Monday, January 25, 2021


Rhythm on The River
is full of great supporting actors who really add to the film. Character actor Charlie Grapewin plays Bing’s uncle. Fresh from his role as Uncle Henry in the Wizard Of Oz for MGM, he was loaned out to Paramount for this film. As I said earlier, character actor William Frawley appeared as a song publisher as well as Charles Lane, another familiar face in hundreds of movies. Former Rhythm Boy Harry Barris had a nice role as the band leader, although the band in the film was Wingy Manone’s band. Wingy Manone was a jazz favorite, but he had lost his had to a streetcar accident when he was young. He has a prosthetic hand and basically plays the trumpet with one hand. It is interesting to watch him in the few scenes he did have to see how he is always hiding his handicap. Also, Bing’s cohorts from his Kraft Music Hall radio show appeared in the film. His bandleader John Scott Trotter played himself, while his announcer Ken Carpenter played another announcer by the name of Teddy Gardner. 

Like the majority of Bing’s lighthearted comedic romps, the music and singing were the main draw. This movie, while it had a compelling plot, was not different. For the film songwriters Johnny Burke and James Monaco wrote the score. The most successful song in the movie was “Only Forever”, the love song, and it would be big hit for Bing Crosby. Another song “That’s For Me” would be a minor hit for Bing. He also recorded the title song – “Rhythm On The River”. His commercial recording pales in comparison to the number he shoots in the movie. In the movie he is at the pawn shop, and he gets his friends’ band instruments out of hawk. Bing sings the song and has so much fun with it – even doing some decent drum work. It is one of the most carefree numbers I think Bing ever shot in the movies. It was and is a high point of the movie for me. Bing also sings two other songs “When The Moon Comes Over Madison Square” (a horrible song in my opinion) and “What Would Shakespeare Have Said” (which he never recorded commercially). Mary Martin got to sing two outstanding solo numbers. Director Victor Schertzinger wrote the torch song “I Don’t Want To Cry Anymore” which Mary sang exceptionally. It was also recorded by Billie Holliday in the 1950s. The other song, which Burke and Monaco wrote for her was the fun “Ain’t It A Shame About Mame”. That was another favorite of mine.

Author Gary Giddins in his second Bing biography “Swinging On A Star-The War Years” seems to enjoy Rhythm On The River, and remarks how the film was a turning point for Bing as an actor in the 1940s. More of Bing’s personality was rolled into his characters. Gary wrote that the movie began as a treatment written in Germany by Billy Wilder (Wilder was an admirer of Bing and directed him in 1948’s The Emperor Waltz). However, Wilder was crushed when Bing brought in his gag writer Barney Dean to punch up the script. In the end, even though Wilder got credit on Rhythm On The River, in later years he denied that he deserved even a writing credit on the film. 

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times enjoyed it: "It’s a very funny thing about this picture business—or this musical picture business, we should say. One producer may come along with a super colossal whopper, all dressed up in fancy pants and boasting a high-class score and folks will find themselves sitting watch on a dull and pretentious fizzle. And then along will come Paramount, say, with an entry such as “Rhythm on the River.” which opened at the Paramount yesterday—an after-you sort of entry which gives the odd impression of having been casually shot “off the cuff”—and, behold, it turns out to be one of the most like-able musical pictures of the season... What’s there to it? Well, there’s Bing, whose frank and guileless indifference, whose apparent dexterity with ad libs is, in this case, beautiful to behold. There is Miss Martin, who is ever so comfortable to look at and who sells a very nice song. There is also Oscar Levant, slumming from “Information, Please,” who makes up in bashless impudence what he lacks in looks, charm, poise and ability to act. There are Mr. Rathbone, Charley Grapewin and Wingy Manone, who plays a hot trumpet, and there are several tuneful numbers, especially “Rhythm on the River” and “Ain’t It a Shame about Mame.” Add them all up and they total a progressively ingratiating picture—one that just slowly creeps up and sort of makes itself at home. It’s a funny business, all right."

I feel the film is pretty much perfect, but there is one scene that bothers me. On Bing’s radio show he is always ribbing his bandleader John Scott Trotter about his weight. In the film, he meets John Scott Trotter in the song publishing office. Although he supposedly just met this famous bandleader, he starts making fun of the bandleader’s weight. If he had just met Trotter, he certainly would not make fun of him. It is a minor scene in the film, but one that has always bothered me. The pairing of Bing with Mary Martin was wonderful. They would appear together in one other film – 1941’s Birth Of The Blues, and they were supposed to make 1942’s Holiday Inn together until Mary got pregnant and had to withdraw from the film. They would go on to appear in numerous radio shows and television specials together. Rhythm On The River is often the forgotten movie in Bing’s filmography, but it is a fun movie to watch. Oscar Levant’s scene stealing moments alone are worth it! Add in a great supporting cast and the genius of Bing Crosby, and you have a wonderful movie...

MY RATING: 9 out of 10

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