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Singer Denny Martin's marriage to telephone operator Mary Wilson has been postponed several times already and is delayed once again when he changes jobs from singing telegrams to being a singing cab driver. His friend Cyrus Barrett Jr. is the scion of an autocratic millionaire father who is determined to wrest custody of his grandson from his alcoholic son and wife Mona. After Cyrus goes into rehab to dry out on Denny's advice, Barrett Sr. legally moves against his daughter-in-law and tries to have her arrested on kidnapping charges. A desperate Mona leaves Denny in charge of her infant son until she can locate the younger Barrett, but this presents new complications for Denny and his Russisn roommate Nicky as fiancée Mary becomes suspicious that Denny may be seeing another woman. Written by
Crosby Vehicle Irresistible With Blondell, The Mad Russki, And World's Cutest Baby
East Side of Heaven, like most of Bing Crosby's 1930's vehicles, is mild, but very enjoyable entertainment. This one may rise a bit above the others because Crosby, on loan-out from Paramount to Universal, operates with a different and perhaps more sophisticated cast than usual. Not the least of which is that gorgeous, buxom hunk of womanhood, comedienne and fine actress Joan Blondell co-starring as his fiancé. The inimitable, delightfully and bizarrely funny Mischa Auer is on board as Bing's wacky, bug-eyed room mate. Auer, known as "the Mad Russian", had by this movie's 1939 release become a fixture in the period's screwball comedies. Labelled a stereotype by the present generation's politically correct doctrinaires, he was anything but. He was in fact a one of a kind comedian whose act, which has to be experienced rather than described, enlivened every picture he was in. Jerome Cowan contributes one of his typical nasty slickster, a radio gossip monger, while tall, distinguished C. Aubrey Smith adds a touch of class as a gruff millionaire trying to find his grand baby.
And here we come to the real attraction of the show, aside from Crosby's crooning. Baby Sandy, the most utterly adorable, cute, well-behaved, and cuddly baby every produced by American motherhood, I'm sure. Even and old grouch like me couldn't resist her. The winsome kid is being kept by Crosby, a singing taxi driver, while the mother tries to get matters straighted out with her hubby, Smith's ne'er-do-well son. That with expected complications comprises most of this likable musical comedy's fluffy plot. Never mind, the show is carried by Bing's mellow singing, Auer's hilarious antics, Joan's big, blue-eyed good looks, and of course that precious little Sandy baby.
Crosby's numbers included "Sing A Song Of Sunbeams", the warbling cabbie's theme song, the title song, sung at the end, and "Hang Your Hat On a Hickory Limb". This last is the best, as it expands into an elaborate song and dance number involving everyone in a large diner. Three plump old dolls, who must have started show biz in the Gay Nineties, sing a trio that almost steals the show from Bing, and a dancing chef-drummer uses everything in the kitchen for an instrument.
Director David Butler, who also produced and wrote the story, guides all with his usual smooth, sure hand. He was in his element here. Through the 'thirties, 'forties, and 'fifties, before turning to television, he directed with consummate skill dozens of similar light weight but fun musicals and comedies. But he occasionally demonstrated versatility, as when he shifted gears to direct (with some uncredited help from Raoul Walsh) one of my favorite westerns San Antonio (1945 -- see my review).
East Side of Heaven may have been a cheap production, but sets are first rate and the black and white cinematography sumptuous. It has the same smooth, polished look and sound of all big studio productions of the late 1930's through the late 1940's. Thoroughly enjoyable entertainment from America's favorite crooner and Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
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