Before there was Rodgers and Hammerstein, there was Rodgers and Hart. They met in 1919 and were a songwriting team until Hart’s early death in 1943. They’re greatest success was during the thirties, when they seemed to have a hit musical running on Broadway every year, and sometimes several hit musicals. Although they mostly wrote for Broadway (though many of their musicals were turned into movies, often with songs and plot cut and changed), they spent a brief time in Hollywood and composed the songs for several films, one of which was Love Me Tonight (1931).
The film stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald (and one of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy, in a hilarious supporting role as a nymphomaniac – she’s really the best thing in the movie apart from the wonderful music). Chevalier is a tailor who is mistaken for a nobleman and is trying to woo a princess, played by MacDonald. The film is now considered one of the first examples of a fully integrated movie musical (where the songs actually advance the plot and occur naturally), and the song “Isn’t It Romantic,” went on to be one of the most popular and well known songs in the Great American Songbook.
Although the song was more a celebration of life than anything else in the movie, when it became more of a jazz standard, it also became more intimately romantic.
And judging from how it is used in films, it seems to be pretty good seduction music. I first noticed it in The Lady Eve (1941). Con artist Barbara Stanwyck is in the process of bowling over ale heir Henry Fonda with her shapely leg, when I realized what song was playing unobtrusively in the background.
I next noticed it in Sabrina, where it plays a far more important role. It is the song that William Holden always has the orchestra play whenever he is romancing a woman during the Larrabee parties and is the song Sabrina dreamed she would always hear being played for her…only when it finally plays she is with Humphrey Bogart instead.
It’s gotten to the point where I know the songs of that era better than I do the songs of my own. I wouldn’t know a Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber song if it bit me…not that I’m complaining.
For the sheer joy of hearing the song actually sung, here is a link to Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Isn’t It Romantic.”