Monday, May 19, 2003


I haven't been a big Bing Crosby fan, even though GOING MY WAY is one of my favorite movies, but this is a light and likeable musical that has made me decide to search out some other Crosby/Paramount musicals of the era. Bing plays a laid back fellow who can't quite commit to a full-fledged musical career, so he ghostwrites melodies for a famous songwriter (Basil Rathbone) who lost his touch after the great romance of his life went sour. Unknown to Crosby, Rathbone has his lyrics ghosted as well, and when his ghost drops dead one day, he hires young Mary Martin as a replacement. Soon, by typical Hollywood coincidence, Crosby and Martin meet up at Crosby's uncle's country inn (cleverly called the Nobody's Inn). At first, they rub each other the wrong way, but soon they pair up, romantically and musically, still not aware of their Rathbone connection. Musical complications lead to romantic complications, particularly when she thinks that he has stolen a private love song of theirs to sell to Rathbone.

The first thing that struck me as I was watching was the overlap of some elements between this and HOLIDAY INN, a more famous Crosby/Paramount musical of two years later. There's a country inn, some snow, Crosby sitting at a piano smoking a pipe as he composes and falls in love, and the showbiz career plotline, including Crosby being torn between taking it easy and maintaing a career. The next thing that struck me was how good Mary Martin was, which made me sad that her Hollywood career wasn't stronger. She made a handful of movies in the early 40's, most of which seem to have been forgettable and forgotten, except for her wonderful number "Hit the Road to Dreamland" in STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM (reviewed here 1/02), then headed to Broadway to become a success there. Rathbone is pretty good playing against type, though at times he does seem a bit uncomfortable; George Sanders or an older character actor like Charles Coburn might have been fun in the part. Or, if they'd wanted to make a romantic triangle, Tyrone Power. Oscar Levant steals most of his scenes as Billy Starbuck, Rathbone's musical secretary--the problem is that he's so clearly talented that one wonders why Rathbone didn't just hire Levant to write his songs. Charley Grapewin is the uncle and William Frawley has a small role as a music publisher. There are some memorable songs including "Only Forever" (which was nominated for an Oscar), "Ain't It a Shame About Mame," and the fun title song, done with Crosby and a "hot jazz" combo in a hock shop. Bilky Wilder had a hand in the screenplay. One clever in-joke: Starbuck (Levant) is seen at one point reading a book by Oscar Levant. This film is available on a Bing Crosby "twofer" DVD and I recommend it highly--not one for the ages, but very enjoyable.

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