For this month’s Movie Challenge from Kristina over at the world famous Speakeasy I have been assigned a film I probably would have gotten around to for the simple reason that “I like Bing.”
The Movie Challenge is when Kristina and I direct each other to a title not yet seen to broaden our viewing experience and hopefully enlighten each other on some hidden gems.
This early Bing Crosby effort sees him on loan out from his home studio of Paramount to Cosmopolitan Pictures via MGM billed second to leading lady Marion Davies. Taking the directorial reigns is someone I wouldn’t associate with the musical due to his numerous films featuring the tough guy type of leading man. It’s none other than silent film actor turned director Raoul Walsh.
The film opens with Marion as a French teacher at a school for girls surrounded by a faculty of spinsters who don’t appreciate Marion’s late night pining at the radio while she listens to the smooth romantic tones of Mr. Crosby over the airwaves. It’s all rather scandalous when Marion proclaims, “Life, love. That’s what I need.”
One could argue that the platinum haired Marion is something of a stalker as she corners Bing at his hotel wanting to proclaim her love for the singing star. Bing wants little to do with another adoring fan and makes haste to get to the train station as he’s headed to Hollywood and the picture business. A little bit of life imitating art here for Bing. It’s at this point that we get a choreographed send off with Bing singing a few bars.
Crosby is set to appear opposite his current love Fifi D’Orsay. Fifi is a wild French temptress who has her hooks deep into Crosby. Showing up on board the train is Marion who quickly runs afoul of Fifi but catches the eye of the films meek producer Stuart Erwin.
Arriving in Hollywood Marion quickly finds a friend in Patsy Kelly who shows her the ropes around the studio and landing bits on film productions. Still chasing after her ideal man Marion drifts off to sleep at night which allows for another production number in her dreams with Bing romancing Marion in a Southern Belle outfit then moving on to a Hee Haw styled farm setting in overalls. Filling out the running time viewers of the day are treated to a vaudeville styled radio show featuring the Three Radio Rogues.
It should come as no surprise that Marion is soon to be discovered and cast in the leading role opposite Bing. She can speak French which the role calls for and when Fifi takes a swing at her competitor, Marion lands a haymaker which proves to be the film’s best scene.
Moving along Marion is about to find that Bing is somewhat of a wolf and perhaps not the perfect man she thought he had to be based on the love songs he’s been shelling out over the radio. Perhaps a good woman’s love can straighten him out.
By the time of this film, Marion’s star was fading despite William Randolph Hearst’s continuing support in furthering her career. For more on the Hearst/Davies affair look no further that Citizen Kane or the excellent HBO film RKO 281. Marion is fun to watch here playing light comedy and coming across wonderfully as the young lady chasing a dream and landing in Hollywood. I have to think films like this practically served as an advertisement luring thousands of young hopefuls to the land of movie stars.
Bing was just beginning his iconic career at this point playing second lead to Marion and featuring the deep singing voice that would lead him to world wide fame. Bing would of course become one of Hollywood’s top box office stars for the next twenty years and one of the most influential singers of the century.
Walsh handles the directing chores just fine and with a couple of big scale production numbers one wishes the film had been shot in color though that was far from the norm at this point in film history. While I associate Walsh with films like White Heat and numerous Errol Flynn adventures like Gentleman Jim he had by this time dozens of features to his name. Among them the early Duke film The Big Trail, Gloria Swanson’s Sadie Thompson and the Fairbanks adventure The Thief of Bagdad.
There’s a wonderful shot in this film capturing the “vamp” Fifi D’Orsay signalling the hold she has over poor Bing at a turning point in the picture. It’s a very Bela Lugosi(ish) styled look caught on camera. Fifi was actually born Yvonne Lussier in Montreal, Canada so one can assume she was indeed a French speaking actress though not an import from France.
Joining in the fun with Patsy Kelly is Sterling Holloway, both long time character players and easily recognizable just as much for their vocals as their facial features.
For star gazers of early Hollywood you’ll also see people like Norma Shearer, Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery splashed across the screen in stock footage of what would appear to be a movie premiere.
So if your thinking of Going Hollywood this offers us a time capsule to what it might have been like in the early days of the talking motion picture and serves as a nice window to the early days of Crosby’s legendary run in the entertainment industry.
Now be sure to head right on over to see what Kristina has to say about an adventure film starring one of my favorite actors. It’s a film that just might have served as the biggest inspiration to those Harrison Ford films where he starred as some guy with a bullwhip calling himself Indiana Jones.