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The short life and passionate music of romantic composer Frédéric Chopin provide the foundations for this 1945 drama, which proved influential in its gaudy, undeniably watchable formula of historical exaggeration and shrewdly simplified motives for its principals. In an Oscar-nominated performance, Cornel Wilde presents the Polish native as a passionate nationalist driven by his love of his native country and his hatred of its czarist regime, a thematic focus that can be forgiven in light of the political backdrop at the time of the production. Already a prodigy in his native land, where he's mentored by a shamelessly scenery-chewing Paul Muni as Professor Elsner, Chopin flees to Paris where his flashing eyes, dark nimbus of curls, and florid technique earn him stardom, while his involvement with the writer George Sand (a beautiful Merle Oberon, even when draped in then-provocatively masculine garb) introduces a romantic crescendo. Still, the tortured pianist-composer pines for his homeland, frets about its political fate, and begins to wither under the rigors of his new career as ur-superstar; in a typically over-the-top but riveting image, we see drops of blood spatter across the keyboard as he thunders through a recital, gallantly ignoring his failing health to spread his music and, by extension, awareness of Poland's fate. Numerous subsequent musical dramas (including two more Song-titled biographies from the same studio) would ply a similar mix of grand gestures and larger-than-life emotions, yet the most interesting comparison to be made is with 1991's Impromptu, a more acerbic spin through the Sand/Chopin affair (and the Parisian demimonde including Alfred DeMusset, Franz Liszt, and Eugene Delacroix) directed by frequent Stephen Sondheim collaborator James Lapine. --Sam Sutherland
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