BLUE SKIES (director: Stuart Heisler; screenwriters: Irving Berlin/Allan Scott/Arthur Sheekman; cinematographers: Charles Lang/William E. Snyder; editor: LeRoy Stone; music: Robert Emmett Dolan; cast: Bing Crosby (Johnny Adams), Fred Astaire (Jed Potter), Joan Caulfield (Mary O’Hara), Billy De Wolfe (Tony), Olga San Juan (Nita Nova), Mikhail Rasumny (Francois); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Paramount; 1946)
“Astaire’s dancing is just the best.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Stuart Heisler (“The Glass Key”/”Tulsa”/”I Died A Thousand Times”) replaced director Mark Sandrich, who died of a heart attack at the start of production. Filming began with famed stage tap dancer Paul Draper as Jed Potter, but Heisler replaced the stutterer with Fred Astaire after he said he couldn’t stand working with non-dancer Joan Caulfield. Commie sympathizer Draper had his movie career cut short after making just one more film.
Blue Skies is a lavish spectacle of song and dance with I think 32 songs (it once had 42 before editing) by Irving Berlin (but only a couple of them new), including Astaire’s fantastic rendition of ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ – complete with a chorus line of mini-Freds thanks to trick photography. One of the few Berlin new tunes is sung by Bing Crosby “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Robert Emmett Dolan also was nominated for musical score. For the oldies there’s Bing doing “White Christmas” and Olga San Juan doing a flamboyant Carman Miranda-like sensual tropical number called “Heat Wave.” The liveliest number is a Crosby and San Juan rendition of “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A.”
The music is grand, but the film falters because of its thinly contrived backstage love triangle plot and that the acting is lukewarm (Astaire is not suited to play a zany and loose guy). Nevertheless the uneven film cleaned up at the box office. It garnished a lot of publicity because the 45-year-old Astaire announced his retirement after this film; Astaire did retire for two years but came back at MGM’s request to replace an injured Gene Kelly in the Easter Parade and continued working into his seventies.
The plot has radio broadcaster Jed Potter (Fred Astaire) open his radio program by telling his audience about his two best friends in showbiz. It begins in 1919 with the Berlin song of “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” when he was the star dancer in a show and in love with countrified family values chorus gal Mary O’Hara (Joan Caulfield) but she thought he was too fast for her and turned down his proposals. Instead Mary falls for Jed’s shiftless former crooner vaudeville partner and nightclub owner Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby). After Johnny refuses to marry Mary, turning colors over the word stability, he returns two years later and does. The couple lead an unstable life moving many times as Johnny keeps selling his nightclubs. The couple divorce soon after Mary gives birth to a daughter and she gives him an ultimatum of staying put or else. Jed steps in and gives Mary a part in his show, and hopes to marry her. Mary out of pity changes her mind, blaming herself for Jed’s accident when he was performing drunk and falls off a platform and thereby must end his dancing career. But before they marry, Jed realizes she’s hopelessly in love with his rival and calls off the wedding. During the radio program Jed makes a public appeal for Mary to return to Johnny. He has just returned from touring with the troops during World War II and is in the studio. The three old friends reunite on the air and after embracing, they leave the studio together–one big happy family.
The threadbare plot is merely an excuse to roll out the music but if you like the old-fashioned music, this one does justice to Berlin’s songs, Bing’s crooning is a treat and Astaire’s dancing is just the best.
REVIEWED ON 2/20/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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