Looking Backward: Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938)

2 May

“A piteously frail satirical idea,” quoth Bosley Crowther on Cowboy from Brooklyn. There’s some nice Mercer/Whiting work in it, though – if one were to put only the numbers into a That’s Entertainment-esque comp film, one might make people think it had potential.

And I admit to laughing aloud more than once at Pat O’Brien’s fast-talking impresario, but that sort of character is a failing of mine. (Nice to see O’Brien being effectively kooky, an element that Dick Powell is out of in this little fluffball).

Ditto Pop Hardy (Granville Bates) and his little “and the wind was howling” routine in the scene with the reporters. Leads screw up routinely in the history of film, but character actors of that era…they knew how to make anything work. My awe is constant.

But aside from an appreciation for the charms of Priscilla Lane, instilled in me from early youth, there’s not much else happening here.

So I’ve decided to talk about Louie, the piano player for Powell’s fictional combo, The Three Sharps, one Harry Barris (this being Bing Crosby’s birthday eve and all).

The Rhythm Boys

(that’s Harry to your left, them Bing, then Al)


Barris (Chuck’s uncle) has maybe five minutes of screen time here, which is more than he usually got, bless his heart. It’s my understanding that he ran into fairly frequent financial trouble (usually of the distilled variety) and so Bing, who started out with Barris & Al Rinker as Paul Whiteman’s influential “Rhythm Boys” vocal trio in the Beiderbecke years, would sing and re-sing Harry’s songs (“Mississippi Mud,” “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” “I Surrender, Dear”) on record and radio for years to generate royalties. Crosby also saw to it that Barris got bit parts in loads of movies.

According to A Pocketful of Dreams, the you-should-turn-off-the-computer-and-read-it-right-now Gary Giddins bio of the meat of Crosby’s career, “Harry appeared in more than fifty movies between 1930 and 1950, usually as a band member, pianist, or emcee. His finest screen moment is as the jivey, gum-chewing accompanist who encourages Irene Dunne to rag ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’ in Universal’s 1936 Show Boat…Harry told his daughter, Marti, that a guest shot with Bing on radio paid the hospital costs of her birth.”

Good form, Pops.

One Response to “Looking Backward: Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938)”


  1. Rhythm on the River (1940) | I Humbly Suggest... - September 23, 2013

    […] me to Wingy Manone, the great one-armed jazz trumpet player, whose Just Digging of things as one of Crosby pal Harry Barris’s band makes me consistently […]

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