Trying in vain to convince us otherwise, the movie business continually churns out stories about artists who realize they need to be great human beings first and great artists second. If they don’t, they perish. Young Man With a Horn is a cautionary tale about jazz trumpet player Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas), whose single-minded pursuit of being a virtuoso only leads him to a life of booze, depression, and a misguided marriage to wayward dilettante Amy (Lauren Bacall). In the clubs, his playing is genius, but his selfishness excludes him from his aging mentor (Juano Hernandez) and the peppy singer who quietly adores him from the sidelines (Doris Day). The only one who can help him is piano player Smoke (Hoagy Carmichael), whose love of music and taste for life helps pull Rick back from the dark side. Dramatically contrived and thematically feeble, Young Man With a Horn benefits more from its atmosphere of smoky gin joints and posh ballrooms. The trumpet playing is rousing (Douglas’s playing is dubbed by the great Harry James), Carmichael gets to shine behind the keyboard, and Day’s vocals on songs like “The Very Thought Of You” spin straw into gold. But the non-musical performances are shallow: Douglas is forceful but one-note, Day is as square and wholesome as a glass of milk, and Bacall purrs along in the same faux-bad girl performance she’s given for the past 60 years. But I suppose that’s fitting for a morality play this black and white, where wild jazz, liquor, and loose women cause the downfall of man.
The black-and-white image mostly holds up, but there's the occasional grain and shimmer. The mono sound is better, fluidly balancing the trumpet playing with the band and Doris Day's lovely vocals.
The extras are virtually nil: a trailer for Young Man With a Horn and some other Doris Day movies.
Young Man With a Horn casts Kirk Douglas as a selfish artist who gets his comeuppance, but it's a theme that smacks of bullshit.