In 1818 Alabama, French settlers are pitted against greedy land-grabber Blake Randolph but Kentucky militiaman John Breen, who's smitten with French gal Fleurette De Marchand, comes to the settlers' aid.
Stan inherits a yacht and a South Pacific island. Ollie and Stan sail there with 2 other men. They shipwreck on a new atoll and settle there. An ex-fiancee joins them. They declare an independent nation and problems arise.
First, let me say "nuts" to the cinema snobs who carp about Capra recycling footage from Broadway BILL in order to bring this picture in on budget. If that's what it took, so be it. In my opinion, RIDING HIGH is far superior to the original picture in many ways. First, the original script was followed closely but was peppered with several "toppers". Second, the comedy sequences - especially the racetrack swindle scene - are much funnier in RIDING HIGH. It was a genuine stroke of genius to give habitual track inhabitant Oliver Hardy the role of the poor sap who sinks it all on "Doughboy". Most importantly, Bing Crosby is, as Capra states in his autobio, right as rain for the role of Dan Brooks. Warner Baxter was decidedly out-of-place and his dour personality put a serious dent in the dramatic success of Broadway BILL. Sure, Colleen Gray is not Myrna Loy. But she is wonderfully natural in this picture and a wonderful mate for Bing. Also vastly improved in this version is the relationship between Dan and Whitey (Clarence Muse in both pictures). There is no real chemistry between Baxter and Muse (Baxter even gives him a malicious kick in the pants at one point) whereas Crosby and Muse exude genuine affection for one another. Another big plus is Percy Kilbride as the feed man. The scene at the track where he tries to get his bill paid is one of the most hysterical examples of frustration in a character I've ever seen. And please don't complain about the songs. Burke and Van Heusen wrote outstanding material for Crosby and these songs fit the characters and situations just fine. And it's nice to have "Sunshine Cake", except for a few bars, sung on-set and not pre-recorded. Lynne Overman may have a slight edge as a Damon Runyon type, but Bill Demarest as Happy gets much bigger laughs. All-in-all, this is one of my very favorite Capra pictures. Bravo to the great director for hitting on the idea of remaking it, all to the better.
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