Sunday, February 17, 2013


For over two decades, Bing Crosby was the number one star at Paramount. He successfully rescued the studio from bankruptcy in the early 1930s. Despite that, Paramount rarely put Bing in a technicolor movie. However, when the studio did put Bing in a big budget musical, the result was always out of this world. That was the result of 1946's Blue Skies.

As in Holiday Inn (1942), Blue Skies is designed to showcase the songs of Irving Berlin. The plot, which is presented in a series of flashbacks with Astaire as narrator, follows a similar formula of Crosby beating Astaire for the affections of a leading lady. Comedy is principally provided by Billy De Wolfe.

Joan Caulfield was the protege of Mark Sandrich - who directed many of the Astaire-Rogers musicals - and who was originally slated to direct this film. He died of a heart attack during pre-production and Stuart Heisler was drafted in to replace him. Heisler wanted Caulfield replaced, but Crosby - who was reportedly having an affair with Caulfield - protected her. Stuart Heisler had never directed a musical, and Bing and the director did not get along. A year after Blue Skies came out, Heisler directed Susan Hayward in a movie called Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman, which was supposedly the life story of Bing's first wife Dixe Lee Crosby.

Tap dancer Paul Draper was the initial choice to partner Bing Crosby, however, during the first week of production Draper's speech impediment and his trenchant criticism of Caulfield's dance ability led Crosby to insist on his replacement by Astaire who, then forty-seven, had already decided that this would be his final film and that he would retire, having spent over forty years performing before the public. The film was billed as "Astaire's last picture" and its very strong performance at the box office pleased him greatly, as he had dearly wanted to go out on a high note.

The reasons for Astaire's (temporary) retirement remain a source of debate: his own view that he was "tired and running out of gas", the sudden collapse in 1945 of the market for Swing music which left many of his colleagues in jazz high and dry, a desire to devote time to establishing a chain of dancing schools, and a dissatisfaction with roles, as in this film, where he was relegated to playing second fiddle to the lead. Ironically, it is for his celebrated solo performance of "Puttin' On The Ritz," which featured Astaire leading an entire dance line of Astaires, that this film is most remembered today.

The story is told in a series of vignettes and musical numbers that serve to show events in flashback. Our narrative link is New York radio star Jed Potter, who once was a renowned Broadway hoofer. The conceit is that he is on the air, telling his life story... which does not yet have an ending. The tale starts just after World War I and centers around two men who became friends while serving in the Army: rising dancer Potter and the business-minded Johnny Adams. While young, hardworking Potter dreams of and works for stardom, the more laid-back and less disciplined Adams has hopes of becoming a successful nightclub owner.

In time, dancer Potter falls in love with a band singer, a "very pretty girl" named Mary O'Hara. He takes Mary to Adams' nightclub, and she takes a shine to Adams. Potter warns Mary that his old buddy is not the marrying kind. So, of course, she marries Adams. The union is not a happy one, despite the birth of a child. Adams' nightclub business is anything but a resounding success, and it turns out Potter was right: Adams is self-centered and unable to commit to his nightclubs, his marriage, or his daughter. The couple divorces, and Mary tries again with Potter. The two even become engaged. But Mary can't go through with the wedding and takes off. A devastated Potter turns to booze and subsequently suffers an accident that puts an end to his dancing career. He winds up behind a radio microphone, sharing his story with his audience, hoping that wherever Mary is, she can hear him.

Blue Skies was one of the biggest money makers of 1946. On a personal note, the film contains one of my favorite Bing songs "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song". The song was nominated for an Oscar for best song but lost to the Judy Garland song ""On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe" from The Harvey Girls (1946). Filmed in beautiful technicolor, it was a shame that the majority of Paramount's movies, even the musicals, were filmed in black and white. Bing Crosby's eyes never looked bluer than in this film. The movie  ranks as one of Bing Crosby's best movies for Paramount, and it is a shining reason why Paramount kept Bing under contract for nearly twenty-five years. The plot today may seem corny, but if you are sentimental as I am, you will still like the film. Definitely thouigh if you are a Bing Crosby fan and/or a Fred Astaire fan, then this movie is for you. Blue Skies has got it all...



  1. I love the musical numbers and the performers, but "Blue Skies" has never made it into my favourite Crosby flicks. I blame the flimsy story.

  2. The Irving Berlin songs are awesome, but I always felt this musical lacked inspiration (especially considering the inevitable comparison to HOLIDAY INN). Still, for the singing, dancing, and music, it's certainly worth watching whenever it's on.

  3. The first time I saw this film was on local TV as a kid and it started my lifelong admiration for that guy who was always hosting "The Hollywood Palace." There is something about that crayola color of the 40s films that warms my heart every time.

  4. David, I'm not familiar with this one. Crosby and Astaire always did good work together. Sounds like this film is pretty dramatic.

  5. David,
    This film certainly does deserve your 10 out of 10 rating and I can certainly see how it made it's way to the top of the box office upon it's release.

    Today it would seem odd that an actor would retire at 46 but when you think about how grueling it was for stars during this era, how many films they were obligated to do a year it's understandable.

    Such great music in this film and I can see why "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song" is your favorite of Bing's very large catalog of work.

    Another entertaining review, David!

  6. I think this film is a testament to Bing's prowess as an actor. His character is, to put it charitably, something of a jerk, due to his restless nature (will he ever be satisfied with any of his clubs), but you're still rooting for him. Not every actor could pull that off.

    I agree with you on "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song". What a great song! I also liked the montage sequence where he sings "White Christmas" to troops in the humid South Pacific. Dramatically, it makes much more sense than its introduction in "Holiday Inn".

  7. Sadly, this is one of those movies that I just haven't been able to catch and I need to. I love your history of the movie which makes it a must for me, regardless of how I feel. Thanks for choosing this film!

  8. This was meant to be Astaire's last film? How many times did he retire? I heard a similar story with Easter Parade(1948). I'm glad he didn't retire or he wouldn't have given one of his best comic performances making fun of himself in Daddy Long Legs (1955).


  9. I love this film but must say I find Crosby's character quite annoying in it and really wanted Joan Caulfield to end up with Astaire, who loves her and stands by her all the way while Bing is always wandering off to buy another nightclub. Maybe not quite as good as 'Holiday Inn', but the colour and the musical performances are gorgeous! Enjoyed your review! Judy

  10. I enjoyed this film but I don't think I liked it as much as I thought I would.
    I do love the Heat Wave number and Olga San Juan steals the show!