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Jed Potter looks back on a love triangle conducted over the course of years and between musical numbers. Dancer Jed loves showgirl Mary, who loves compulsive nightclub-opener Johnny, who can't stay committed to anything in life for very long. Written by
Diana Hamilton <email@example.com>
BLUE SKIES (Paramount, 1946), directed by Stuart Heisler, reunites a couple of song and dance men Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire from the ever popular HOLIDAY INN (1942) in a lavish scale musical with songs by the Irving Berlin. While the title BLUE SKIES tends to sound like an aviation movie, it's actually a love triangle story set to music. This could have been an interesting sequel to HOLIDAY INN, where Crosby and Astaire both continue to compete for the same blonde, this time Joan Caulfield instead of Marjorie Reynolds. Overall, it's an original idea credited by Irving Berlin himself with an added touch of Technicolor and larger scale dance routines.
In common tradition to many 1940s movies, most commonly found in the "film noir" genre, BLUE SKIES is told in flashback, starting in modern day setting at a radio station, Broadcast Network of America in New York City's Rockefeller Center, where Jed Potter (Fred Astaire), a former dancer now a radio personality, relates his life story and career to his listeners, a story with a beginning but without a finish. Dating back circa 1919 following World War I finds Jed attracted to Mary O'Hara (Joan Caulfield), a girl, a "very pretty girl," working in the chorus. He invites her to accompany him for dinner at a night club owned by Johnny Aams (Bing Crosby), his Army buddy. Almost immediately, Mary is attracted to Johnny, but in spite of Jed's warning that Johnny is not the marrying kind, she cannot resist him. Johnny and Mary marry, and during their union have a daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Karolyn Grimes). All goes well until Mary finds that Jed is right in his assumption of Johnny being selfish and unstable, buying and selling nightclubs (oneof them called "Top Hat") at a moment's notice, and unable to settle down at in one place they could call home. After their divorce, Mary becomes engaged to Jed. Finding she's unable to marry Jed, Mary disappears, leaving Johnny as well as Jed, through his narration, to wonder whatever became of her.
As Jed Potter relates his "album of Irving Berlin songs" to his radio listeners, movie viewers get to to be treated to see and hear such classic tunes including: "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" (sung by chorus, danced by Fred Astaire); "I've Got My Captain Watching for Me Now" (Sung by Bing Crosby); "You'd Be Surprised" (sung by Olga San Juan); "All By Myself" (Crosby); "Serenade to an Old-Fashioned Girl" (sung by Joan Caulfield); "Puttin' on the Ritz" (Astaire); "I'll See You in C.U.B.A." (Crosby); "A Couple of Song and Dance Men" (Astaire and Crosby); "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" (Crosby); "Always" (chorus); "Blue Skies," "The Little Things in Life," "Not for All the Rice in China" (all sung by Crosby); "Russian Lullaby" (Chorus); "Everybody Step" (Crosby); "How Deep is the Ocean" (chorus); "Running Around in Circles" (Crosby); "Heat Wave" (sung by Olga San Juan/danced by Astaire); "Buy Bonds Today" "This is the Army" "White Christmas" and "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" (all sung by Crosby). "Mandy" and "Some Sunny Day" are those other songs heard as background music.
Astaire's "Puttin' on the Ritz" number, where he dances to eight images of himself, is one of the great highlights. First introduced by Harry Richman for the 1930 musical, PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ, the original lyrics have been changed to fit the Astaire style as well as the changing of times. Crosby and Astaire also provide fine moments with their joint collaboration as "A Couple of Song and Dance Men." Billy De Wolfe supplies much of the comedy relief as Johnny's partner and assistant. Aside from being the love interest to Olga San Juan, he does a five minute one man comedy routine as Mrs. Murgatroyd.
While the story tends to get corny at times, it does get better with its passage of time and its assortment of fine songs. Aside from Crosby's singing, his sentimental moment where he meets with his little girl (Grimes) again is well done, along with Astaire's dancing, which is always first rate. He briefly breaks away from his traditional character where he becomes a troubled dancer who turns to liquor after being jilted. Legend has it that BLUE SKIES was originally intended to become Astaire's farewell movie. Fortunately, after his two year retirement, he was lured back to the screen for more musicals, dramas and everything else through 1981. Joan Caulfield, then new to the movies, would work again with Crosby in WELCOME STRANGER (1947), an underrated drama with songs. Crosby and Astaire wouldn't work together again until being reunited again for their TV special, "A Couple of Song and Dance Men" (CBS, 1974)
Formerly presented on American Movie Classics (1994-1999) and later Turner Classic Movies (where it premiered February 18, 2007), BLUE SKIES, distributed on video cassette in 1997, is also available on a DVD package double featured with Crosby's other musical, BIRTH OF THE BLUES (1941). Although BLUE SKIES is not as memorable as HOLIDAY INN, they can be summed up as being two different movies with similar storyline as well as the memory of all that. (***1/2)
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