As an evocative glance back at Hollywood in the mid-1940s, “The Maestro” succeeds on several levels, not the least of which is a superb turn by one of acting’s best utility players, Xander Berkeley (TV’s “24,” “The Walking Dead”). He plays Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a true-life, largely unsung studio film composer — and Jewish-Italian émigré — who also taught such future luminaries as John Williams, Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith.
Unfortunately, the movie, directed by Adam Cushman (he also co-edited), is told instead through the eyes of another of Castelnuovo-Tedsco’s real students, a songwriter named Jerry Herst (Leo Marks), whose son, C.V. Herst, scripted.
It’s not that the elder Herst’s own story isn’t interesting: He composed a hit tune in the 1930s (“So Rare”), practiced law for seven years, then, in 1945, left Northern California for the show biz capital to study with “the maestro.” But compared with Castelnuovo-Tedsco’s grand, complex, philosophical European, Herst, at least as presented, is simply less compelling and colorful.
In addition, the narrative, despite its more intriguing strands, gets sidetracked by the mundane goings-on at the boarding house where Herst rents a bed — and a piano — from the unpleasant Mrs. Stella (Joëlle Séchaud).
Still, amid the glorious music, the fine period re-creation and burnished photography, the emotionally sound portrayal of artistic endeavor and that award-worthy turn by Berkeley, “The Maestro” often scores.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; VOD, Feb. 19