Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Sal Mineo
THE GENE KRUPA STORY (1959). Director: Don Weis.

Gene Krupa (Sal Mineo of Crime in the Streets) is fascinated by the syncopated rhythms that are taking the nation by storm and his dream is to be a drummer. His Polish-American and devout parents would rather he become a priest, but while he prepares for that role he comes to realize that it just isn't in him. Eventually moving to New York, Krupa becomes not only a famous drummer, but does solos that astound and excite the audience. Although Gene has a girlfriend named Ethel (Susan Kohner), he lets success go to his head, holds loud and fabulous parties, neglects Ethel (even on her birthday), and takes up with seductive singer Dorissa Dinell (Susan Oliver). In other words, he basically turns into an asshole.

Sall Mineo and Susan Kohner
Krupa gets his comeuppance, however, when reefers are -- according to him -- planted on him and he winds up arrested and jailed. This film has him winding up performing in Chinese restaurants and topless bars as he struggles to get back to the top, but I suspect much of that is fabricated for the movie, although the basic facts of Krupa's life are realistically presented.  Nevertheless, as a show biz bio, this pic leaves no cliche unturned.

Sal Mineo gves a terrific performance in this, and even resembles Krupa a bit (this is the rare case when the real person is as good-looking as the actor portraying him). He really seems to be playing the drums during those sequences when he's really letting loose on the percussion. Susan Kohner, always an excellent actress, also scores as the lovely, loving and disillusioned Ethel. (In real life she divorced Krupa, and then remarried him, living with him until her death.) James Darren [The Brothers Rico] is given the thankless role of Gene's friend, Eddie, but he's good, and gets to pleasantly sing "Let There Be Love" (Darren had some hit records back in the day). Susan Oliver [Looking for Love] saucily slinks around like a perpetually horny pothead and the real Anita O'Day delivers a fine version of "Memories of You" in a cameo. Red Nichols plays himself, but Tommy Dorsey, who had passed away three years earlier, is portrayed by Bobby Troup. Celia Lovksy (the former Mrs. Peter Lorre) portrays another of her patented suffering old European mothers.

Verdict: Entertaining biopic with a charismatic and excellent lead performance. ***. 


angelman66 said...

Mineo was wonderful...what a hugely charismatic and talented artist, equal parts heartthrob and character actor, a mix of machismo and vulnerable sensitivity. Love him here with Susan Kohner, who I love from Imitation of Life and who is still with us as of this writitng—she is also the mom of the famous filmmaking Weitz brothers.

And you are right, Bill--this is a fine film; also love all the jazz music and percussion here...

William said...

Glad to note that you are also a Susan Kohner admirer -- she was much more talented than some better-known starlets.

It's a shame that to my knowledge the only bio of Mineo was really about his murder, and the author took a rather snide, homophobic attitude toward him. Maybe some day there will be a more significant book about him.