Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bing's Birthday Movie: Rhythm on the River (1940)


It's my favourite holiday of the year.  Bing Crosby's birthday, of which there is some confusion to the actual date.  Is it May 2nd or May 3rd?  I stick with the 3rd thus making it a two day holiday.  Hooray!

This year's Bing's Birthday Movie is the charming Rhythm on the River.  The casual movie fan has probably heard of Going My Way, The Country Girl or High Society, but Rhythm on the River has its fans.  Anyone who has seen it, really enjoys it although it only has a paltry 189 votes on the IMDb.

The story idea is from the deliciously twisted mind of Billy Wilder and the screenplay is by Dwight Taylor who gave us such delightful scripts as Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee and Follow the Fleet, along with thrillers I Wake Up Screaming and Pickup on South Street.

The director of Rhythm on the River is Victor Schertzinger.  A violin prodigy, composer and conductor, Schertzinger began directing films in 1917.  Sound was no obstacle for the director, who continued to compose scores and popular songs.  He has a special place in my heart for the song Sand in My Shoes.  If you haven`t heard Connie Boswell sing that haunting tune - all I can say is it is the reason Edison invented the phonograph.  As a director Schertzinger knew how to successfully combine the musical moments with the comedic and dramatic in such entertainments as the Hollywood spoof Something to Sing About starring James Cagney, Love Me Forever with Grace Moore and the gorgeous 1939 version of Gilbert and Sullivan`s The Mikado.  

Schertzinger and Crosby combined their talents on Rhythm on the River, Road to Singapore, Road to Zanzibar and Birth of the Blues.  It is a shame that we don`t have even more Schertzinger pictures to enjoy, but sadly he passed from a heart attack in 1941 at the age of 53.  His last film, released in 1942, was The Fleet`s In starring Dorothy Lamour.  The movie features Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer standards, I Remember You, Tangerine and the fun novelty piece Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry.

Basil Rathbone, Bing Crosby

Rhythm on the River is the story of Oliver Courtney played by Basil Rathbone.  The man really should have been in more comedies.  Courtney is a high-strung and famous Broadway composer.  Sadly, he has lost his muse and "temporarily" and on the q.t. collaborating with composer Bob Sommers played by Bing Crosby.  Bob is willing to go along with the arrangement for the money, for the chance to work with the great Courtney and with the hope that it will be his big break.  However, Courtney is also "temporarily" collaborating with lyricist Cherry Lane played by Mary Martin.  Cherry is willing to go along with the arrangement for the money, for the chance to work with the great Courtney and with the hope that it will be her big break.  Only Courtney's transcriber and confidante Billy Starbuck played by Oscar Levant is, in his everlasting sarcastic way, in on the secret.  Once that secret breaks however, Bob and Cherry form a professional and private partnership.  The course of true love does not run smoothly.  Oliver Courtney sees to that.  Music publishers take care of scuttling the couple`s show business dreams.  They already have a full catalogue of Courtney material.  Maybe they should try something original.

Oscar Levant, Bing Crosby

Musical comedies must have their complications and it helps to have an Oscar nominated soundtrack.  The breakout song from this feature is James V. Monaco and Johnny Burke`s Only Forever.  Along with Bing and Mary`s lovely version you can find recordings by Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.

My favourite of Bing's title tracks is the one for Rhythm on the River.  As with most of his pictures, all you need is Bing and a song, but on this dandy he is backed up by none other than famed Dixieland trumpeter Wingy Manone.  His parents named him Joseph, but after losing his right arm (he used a prosthesis) in a streetcar accident, he could be no one else but "Wingy".

Here's the title tune set in a pawn shop where Bob and Cherry's pal's instruments are being held hostage.  Can't beat Courtney at his own game without a band.  That's Christian "Gepetto" Rub grooving in the background.  Prior to this scene Cherry has a great line of musician snark when she inquires of the lads:  "What else can you fellas play outside of "Tiger Rag" and pinochle?"  Ouch!

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xraBEoQTgDA&list=PL43B44B6203E25867&index=4

18 comments:

  1. Great Bing movie - very underrated one! I loved your review. One of the best songs I think to come out of the film is the unlikely torch number "I Don't Want To Cry Anymore". Thanks for the great memories of this gem!

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  2. I love the teaming of Bing and Mary Martin. So many terrific songs in one little movie. You have good taste in songs.

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  3. Caftan Woman, I do not remember seeing this wonderful film. I will add it to my "my must see" list...

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  4. I really think you'll enjoy it, Dawn. Basil and Oscar are a hoot, and Bing and Mary a joy.

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  5. This is from a Billy Wilder story? How does it compare to THE EMPEROR WALTZ?

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  6. Funny you should ask, Rich. "The Emperor Waltz" was last year's Bing's Birthday Movie. While I've grown fonder or at maybe just used to "...Waltz" over the years, I find it a little heavy-handed. Probably having to do with its post-war placement. On the other hand, "Rhythm on the River" is a light piece with plenty of sly, humourous digs at show biz. A very easy going piece.

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  7. Boy, this film sounds good...Mary Martin, Basil Rathbone AND Ba Ba Bing? how did I miss it??!

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  8. It's funny how some movies slip under our radar, but this is definitely worth seeking.

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  9. Would love to see Basil Rathbone in a comedic role. I bet he's fabulous.

    Bing, of course, is always a charismatic character on screen. Thanks for reviewing/recommending this one. :)

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  10. It's fun to give a little known title a boost. If only because the legions of fans, and I am sure they are out there, don't seem to be talking. Rathbone is hilarious!

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  11. I'm not familiar with this one, and I didn't realize "Only Forever" was from this film. I'll have to look for this one.

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  12. One of my favorite Bings - and that is saying a lot.

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  13. Classic Film Boy, isn't it a shock when we discover where a familiar song started out? I had heard "Only Forever" by Dean Martin many times before seeing this movie for the first time and had to get used to Bing!

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  14. I hope everyone notes that "Rhythm on the River" has the FlickChick seal of approval.

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  15. Dang, this one slipped under my radar, too. Love this: "If you haven`t heard Connie Boswell sing that haunting tune - all I can say is it is the reason Edison invented the phonograph."

    Swell review. I look forward to these "picks". Waiting for you to get your spot in the guest chair with Mr. Osborne.

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  16. Aha, you're a fellow Bozzie!

    I dream about TCM doing a year of the CMBA. Can you imagine the guest programmer delights from this bunch? I regularly update my dream list of four movies. Want to be ready.

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  17. Since my birthday is also May 3, I'm picking that day as Bing's b-day.

    Love this movie, especially Rathbone's performance. He seems to be having a ball in it. The title number is one of Bing's best.

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  18. Happy Birthday, fellow Taurean!

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