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"East Side of Heaven" is a fable of New York City with a breezy Bing
Crosby as a singer (first a singing telegrapher then a taxi troubadour)
whose life is complicated by a friend's marital woes and a baby.
Joan Blondell has a grand showcase for her loveliness and her comedy chops as Bing's fiancée. Mischa Auer steals every scene he is in as the helpful, loafer pal.
The most adorable tot in movies, Baby Sandy, is the plot hinge upon which swings a tyrannical grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith), a worried mother (Irene Hervey) and a grandly unlikable radio host (Jerome Cowan).
You'll wish there really was such a place as the Frying Pan Cafe where waiters and cooks join guests in song. "Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb" is just one of the infectious numbers that add the sparkle to this movie.
A truly entertaining comedy-musical the whole family will enjoy.
East Side of Heaven is one of two pictures Bing Crosby did for
Universal. In exchange. I believe Paramount got the services of Allan
Jones for The Great Victor Herbert and Honeymoon in Bali. Crosby's
second film for Universal was If I Had My Way.
This one for Universal was done on the same skimpy budget that Paramount normally gave 1930s Crosby vehicles. But loan outs are good to see because you get a chance to watch a leading star with players that are not from his home base. Crosby gets a spirited leading lady in Joan Blondell in their one and only film together. Similarly he has supporting players like Mischa Auer, Irene Hervey, C. Aubrey Smith and Jerome Cowan who are all very good and also never worked with Crosby again.
Crosby is first a singing telegraph messenger and later a singing taxi driver who's going out with Joan Blondell and she's a switchboard operator at a radio station. Jerome Cowan who plays a Walter Winchell like columnist has eyes for her. An old friend of Bing's, Irene Hervey who married a wealthy heir, deposits her baby with Bing while she sorts out her marital problems caused by her meddling father-in-law, C. Aubrey Smith. The baby is believed kidnapped and the fun begins.
Bing has four good songs to sing, written by Jimmy Monaco and Johnny Burke. Two of his patented philosophical numbers, Sing a Song of Sunbeams and Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb, a ballad East Side of Heaven and the hit of the movie That Sly Old Gentlemen sung to put Baby Sandy to sleep.
The plot involving a potentially kidnapped baby was very relevant with the news of the Lindbergh baby fresh in everyone's mind. Fortunately all is righted at the end.
IF you love Bing as I do, see this movie.
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.
EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN (Universal, 1939), directed by David Butler,
features Bing Crosby, on loan from Paramount, his first starring role
for Universal, where he made his debut appearing as one of the Rhythm
Boys in THE KING OF JAZZ (1930). Working opposite Joan Blondell for the
only time on screen, his competition for this production happens to be
an infant named Baby Sandy Henville, in her motion picture debut,
billed simply as Sandy. Although not the initial opener to the short
lived "Baby Sandy" series, it did introduce little Sandy to movie
audiences, with her character in the plot being a boy.
Set in New York City, this good-natured story finds Denny Martin (Bing Crosby) working for Postal Union where he sings telegram messages to customers over the telephone. Aside from sharing an apartment with his Russian born friend, Nicky (Mischa Auer), who lives on astrology readings and wears a bathrobe with the inscription on the back, "Moscow Golden Gloves 1919," Denny is also engaged to Mary Wilson (Joan Blondell), an attractive switchboard operator at the Hotel Raleigh who is loved by Claudius De Wolfe (Jerome Cowan), a radio reporter for the Federal Broadcasting Station, whose catch phrase is, "Are you happy, honey?" and who makes ever effort coming between Mary and Denny. Denny's wedding has been postponed three times already and now a fourth after losing his job for speaking out of turn to millionaire Cyrus Barrett Sr. (C. Aubrey Smith), DeWolfe's sponsor, for interfering into the lives of his good friend, Mona (Irene Hervey) and her husband, Cyrus Barrett Jr. (Robert Kent). Denny's unemployment lasts only a day, having acquired a job the next morning for the Sunbean Cab Company as a "Cruising Troubador" taxi driver singing to his passengers. All goes well until Denny encounters Mona and her infant son (Sandy), who confides in him about her unhappy marriage with her husband always out on drinking binges, thanks to his father. She now wants to locate Cyrus and save her marriage before it's is too late. Unable to break away from her child, whom the grandfather wants to take custody, Denny advises her to leave her baby with a friend she can trust. She does, Denny. Denny, who's never really been fond of children, learns how to act as father and guardian taking the responsibility keeping the renowned infant in his apartment and out of reach of detectives and nosy neighbors. Nicky, experienced in babysitting having raised his three younger brothers (who have since disappeared), helps care for the child by day. Having acquired a baby nearly breaks up his engagement when Mona mistakes Denny's "baby" for another woman. Things really get complicated when Denny returns to his apartment to find Nicky tied up with the baby gone. The next step is for Denny and Nicky to locate the baby before they become accused of kidnapping.
