Thursday, May 3, 2018

BING'S BIRTHDAY MOVIE: Waikiki Wedding (1937)

It's that happy time of year again, Bing's birthday. Today we are looking at the third highest grossing film of its movie season behind The Good Earth and Maytime. Paramount broke the MGM stranglehold with its popular singing star.

Waikiki Wedding plays to the strengths of the Bing movie persona; the happy-go-lucky fellow who is friends with everyone except the suits, and likes to laze around and sing. In this case, Bing plays Tony Marvin, a PR man for the Imperial Pineapple Company. His latest scheme involves the winner of a contest for the Pineapple Girl. The lucky girl gets a trip to Hawaii and her impressions of the islands will be syndicated in newspapers throughout the country. Only one thing is wrong. The girl, Georgia Smith played by Shirley Ross, does not like the islands. She is not having a good time what with having middle-aged executives squiring her about looking at landmarks. She wants some romance, adventure and a good time.

A Grady Sutton sighting! Hooray!

The president of Imperial Pineapples, J.P. Todhunter played by George Barbier demands that Tony Marvin come up with some of the aforementioned romance and adventure, and quick. Todhunter Jr. played by Grady Sutton is a jealous executive who aches to see Marvin's downfall.

Original songs by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger are sprinkled throughout the movie. Bing as Tony introduces the future standard Blue Hawaii. The plan is to have Tony win Georgia over with a romantic song. Tony is helped by his backup band and his pal Shad played by Bob Burns. Burn's deadpan comedy is a contrast to the boisterous characterization of Martha Raye as Myrtle Finch, the girl Tony ends up serenading while Georgia strolls along the beach.

Tony does eventually meet Georgia, but it is not congenial for either party. Later in the movie, when their initial contentious meeting is forgotten, Tony and Georgia reprise Blue Hawaii in most winning fashion. Why it's just as if they hadn't rehearsed at all!

Anthony Quinn

By the time of the Blue Hawaii reprise, Georgia is knee deep in adventure and romance. Tony has arranged for all to be involved in mystery and intrigue with a stolen pearl, a volcano, and an angry god. Anthony Quinn, who had been playing a variety of movie natives in pictures, plays his first movie role of any import as Kimo, a pal of Marvin's who helps put over the ruse. In later interviews, Quinn had nothing but praise for Bing and his easy-going nature that made the young actor comfortable on the set.

Miss Smith has been out of touch with Imperial Pineapple HQ, yet prewritten copy has made its way into the newspapers. A worried relative, Georgia's Uncle Herman played by Granville Bates, and her fiance Dr. (he's a dentist) Victor Quimby played by Leif Ericson arrive in Hawaii to check on Georgia. This Quimby fellow is both a stuffed shirt and a bully.

Bing Crosby, Shirley Ross

Well, you can guess what happens. Tony and Georgia fall in love. All is moonlight and roses until she discovers he has been exploiting her for the company. Uncle Herman and Victor determine to take her back home immediately. Tony and Shad work out schemes to keep Georgia in Hawaii and keep Herman, and especially Victor, out of their way. Uncredited Emma Dunn is a great help to Tony in his scheme. In fact, I'm not so sure he would have gotten the girl without Dunn's help. Yeah. Who am I kidding? We paid for the boy meets/loses/gets girl set-up and we want the boy meets/loses/gets girl set-up.

Martha Raye, Bob Burns

Waikiki Wedding is a pleasant and professionally polished movie that may not be great art, but it is solid entertainment. It would have been lovely if Paramount had deigned to film the movie in colour, but they did go all out with the black and white cinematography by Karl "Sunrise" Struss. I find his work here almost hypnotically gorgeous. Director Frank Tuttle juggles the action, the romance, the music from Bing, and the comedy bits from Martha Raye and Bob Burns with a nice ease.

A spot of contention existed between Bing and producer Arthur Hornblow in that Bing wanted to sing a song by Hawaii based bandleader Harry Owens in the picture. Bing insisted and Bing persisted. The song Sweet Leilani was written by Owens for his daughter, and originally he was uncertain as to releasing it to the public. Bing arranged for all royalties to go into a trust fund for Owens' daughter and any future children, and that answered the question favourably.

Sweet Leilani became a huge recording hit as well as winning the Academy Award. The other nominees were: Remember Me by Warren and Dubin, That Old Feeling by Fain and Brown, Whispers in the Dark by Hollaender and Robin, and They Can't Take That Away from Me by George and Ira Gershwin. Honestly, the ways of the Academy are unfathomable. Perhaps they were dazzled by the charming little number's radio success.

Waikiki Wedding rode in on the wave of a 1930s popularity of all things with a Polynesian air. Bing certainly enjoyed the flavor in the music recording the albums Music of Hawaii, Favorite Hawaiian Songs, and Hawaii Calls, and also turning Mele Kalikimaka into a perennial Christmas tune.


  1. While I've seen WAIKIKI WEDDING (long ago), I don't remember it as well as the songs. My father had all the "Bing's Hollywood" records released by Decca. The album with songs from WAIKIKI WEDDING also included tunes from SING YOU SINNERS and DOUBLE OR NOTHING. I did not know the background "Sweet Leilani," so thank you for sharing it! Thanks for reminding folks, too, what a huge star Crosby was. Many people tend to forget that.

    1. I'm convinced that all it will take is for TCM to give Bing the Star of the Month treatment, which they haven't since 2005, to put him back to where he belongs.



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