New Orleans is Republic Pictures' spin on such "musical origin" films as Birth of the Blues and Dixie. Covering nearly four decades, the story is a fanciful recreation of the "birth" of American jazz music. Arturo de Cordova plays Nick Duquesne, owner of a posh gambling house in turn-of-the-century New Orleans (yes, that's an uncredited Shelley Winters as Duquesne's secretary!) When the "good" people of the town forced Duquesne to pack up and leave, he relocates in Chicago, where he discovers that his customers are turned on by hot jazz. Hiring bandleader Louis Armstrong to entertain his patrons, Duquesne no longer has to rely on gambling to make a living. Romance enters the picture in the form of Miralee Smith (Dorothy Patrick), a straightlaced student of classical music who learns to kick up her heels and shed her inhibitions at the sound of jazz. New Orleans is the only mainstream Hollywood feature good enough to cast Billie Holliday in a major role: true, she's playing a maid, but a maid with the most exquisitve singing voice this side of Heaven. The film's highlight is the Holliday/Armstrong duet "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans", surely one of the great moments of movie-musical history.
by Hal Erickson synopsis