Thursday, May 15, 2008


I recently read the first volume of Gary Giddins' masterful biography of Bing Crosby, "A Pocketful of Dreams," which covers the man and his career up to 1940, and I've been anxious to see more of Crosby's early, that is, pre-"Road," films. A recent 5-film DVD set from Universal includes this little gem, a big moneymaker for Paramount (as most of his movies were). It's as fluffy and insubstantial as cotton candy but it has a certain charm, and has the added plus of imaginative production numbers. The film, set entirely on the Hawaiian Islands, begins with a nicely shot native wedding scene with Crosby as best man, serenading the couple in a surprisingly deep voice. He plays a PR man for a pineapple company who has to deal with a promotion gone bad: a contest winner (Shirley Ross) who is supposed to be writing a series of newspaper articles about her wonderful paradise vacation is having a miserable time and wants to leave. The head of the company (George Barbier) wants Crosby to make sure that she changes her mind. He gets off on the wrong foot when he accidentally dunks her in the water. The next day, as she's about to leave the islands, a man asks her to wear a necklace for him so he can smuggle it past customs. She agrees, but is waylaid by a group of Hawaiian men who tell her that the necklace has a stolen pearl in it that she must return to its proper place to placate the volcano gods. Crosby accompanies her on her adventure, along with his sidekick Bob Burns and her pal Martha Raye. About halfway through the movie, we learn that the entire escapade, even the threatening volcano, has been arranged by Crosby to give Ross the time of her life, but along the way, she starts to fall for him, and he for her. Just as her cocky fiance (Leif Erickson) flies out to see her, she learns that not only did Crosby fake her adventure, but he's also been publishing newspaper articles about her trip under her name. Which of the suitors will she wind up with? Um, duh, but as in most romantic comedies like this, it's not the conclusion but the getting there that's the point.

Crosby is his usual mellow, charming self, and sings two great songs, the Oscar-winning lullaby "Sweet Leilani" and the lovely "Blue Hawaii," which is sung once as a duet with Ross in which Crosby is supposed to be teaching her the song, a scene that may have influenced his performance of "White Christmas" with Marjorie Reynolds in HOLIDAY INN. There's also a very fun dance number, "Hula Heaven" which involves some sexy dancing on top of giant drums, and a man doing a wild knife dance. Ross, who sang "Thanks for the Memory" with Bob Hope in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, is OK but doesn’t exactly burn up the screen. Raye's over-the-top mugging gets a bit obnoxious, and I could have done with a bit less of Burns and the pig he carries everywhere. Even though we are clearly meant to find Erickson immensely unlikable, he is sort of hot. Also in the supporting cast is Grady Sutton as Barbier's piggy son, Granville Bates as Erickson's uncle, and Anthony Quinn in one of his earliest credited roles as one of the native men who helps Crosby out with his charade. Though most of it was obviously shot in the studio, the tropical sets are nice and it looks like there is some location footage in the background on occasion. Quite fun; as I noted earlier, fluffy but charming. [DVD]

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