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Birth Of The Blues/Blue Skies - Double Feature
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Birth of the Blues As a child, Jeff Lambert (Bing Crosby) hangs out in New Orleans' Basin Street, playing hot swing on his clarinet instead of the classics his father prefers. He's inspired by an African-American group there and, some years later, at the turn of the century, sets out to form a jazz band of his own. With cornetist Memphis (Brian Donlevy), singer Betty Lou Cobb (Mary Martin) and trombonist Jack Teagarden (of the Original Dixieland Jazz Group, after which the story is patterned), he's on his way. A veritable history of jazz follows. From jump and jive to sweet romanticism, half a century of popular hits is given spectacular treatment. "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" is sung in a theatre with lantern slides on the screen. Singer Ruby Elzy's "St. Louis Blues" is backed by a chorus of eighty. And "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie" brings Crosby and Martin together in a knockout duet. This bright, bouncy musical is as spirited as they come, and it features "Bing and Mary at their best." (Louella O. Parsons, Los Angeles Examiner) Blue Skies For what Fred Astaire had announced would be his last film, no expense was spared. This musical extravaganza boasts 30 Irving Berlin songs, 47 sets, sumptuous costumes, and a budget of $3,000,000. The result is sensational. (And fortunately, Astaire did not retire from films!) Dancing star Jed Potter (Astaire) and singer/nightclub owner Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby) are both in love with songstress Mary O'Hara (Joan Caulfield). She marries Johnny, but his passion for buying and selling nightclubs drives them apart. So Jed steps in, hoping to win Mary's heart - until fate steps in and changes the lives of all three. The most outstanding number is Astaire's famous "Puttin' on the Ritz," a split-screen gem with a chorus of miniature Astaires tap-dancing behind him. Designed by Astaire, it took five weeks of "back-breaking physical work" to achieve. Other highlights find Astaire and Crosby as "A Couple of Song and Dance Men," and Crosby crooning a wealth of Berlin tunes, including the Oscar-nominated "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song." With its superb stars and sparkling numbers, Blue Skies is one of the all-time great musicals!
It's a flimsy excuse to romp through more than two dozen Irving Berlin songs, but Blue Skies is good fun nonetheless (and one of the top-grossing films of 1946). Bing Crosby is a restless nightclub entrepreneur, Fred Astaire his Broadway buddy, Joan Caulfield the woman they both want. Ignore the plot and enjoy the numbers, especially Astaire's marvelous "Puttin' on the Ritz," which is breathtaking even before multiple images of Fred are introduced dancing in a row (who needs CGI, anyway?). Bing and Fred flash great showbiz chutzpah in "A Couple of Song and Dance Men," which wonderfully captures the appeal of both stars: Fred's heavenly precision, and Bing's "can-you-believe-they're-payin'-me-for-this?" sense of play.
Bing Crosby founds the first white Dixieland band in Birth of the Blues, a tuneful turn-of-the-century tale--if highly suspect as musical history. Borrowing hot licks from black musicians (Eddie "Rochester" Anderson comments, "Our music sure has gone highbrow"), Bing and his players struggle to invade the straight-laced clubs, succeeding only after songbird Mary Martin joins the band. Martin, in one of her infrequent movie appearances, has fun with Der Bingle jazzing up "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," a highlight of this breezily enjoyable nonsense. --Robert Horton
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In BLUE SKIES (1946), Bing sings and Fred treads in this sketchily-plotted musical, which pits Astaire and Crosby against one another, rivals for the hand of the blonde, domestically-minded Joan Caulfield. This frothy postwar frolic has a wild Techncolor exuberance, with crazy explosions all over the pastel-lined spectrum (and an odd tilt towards purple). The sad thing, though, is that this isn't a very good movie -- the plot is razor thin, barely a hint of an excuse to stage a bunch of great (and lesser) Irving Berlin tunes. Some numbers fall flat (and Billy DeWolfe's interminable, painfully unfunny drag routine brings the movie to a screeching halt)... Still, Fred Astaire's killer performance on "Puttin' On The Ritz" is the stuff that legends are made of: as he's angelically hoofing his heart out, a curtain parts behind him, revealing a phalanx of distant, miniature Astaires, keeping time with the big guy. A technical and aesthetic triumph! This flick might be worth it for that routine alone, although Bing gets in some choice vocal performances as well. A dud scriptwise, but it still has two of the greatest performers of the 20th Century, both still at their peak.
When I tried to watch it on my DVD player, the picture went blank. Would it be possible for me to have a DVD of the 1946 Film
"Blue Skies" that is compatible with the English DVD Region?.
"Blue Skies" is a wonderful movie musical. While the plot may not glue you to the screen, it's not a bad story of boy meets girl, boy wins girl, boy loses girl, and boy wins girl back again. The Irving Berlin tunes selected are top notch, and actually enhanced my appreciation of a few of the songs. "A Couple Of Song & Dance Men" is great fun with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, and once again demonstrates that Crosby could succeed in dance numbers, as long as you aren't expecting perfection. "Puttin' On The Ritz" really led me to respecting Astaire's dancing far more than I did when I was young. He really could out-dance Gene Kelly! Billy DeWolfe really isn't so bad, in fact he has his moments as a second banana. If you like musicals and the technicolor look, it will be difficult for you not to enjoy this film!
"Birth of The Blues"...well, I'm glad it was part of a double bill and not the sole reason for the DVD. There are some mildly entertaining musical numbers and a few laughs.
Blue Skies: If you're after a great plot, run for your life from this film. It ain't there. If you like Irving Berlin, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and great music and dancing, dive in and wallow in it! The plot never gets in the way for very long. Bing sings wonderfully throughout, and one of Fred Astaire's greatest on-screen dances is here in "Puttin' On The Ritz", which is worth buying the DVD for. Some of the songs show up in other films (how many times must Bing sing "White Christmas" in a movie before we lose interest?), but all the versions here are enjoyable.
Birth of the Blues: Again, if you're here for the music, you'll be amply rewarded. The depiction of many black characters in the film is cringe-worthy today, but on the other hand, the film does great credit to the black musicians who created some of America's finest national music. The film could serve as a great discussion starter on the topic of how black music became mainstream American music, and the role of both white and black musicians and entertainment figures in that process. Worth watching, and definitely worth listening.