Top O’ The Morning (1949)
There’s something magical beyond leprechauns and a pot of gold when it comes to Bing Crosby sharing the screen with Ireland’s own, Barry Fitzgerald, as he does here for what would be there third and final pairing. The two both scored an Oscar for their first film together, Going My Way, in 1944 and kept that winning formula moving on to Welcome Stranger released in 1947. This time out the chemistry is still evident though the plot is a might different than the first two films.
This Paramount release by way of Bing Crosby Productions, utilizes the back lot as a substitution for Ireland where we’ll find Barry as a kindly old Police Sgt. who has Blarney Castle in his jurisdiction. Along with his second, Hume Cronyn, the pair are thrown a major curve ball when the world famous Blarney Stone is stolen. Panic and fear embrace the local population and while Barry wants to solve the theft, a big city detective played by John McIntire steps in to take over the case.
Cut to the United States where we see Bing Crosby glide into the camera lens with a putter and golf ball in hand. Just like we’d expect him to. Turns out Bing is working as a detective for an insurance company. The same one that has a $500,000 policy on the Blarney Stone. So it’s off to the land of green for our singing superstar. But not before giving us a few bars of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
Bing goes into the community incognito as a tourist with an eye for painting the local landscapes. Barry and Hume are anxious to crack the case of the Blarney and figure a stranger in town is worth bringing in to the local jailhouse and Bing finds himself locked up after an amusing scene involving just what he’s captured on canvas. Barry isn’t buying any of Bing’s reasons for being in the community but when Bing grabs a squeezebox and sings an Irish lullaby while sitting in the jail cell, Barry, falls for the young fellow with the crooner’s voice.
A dinner invite to a house party over at Barry’s is all but cemented when Bing learns that Ann Blyth is the daughter of the Police Sgt. Turns out there’s an old widow in our plot played by Eileen Crowe who speaks of a prophecy involving a man who will come into the life of the lovely Blyth. Now give us a dance at the dinner party and a smooth song from Bing and here comes Cupid’s arrow. When Bing turns up in a green jacket with a red pocket lining, little does he realize that he’s continuing to fulfill that prophecy.
While love is in the air, Barry still isn’t sold on Bing and when he learns of Bing’s real identity he’ll feel betrayed. The fact that Bing has kept his identity and mission secret from Barry does closely follow one of the key plot points of their earlier two films. With Barry and Hume disinterested in now helping Bing, he tells them of the reward being offered for the Stone’s recovery and the trio are once again friends for the time being. Now how about a song and that first kiss. Yes Bing is starting to fall for that beautiful smile of Barry’s daughter which in turn has Barry worried. He keeps looking for a hole in the prophecy so he won’t have to call the young man from America his son-in-law.
Light and fun with Bing and Barry sparring on camera I’ll admit to being quite surprised when the film took a turn towards murder and a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes. I half expected Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce to make a cameo. Now let’s take a close look at our cast members and think this through. Who is most likely to be the killer/thief? No, that would be far too easy. Wouldn’t it?
Now that we’ve given that some thought don’t worry too much as this is still a Bing Crosby / Barry Fitzgerald picture. One that is sure to have all of us leaving movie theaters on St. Patrick’s Day with a smile on our face and a song in our heart.
At just 22 years of age in this comical outing, Ann Blyth, had rose to prominence as Veda the daughter from hell in 1945’s Mildred Pierce. Here she’s the total opposite and might be the definitive girl next door. Her smile is breathtaking and begs to be photographed in color though this David Miller film is a black and white affair. Maybe the fact that it’s not filmed in Ireland is one of the reason’s for the black and white look. By that I mean the absence of the lush greens of Ireland I’ve always believed I’ll someday find there are nowhere to be found as they would be just 3 years later when Barry joined John Ford’s stock company on location for The Quiet Man.
Co-star John McIntire was himself one of the premiere character actors of his era. A real pro. Nice to see him sharing the screen with Barry and Bing. While Crosby and Fitzgerald made three starring films together, they also made appearances in a pair of star studded affairs for Paramount. 1945’s Duffy’s Tavern and 1947’s Variety Girl. No Bob Hope cheapshot from Bing this time out as he was known to do in many of his musical comedies but he does imitate Hope’s growl following a scene with Blyth just as another of the prophecies comes to fruition.
I had long thought that maybe this Bing and Barry showcase was a lost film. I say this in part because I don’t ever recall having the opportunity to see it on television or it’s never being included in the many Bing Crosby collections available on DVD. Thankfully TCM proved me wrong by showcasing it last year allowing me to set the PVR for my very first viewing. Glad I finally caught up with it and while I think it’s the lesser of the three films they made together it’s still an immensely enjoyable movie thanks to the screen chemistry these two wonderful actors brought to their performances as they play off one another.