945, the famous “Polonaise in A-flat,” which soared to the top of the charts and stayed there for four years. (It was still selling years later, and it was reported in 1974 that its sales had surpassed TWO million copies.)
Barely a year after the end of World War II, the Chicago Tribune was decrying “A Song to Remember” as “Red Propaganda,” an early symptom of the communist scare that was sweeping the country.