Review: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE at Chinese Theatre

The documentary will screen at 4:45 p.m. on June 27th at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA.

By: May. 30, 2023
Review: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE at Chinese Theatre

Part of America’s cultural fabric is the canon of music we call The Great American Songbook. It is that body of work that has fueled nostalgia for the good old days and for lyrics that you could understand and with which you could sing along. It’s the music that the chaotic times of the early decades of the 20th Century (the Depression and wartime) required ~ uplifting tunes that inspired optimism and guided folks on a sentimental journey to places of calm. They are the merry and amorous melodies that found their way into the repertoire of jazz legends, that crooners for decades after would revive, and that filled the interludes of movie musicals and Broadway theatre.

The spirit of this music and of the times in which it was born is captured in I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Susan Morgan Cooper’s candid and revealing homage to one of the luminaries of that era, Jimmy McHugh.

Review: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE at Chinese Theatre

The documentary is the culmination of a collaboration between this Award-winning documentary film director and producer and McHugh’s great-grandson, Lee Newman, who has dedicated himself to preserving McHugh’s memorabilia and cataloguing his works. Newman, a talented musician himself, has quite the family linneage as his other great-grandfather is Eddie Cantor, one of the most successful vaudeville comedians who ever lived. Cooper & Newman's aim is to highlight McHugh’s contributions to the Songbook and to ensure his rightful place in the pantheon of America’s great music men. The film succeeds in doing so and strikes all the right chords.

The film opens with an unsuspecting McHugh being invited to the stage as the featured honoree of the October 8th, 1952 episode of Ralph Edwards’s This is Your Life.

That televised moment of acclaim for a career of accomplishments is Cooper’s portal to a detailed chronology of the composer’s journey from humble beginnings in Boston to his breakthrough at Harlem’s Cotton Club; his fortunate encounter during hard times with George Gershwin (who gifted him with a piano); his historic collaboration with Dorothy Fields (with whom he composed I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE and who went on to blaze her own trail as a collaborator with Jerome Kern and as a music legend in her own right); and the fateful moment when his star (and that of other Songbook writers) was overshadowed by the whirlwind of musicians, most notably, the Beatles, who wrote their own music and lyrics.

Bipasha Shom, the film's editor, skillyfully manages to bring Jimmy McHugh alive. Without a single home movie and only one radio interview to work from, her creative stock and historical footage montages capture the tensions of the times and the cauldron from which the great standards bubbled up. The film flawlessly depicts the desperation of the Depression and the bread lines, the hustle and bustle of old Broadway and Hollywood, the welcoming sanctuaries of music halls and jazz clubs all through McHugh's music.

Add to that the multiple clips of later-year songsters from Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra and Lady Gaga, crooning McHugh’s melodies and emphasizing his enduring legacy.

If there are hammers to hit the nail of McHugh’s stature on the head, Susan Morgan Cooper presents them (quite a coup!) in the form of Michael Feinstein and Johnny Mathis. Alexandra Cooper, the Director of Photography, adeptly captures these intimate interviews.

Feinstein’s erudition is on display as he attests to the distinctive attributes of McHugh’s music. After all, he is the founder of The Great American Songbook Foundation, which ironically has yet to include McHugh in its Songbook Hall of Fame. (McHugh was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.)

Mathis, in contrast, offers a less academic but more inspired and authentically appreciative account of McHugh’s place in the continuum of all-time greats. It’s a delight to watch him kvell over the memories.

Review: I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE at Chinese Theatre

McHugh’s life was not without its controversy and ups and downs. There’s the other irony that Dorothy Fields, his long-time collaborator and secret amour, has enjoyed more of the limelight over the years. Cooper addresses that relationship in the film as one part of McHugh’s overall journey. In the end, however, with this documentary, she has accentuated the positive and rendered an illuminating and loving chorus of praises to the object of hers and countless music lovers’ affection. That counts for a lot.

I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE will screen at 4:45 p.m. on June 27th at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. The 33-minute documentary will be presented as part of Dances With Films, the annual independent film event which, since its inception in 1998, has become known as a “discovery festival” and “summer camp” for filmmakers.

Chinese Theatre ~ 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA ~ 323-461-3331

Historic graphics and photos supplied by Morgan Cooper Productions:

First: McHugh with Dorothy Fields

Second: Standing L to R: Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Walter Winchell, Jane Russell; Seated L to R: Lucille Ball, Jimmy McHugh, Louella Parsons at Ciro’s night club on Sunset Boulevard, May 13th, 1953.


2023 Regional Awards


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