'The Fabulous Dorseys’ 4K; Fighting Irish Big Band Theory


The two December 2021 releases from The Film Detective provide good reason to rejoice in this less-than-merry holiday season. Our topic du jour is the December 14 4K (also out on DVD) release of  "The Fabulous Dorseys" (1947).  A cool aspect of this example of the big band films of the '40s is that Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey portray themselves in this true Hollywood story.

The Holmes for the Holidays BD gift set of four rare Sherlock Holmes films (complete with rare shorts and other spectacular extras is a subject for a post within in the next few weeks. Having watched three of the films and several of the copious even more rare shorts allows the preview that Detective surpassed its usual excellence. 

The following Detective trailer for the "Dorseys" release awesome highlights both the docu and the drama aspects of this equally educational and entertaining look at the "fathers" of '60s squabbling siblings The Smothers Brothers. We also get a sense of how it all came together when Dad sang along not to mention seeing how something always happens whenever the boys are together. 

Our story begins with the early 20th century childhood of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. Wholesome hilarity ensues as failed musician/part-time music teacher Mr. Dorsey suffers through a lesson with a comically inept student when the titular excitable boys come rushing in. This leads to aptly showing that the sons of a cobbler do not always go shoeless.

All of us who despise our siblings can relate to the following scene in which forced labor in the form of practicing music leads to the brothers arguing in a manner that continues well into their childhood. Essentially, Jimmy insists on being the leader of the band despite Tommy wanting to figuratively dance to his own tune. In this regard, one can consider the Dorseys as the fathers of Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks and the grandfathers of Dan and Warren Zanes of The Del Fuegoes. 

We also meet singer/girl-next-door Jane Howard, who is skilled at getting Les Freres Dorsey to settle down. Her main motivation is to ease the angst of Mrs. Dorsey.

An underlying theme of these opening segments is that laborer Mr. Dorsey does not want his coalminer's sons to have to follow in his sooty footsteps. Anyone who has seen either "Billy Elliot" or the criminally little-known Keanu Reeves film "The Prince of Pennsylvania" can relate to this. 

The game fully is afoot when the action shifts ahead 15 years to the Dorseys having some success with their dreams of travelling together, spreading a little music, and keep moving on. Sadly, they do not always feel happy when they are singing their song, This time, it is Jane who is singing along and keeping harmony within the family. 

These early days are fraught with figurative roadblocks that make even having enough money to eat a dive and stay at a flophouse a challenge. Their piano player bailing at a low point for the group leads to the fateful hiring of movie-palace entertainer Bob Burton. One spoiler is that Bob essentially becomes the cousin, rather than the uncle, of our leads. 

A subsequent highlight of "Dorseys" is a live-radio gig gone amusingly horribly awry. This incident is instrumental (of course, pun intended) to the subsequent break-up of the band. Rather than being a Yoko, Jane risks personal happiness by relentlessly trying to get the bros to hug it out.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ma and Pa Dorsey are fretting about their battling offspring. Seeing the impact of the kids not being alright on the 'rents is especially well portrayed. 

All of this leads to the expected Hollywood ending.

The Ballyhoo Films documentary on the aforementioned movies that center around the rock gods, including Frank Sinatra in his younger days, that greatly enhance life in a northern town PERFECTLY demonstrates the blessing and the curse of these always awesome productions. Although watching these shorts after the main feature avoids major spoilers, saving that equally and educational work for a tasty dessert distracts from savoring the miraculously expertly restored main course from Detective.

Ballyhoo does its usual comprehensive job in explaining the societal context of this genre and by informing the viewer of the Kinsey scale from sublime to ridiculous as to what Hollywood releases in this period. Ala the debate as to whether "Die Hard" is a Christmas film, Ballyhoo sparks controversy by labelling the Abbott and Costello movie "Buck Privates," which does feature performances by The Andrews Sisters, as a big band movie. Purists would argue that it is a comedy.

Following the tradition of the cool kids not reading over the Christmas break is behind only being able to mention that this release includes a Cliff Notes essay on the Dorseys. The perfect track record of Detective prompts strong confidence that this one is as well-written as its counter-parts in the Detective library. 

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