Good tunes by James V. Monaco and Johnny Burke include: "Sing a Song of Sunbeams" (sung by Bing Crosby); "Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb" (sung by Crosby and The Music Maids); "Sing a Song of Sunbeams" (reprise); "That Sly Old Gentleman" (sung by Crosby to Baby Sandy); "The East Side of Heaven," "That Sly Old Gentleman" and "The East Side of Heaven" (reprise).
Cleverly scripted and often amusing, especially with the comedy relief by Mischa Auer, placing babies with crooning actors is really nothing new. It's been done before, notably with Maurice Chevalier in A BEDTIME STORY (Paramount, 1933) where he plays a Frenchman who unwittingly becomes an adopted father to Baby LeRoy. Singing cab drivers has also been done before in "Broadway Gondolier" (Warners, 1935) starring Dick Powell. While it's unlikely to come across singing taxi drivers these days, it's anybody's guess the one portrayed by Crosby actually existed, considering the closing credits following the cast of players reading: The "cruising troubadour" suggested on Dave Howell's character.
Rarely seen since its presentation on public television in the 1980s, it's been resurrected as a DVD package tribute to Bing Crosby along with his other Universal venture, IF I HAD MY WAY (1940) in 2006. A feel good movie that should delight many Bing Crosby fans. "Are you happy, honey?" (***1/2)
"East Side of Heaven" isn't a particularly deep or fancy film, but it
is fun and is a nice little family film. It's so nice, it's almost
worth giving this one an 8.
Bing Crosby plays a struggling singer. He can't find a good job, so he first takes one as a singing telegram man and then as, oddly, a singing taxi driver. During the course of his job, he meets a desperate young lady and her obnoxious and very rich father-in-law (C. Aubry Smith). The old man is determined to take the child away--even though the mother is very competent. So, in desperation, she hides the cute kid with a friend--Bing and his roommate (Mischa Auer). The plot doesn't get a whole lot deeper than that, but it helped that Joan Blondell was on hand to play Bing's fiancée and that the baby was so freakin' adorable. All in all, fluff--but incredibly enjoyable, well written and well made fluff.
By the way, this film is included on the same disc as Bing's "If I Had My Way"--a film that is even better! A wonderful DVD and one worth having in your collection.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Someone once said, "Never do movies with dogs or babies. You'll loose
every time". That proves to be true for Bing Crosby and Joan Blondell
in this 1939 Universal comedy with songs. They have the first half of
the movie to dominate, but once Baby Sandy comes on, it's all over for
these two. Crosby is a singing cab driver who finds that the estranged
wife of a drunken pal has left a baby in his cab to prevent her
father-in-law from taking custody of the child. Crosby must then hide
the baby until the mother reclaims it and prevent a nasty reporter from
exposing him. Joan Blondell plays his girlfriend and gives her usual
peppy wide-eyed performance, but really is wasted here. Fresh from 9
years at Warner Brothers, she was obviously hoping for better things,
but didn't get it in this movie. Crosby sings a few charming songs, and
is basically the same as he is in pretty much every other movie he made
up to that point.
Surrounding these two stars are such familiar character actors as Mischa Auer (as Crosby's Russian roommate) and C. Aubrey Smith as the grouchy millionaire/father-in-law. All of them don't mean squat once Baby Sandy shows up on the screen. Even cuter than Baby LeRoy, this tot smiles and plays for the camera as if she had one starring at her at birth. It's obvious as to why Universal felt she could handle her own series. Without the presence of this adorably little girl, the film would be entirely too cloying to enjoy.
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