Archive for the ‘Bing Crosby’ Category

The Bells Of Saint Mary’s

05 Jun

The Bells Of Saint Mary’s – Directed by Leon McCarey. Pious Comedy. A new priest comes to a school run by a long entrenched nun. 126 minutes Black and White 1945.

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This widely popular film delivered two superstars into vestments. The story which surrounds them is an Irish stew into which a liter of treacle has been dumped. It is supported by marvelous performances by certain character actors, namely Henry Travers who is richly internalized as the greedy landlord, and by Una O’Connor who is the wily and knowing rectory housekeeper, very funny in the opening scene. Ingrid Bergman’s husband did not want her to do it, because it was a sequel to Going My Way, but she hoped to learn something from McCarey and to work in comedy. One wonders what she learned. She brings to it an impeccable complexion and a wonderful glow, but seeing how little she is called upon to do, it is no wonder she steered towards Roberto Rossellini just as soon as her contract with Selznick expired. She has a brilliantly played exposition scene, in which the camera mercifully never takes its eye off her as she receives bad news that gets worse, and from the actors’ point of view the film is worth sitting through for this alone. The imperturbable Bing Crosby plays opposite her, but the trouble is that there is no temperamental or even philosophical difference between the two to make up a drama, for both of them are too inherently nice to present an opposition, so the “conflict” between them we must take on faith. Crosby is really a marvelous actor, and well suited to Bergman because she like he is naturalness incarnate. He has large eyes, a fine endowment for an actor, and the ability to play small. The entire film shines with the artificiality of the sound stage, and whole bunches of Hollywood children, who in that era, all play their parts as if they were drunk. Ya just can’t buy it. Bergman sings a song in Swedish and plays the piano, which she knew how to do, and Crosby does several renditions, which, of course, he knew how to do. It won some Oscars. Watch it at a risk to your waistline. So much sweetening will make you look like one of the bells.






Holiday Inn

26 Mar

Holiday Inn — directed by Mark Sandrich — a songwriter starts up a country inn open only on holidays. To it comes a lovely young lady and his old vaudeville dancing chum and competitor for females. 1942 black and white 101 minutes.

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With one exception, there is not a single dance in this piece which Astaire performs up to his standard, partly because his female partners are not on his level and partly because the dances are ill conceived. The firecracker dance is raggedly choreographed, and the dance in 18th Century wigs would have been better performed by Bob Hope. The one outstanding dance is the drunk dance, in which he is not so much partnered as accompanied by the lovely Marjorie Reynolds. This is to be watched, studied, and prayed before. The cast is top-heavy because the Paramount superstar Bing Crosby is in it. (They wanted Rita Hayworth to play the girl, but, with Astaire, that would have cost too much.) Crosby is a remarkable actor: everything he does and says looks improvised: nothing is: he is following the script to the letter. He had a droll insouciance and the amiability of the perpetual fraternity boy. He was a truly humorous person. And very cool. However when he sings, all this is cunningly wrenched into a song-style, and all the songs become subordinated to that style. So he never really sings to the actor or actress opposite him. Instead he produces this style and sings to that — out to the camera — out to his popular front. This means he is never really singing the words to the song: he is only singing to his way of singing a song; he sings renditions. Still, he is truly pleasing company, and the renditions are indeed winning and meritoriously skillful. The film is very well directed by Mark Sandrich, a really fine director of musicals, who had directed five of Astaire’s best RKO films with Rogers. Irving Berlin wrote or revived all the many songs — all barely serviceable — with three exceptions: Easter Parade, Careful, It’s My Heart, White Christmas. This where they come from and first appeared.



Going My Way

11 Jan

Going My Way – directed by Leo McCarey – melodrama about a new priest replacing an old one in a New York parish. 126 minutes black and white 1944.

* * *

Irish sentimentality is one side of the coin. Irish cruelty is the other, a cruelty that one sees in the wings of every breath this picture draws. Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen wrote Toora-loora-loora and Would You Like To Swing On A Star (which won the Oscar), two huge hits from this film, which was immensely popular, as was Bing Crosby who won an Oscar for his performance in it. One wonders how come. Perhaps because he is the only one who does not act up in it. All the rest, Porter Hall, Frank McHugh, and, of course, Barry Fitzgerald  (won the Oscar) fall into the traps the director, Leo McCarey (won the Oscar) has set for them, milking the screen for cheap sentiment. And it can’t be helped, because the story (won the Oscar) and the script (won the Oscar) leave them hanging all over the place like shabby laundry. There is no real humor in the piece, and less comedy. There is only the manipulation by it for us to collude in its corniness. All the conclusions are foregone. All the difficulties too easily resolved. “Okay, kids,” says Crosby to the JDs of the neighborhood, “let’s form a boys choir.” And then: “Okay, boys choir, lets rebuild the burnt down cathedral with our bare hands!” Thus the movie boggles on. What saves it? What saves it is the modesty of Bing Crosby, who wisely, oh so wisely, underplays his part, for the simple reason that he knew his gifts were limited and that he could not have actually played it.  He knew he wasn’t an actor and it serves him, for he could not have played it without his deliberate careful reserve from the attempt to. He brings his collegiate nonchalance to the proceedings but this is kept down for the most part. He’s put in charge of everything and saves the day and the night both, but declines all credit, all effort, all ambition. And he sings at least four songs. He is no more a priest when he sings them than Mrs Pearson’s poodle is. For what he does is not sing the songs but rather turn them into “renditions”. He was the most important singer of his era, for by doing “renditions” he turned everything he sang into a personal vocal method. This had never been done before. Before him, pop songs were sung just clear, straight, and plain, at least by white singers. And it’s interesting to see him placed against Rise Stevens, the Metropolitan Opera star, who, for all her forced gleam actually does just sing clear, straight, and plain. She does not make “renditions”. Crosby appears to be simple when he sings, but he is not. He is a master of a craft so at variance from the priestly that one can only forgive him for it because he is so darn good at it. The film (won the Oscar) is blarney. But Crosby is a true and worthy entertainer.


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