(Air Date: Week Of 3/3/93)
The concept for the new Disney film "Swing Kids" evolved after screenwriter Jonathan Feldman saw a reference to the phenomenon "in an obscure historic journal". The National Socialist movement objected to American swing music because it was created by Black and Jewish artists, therefore German youths who championed swing represented a political danger. Or so this movie says and/or tries to say for 113 minutes.
There is some difficulty in verifying Feldman's view of 1939, not only because his obscure inspiration is unidentified in the press kit, but also because so much of his dialogue rings false for the period. There may have been a bundle of problems with the production of "Swing Kids", because Disney has held back its release for some time. We are expected to care in some way about the destruction of the friendship among three swing kids (Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale and Frank Whaley) but we don't because their friendship is only shown in a series of brief glimpses and in four lavish production numbers.
The film attempts to trace some sort of connection between the extremely well-documented plight of the Jews and the happy-go-lucky swing kids, but it doesn't, because the swing kids clearly had the opportunity to make a choice about their fate & the Jews did not. The swing kids are shown as disloyal, opportunistic, skin-deep and suicidal, while their Jewish counterparts are shown sketchily or in shadows. Clearly, the makers of this film wanted to make a big commercial movie about sexy Aryan kids with undeveloped consciences dancing up a storm on their way to their individual destinies, but all they've come up with is yet another well-intentioned flop. Who was this movie made for? Adults, who'll squirm at its wobbly narrative and hokey finale? Teenagers, who are supposed to identify with Robert Sean Leonard's confused character, maybe, or feel sorry for the self-destructive music buff played by Frank Whaley? Nope, "Swing Kids" is a mess from start to finish, riddled with retroactive guilt, some lively dancing and mostly-good actors who act their little hearts out for first-time director Thomas Carter.
For counterpoint, check out a little 1943 exploitation film Edward Dmytryk made for $205,000 at R.K.O. studios: "Hitler's Children" with Bonita Granville and Tim Holt. "Hitler's Children" was no masterpiece, but it wisely stuck to basics: Romeo and Juliet versus the swastika. The formula worked well enough to earn back its budget sixteen times over. (Note: There is no sex and not much love in "Swing Kids".) Why did a cheap little love story like "Hitler's Children" attract more audiences than "Top Hat", "Little Women" and "King Kong"? Check it out on video and find out.
Copyright 1993 Monica Sullivan
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