It is hard to believe that today Bing Crosby turns 110 years old. Bing had so many facets to his career. He started out as a band singer with such bands as Paul Whiteman and Gus Arnheim. Then he moved on a recording contract first with Brunswick, and then a long term contract with Decca Records. In the early 1930s radio was the king, so Bing would conquer and dominate that genre for the next 30 years. Finally, Bing became full blown Hollywood movie star. He first starred in a string of Mack Sennett shorts, and then he moved to Paramount Studios where he would remain one of their biggest actors for the next twenty five years. To celebrate his remarkable life and what would be his 110th birthday, I wanted to spotlight my five favorite Bing Crosby films...
5. GOING MY WAY (1944)
The film Going My Way marked the high point of Bing's movie career. In the film Bing played Father Chuck O'Malley, and in the beginning he had some reservations playing a Catholic priest. However, the role won Bing an Academy Award, and it proved that Bing was not just a movie crooner. His take on Father O'Malley made priests seem more human and approachable. The chemistry that Bing had with his co-star Barry Fitzgerald also helped. The movie is full of everything from laughter to tears, and in the foreground is Bing's great role in the timeless film.
4. HIGH SOCIETY (1956)
Bing's first major rival to his status as head crooner was the boy from Hoboken Frank Sinatra. Sinatra rose to super stardom when he left the Tommy Dorsey band in 1943, and he wanted to follow in Crosby's footsteps and become a movie star. In the 1940s there was a fake rivalry that was stirred up between Crosby and Sinatra, but they both admired each other greatly. It would not be until 1956 that they would join forces for a movie. The MGM musical High Society is often considered Bing's last great movie, and it definitely was his last great musical. Bing starred as a lazy songwriter CK Dexter Haven, and Sinatra was a magazine photographer. Thrown in the mix was the beautiful Grace Kelly and the jazz genius Louis Armstrong. Do I need to list any more examples why this is one of Bing's best movies?!
3. HOLIDAY INN (1942)
I hope whatever genius decided to pair up Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin songs got a bonus at Paramount, because it made a wonderful film. Of course, the film introduced the timeless Christmas classic "White Christmas" to the world, and it helped to secure Bing's place as Father Christmas, but also made audiences forget about the horror of a world war that we just entered. Bing sang wonderful songs like "White Christmas", "Easter Parade", "Be Careful, It's My Heart", and "Song Of Freedom" while Fred Astaire danced the quickest tapping ever put on film with his number "Say It With Firecrackers". The black face "Abraham" number may seem dated and some cable channels even delete the number now, but it is a wonderful number that shows that in 1942 the world was much more different than it is now 70 years later. A supporting cast of Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, and Walter Abel help to make this movie one of my all-time favorite holiday films - even though most of the film does not take place at Christmas!
2. BLUE SKIES (1946)
The movie Blue Skies was unique because it reunited Bing, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin on film. During the making of the film, Astaire also announced that it would be his last film he made. He wanted to retire from Hollywood. As we know that was not to happen. When Gene Kelly broke his ankle during rehearsals for another Irving Berlin film Easter Parade in 1948, Astaire was lured back to movie making and never stopped. Fred was not even supposed to be in Blue Skies as it was. Dancer Paul Draper was originally cast as Bing's co-star, but Bing had not chemistry with Draper, and he had him removed from the film. There is also a rumor that Paul Draper disliked the leading lady Joan Caulfield, but Bing was having a relationship with her at the time and was very protective of the novice actress Caulfield. Whatever the reason, I am glad that Fred Astaire signed on.
Again the movie featured a slew of great numbers, and this time they were all filmed in glorious technicolor. Bing had the opportunity to croon such great songs as "Blue Skies", "All By Myself", "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song" and "I've Got My Captain Working For Me Now", while Astaire had career toppers with terrific numbers like "Puttin On The Ritz" and "Heat Wave". The film like Holiday Inn is about two guys and a girl. Most of the film is spent with them fighting over the girl, but in the end happiness prevails. Many consider the plot of Blue Skies corny by today's standards, but years later the film can always bring a smile to my face or a tear to my eye.
1. THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954)
By the 1950s the music scene was changing, and Bing tried branching out to more dramatic roles. Like Going My Way a decade earlier, The Country Girl was Bing's role of a lifetime. He played a drunker washed up singer so convincingly that some bios of Bing in recent years erroneously say that he was an alcoholic. For some of the scenes that required Bing to look tired and completely hung over, he had his sons walk with him all night and keep him up so he would have a believable haggard look for the scene the next morning. At first the film was going to have no music, but Bing insisted that a few songs would be in the film so he would not alienate his regular movie fans. The one song that has always stuck with me is "The Search Is Through. Written by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, the song is used throughout the film to not only show his downfall but also to show his rise from the bottom. It is one of Bing's most underrated recordings in my humble opinion.
The cast is not huge in The Country Girl, but rounding out the film was Grace Kelly and William Holden. Kelly played Bing's long suffering wife, and it would win her an Academy Award. William Holden played a director that was giving Bing his last chance resurrect his career and his life. I don't want to give away the plot, but I have not been able to watch the film since having children. However, it remains my favorite Bing Crosby film. It is a great movie to demonstrate Bing's fine voice as well as his underrated acting ability. It is a prime example of why Bing should remain to be remembered 110 years after his birth...