Tag Archives: bing crosby

Rhythm on the River (1940)

23 Sep

Kraft-Mac-and-CheeseThe other comfort food movie to which I knit upon our arrival in this Place of Calm was Rhythm on the River, a surprisingly solid little romantic musical comedy with what are frequently called “winning” performances from Bing Crosby and Mary Martin, as well as the narcissism-addled non-songwriting Basil Rathbone, scene-stealing Charley Grapewin (with whom Crosby has evident fun) and Oscar Levant, oddly cast in the Oscar Levant role.

levant_crosbyFor years I had this movie on VHS, recorded in the late lamented Dorian-hosted glory days of AMC, in LP mode so I’d have room for The Mouse That Roared. I found it in a cheap DVD double-feature release (with the inferior-but-fun Rhythm on the Range from 1936) some years ago and made my wife watch it. Her love for This Sort of Thing has allowed it to be added it to the standard I-feel-like-crap/-am-stressed-and-or-exhausted pantheon.

A song is whistled by Bing Crosby, Whistler of Songs in Movies (it becomes “That’s For Me” once it gets lyrics) and the whistling (with attendant floor-thumping) happens around our house with confusing frequency. But before he whistles the actual melody, he pre-noodles it on an elevator with Mary Martin in a way that – personal bugaboo alert – convincingly replicates the actual way one noodles and settles on a tune. It’s really something to watch, that oft-noted Crosby brand of naturalism; argue all you want about the benefit of range in an actor, there’s much to be said for this thing he had, difficult to manufacture.

There’s so much charm in this silly little trifle, so much high-era Crosby Casual, some surprisingly effective comedy from Rathbone in particular. (And I’m convinced that Cherry Lane, the music publishers, was named for Martin’s character here.) I’m surprised that it’s not a more familiar title, not because I think it’s a sleeper work of genius, but because this is precisely the type of movie that people who like the Comfort of An Old Movie love. I think of it as an un-Christmas movie, in that I find myself watching it at least once a year and filled with the same general inner warmth. I don’t guarantee results for everyone, but it’s always worked for me.

It also introduced 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 happy.

wingymanoneOne of the unfortunate side effects of having a soft spot for movies like this is the way in which parts of it enter your personal lexicon every bit as much as lines from Casablanca or The Godfather or what have you without the benefit of anyone else knowing what the hell you’re talking about when you say “I just dug it” or “Kelso’s Cucumber Cream” or even the period rallying cry “Peace! It’s wonderful,” not specific to this flicker but still not something one runs across every day, sadly.


rhythmriverAnyway, highly recommended for those nights or sick-day mornings when you know you need This Sort of Thing. You know the times.

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.