Humoresque (1946): Jean Negulesco’s Melodrama, Starring Joan Crawford ad John Garfield

In Jean’s Negulesco melodramatic exploration of art and desire, Joan Crawford plays New York socialite Helen Wright, a character torn between selfless love and selfish impulses.

John Garfield, just after his successful turn in the classic noir “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” plays Paul Boray, the tough violinist and driven genius, who’s initially Helen counterpart and then her protégé-lover.


theatrical poster

Warner’s picture was the second version of the story, adapted to the big screen by the playwright Clifford Odets (who penned the similarly themed “Golden Boy”) and Zachary Gold from Fannie Hurst’s popular novel; the story had been first filmed in 1920.

With some music played by Isaac Stern, and featuring an amazingly lush score by Franz Waxman, which was deservedly nominated for an Oscar, “Humoresque” was a box-office hit, a good follow-up for Crawford, after winning the Best Actress Oscar for “Mildred Pierce” the year before. Fans of Crawford swear by this film; others regard it as a camp classic.

You can spot character actor Robert Blake in the role of Garfield as a young boy. The secondary ensemble includes the wisecracking Oscar Levant, as Paul pianist-friend, and J. Carrol Naish.

Narrative Structure:

The tale begins on a negative tone, when a performance by noted violinist Paul Boray is cancelled due to his reaching rock bottom emotionally. At his apartment, he is about to give up on his career, when his manager Frederic Bauer is admonishes him for that. Paul’s more sympathetic friend and accompanist Sid Jeffers asks Bauer to leave. Boray then tells Jeffers that he always has wanted to do the right thing, but always has been “on the outside, looking in,” unable to “get back to that happy kid” he once was.

The story then flashes back to Boray’s childhood.

The last two sequences are crucial.

Neither woman (Helen or Esther) attend Boray’s next concert, in which he plays Wagner’s Liebestod. Helen listens on the radio, after talking with him on the telephone and telling him not to worry. Upset with herself, and recalling her husband’s words, she realizes her dissolute past can only damage Paul’s future. She walks on the beach and then to her death, thinking it’s the only logical resolution to their problems. Later, on the beach, a distraught Paul is comforted by the loyal Jeffers.

Returning to the film’s opening scene, Paul asks Jeffers to tell Bauer not to worry as he is not running away. The closing scene shows Paul walking on the street toward his family’s grocery store.

Oscar Alert:

Oscar Nominations: 1

Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Franz Waxman

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

In 1946, the Scoring award went to Hugo Friedlander for William Wyler’s post WWII drama, “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which swept most of the Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.  The other nominees were Bernard Herrmann for “Anna and the King of Siam,” Miklos Rosza for “The Killers,” and William Walton for Olivier’s version of “Henry V.”

DVD Special Features include:

“Humoresque” has been fully restored from the original camera negative for this release.

New Featurettes:

The Music of Humoresque


Joan Crawford as Mrs. Helen Wright
John Garfield as Paul Boray
Oscar Levant as Sid Jeffers
J. Carrol Naish as Papa Rudy Boray
Joan Chandler as Gina
Tom D’Andrea as Phil Boray
Peggy Knudsen as Florence Boray
Ruth Nelson as Mama Esther Boray
Craig Stevens as Monte Loeffler
Paul Cavanagh as Mr. Victor Wright
Richard Gaines as Bauer – Paul’s 1st producer
John Abbott as Rozner – conducts Nat.Inst.Orch.
Robert Blake as Paul Boray – child (as Bobby Blake)
Tommy Cook as Phil Boray – child
Don McGuire as Teddy #2 – Prop. of Teddy’s Bar


Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Jerry Wald
Screenplay by Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold, based on Humoresque: A Laugh on Life with a Tear Behind It, 1919 story in Cosmopolitan by Fannie Hurst
Music by Franz Waxman
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Rudi Fehr
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: December 25, 1946

Running time: 125 minutes
Budget $2,164,000
Box office $3,399,000