Blue Skies
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStuart Heisler
Written byAllan G. Scott (adaptation)
Screenplay byArthur Sheekman
Story byIrving Berlin
Produced bySol C. Siegel
Starring
Narrated byFred Astaire
Cinematography
Edited byLeRoy Stone
Music byIrving Berlin
Production
company
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 16, 1946 (1946-10-16) (US)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$5.7 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]

Blue Skies is a 1946 American musical comedy film directed by Stuart Heisler and starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Joan Caulfield. Based on a story by Irving Berlin, the film is about a dancer who loves a showgirl who loves a compulsive nightclub-opener who can't stay committed to anything in life for very long. Produced by Sol C. Siegel, Blue Skies was filmed in Technicolor and released by Paramount Pictures. The music, lyrics, and story were written by Irving Berlin, with most of the songs recycled from earlier works.

As in Holiday Inn (1942), the film is designed to showcase Berlin's songs. The plot, which is presented in a series of flashbacks with Astaire as narrator, follows a similar formula of Crosby beating Astaire for the affections of a leading lady. Comedy is principally provided by Billy De Wolfe and several musical numbers are performed by Olga San Juan.

Joan Caulfield was the protégé of Mark Sandrich, who directed many of the Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. Sandrich was originally slated to direct this film, but died of a heart attack during pre-production and Stuart Heisler was drafted in to replace him. Heisler wanted Caulfield replaced, but Crosby—who was having an affair with Caulfield—protected her.

Tap dancer Paul Draper was the initial choice to partner Crosby; however, during the first week of production Draper's speech impediment and his trenchant criticism of Caulfield's dance ability led Crosby to insist on his replacement by Astaire, who, then 47, had already decided that this would be his final film and that he would retire, having spent over 40 years performing before the public. The film was billed as "Astaire's last picture" and its very strong performance at the box office pleased him greatly, as he had dearly wanted to go out on a high note.

The reasons for Astaire's (temporary) retirement remain a source of debate: his own view that he was "tired and running out of gas," the sudden collapse in 1945 of the market for Swing music which left many of his colleagues in jazz high and dry, a desire to devote time to establishing a chain of dancing schools, and a dissatisfaction with roles, as in this film, where he was relegated to playing second fiddle to the lead. Ironically, it is for his celebrated solo performance of "Puttin' On The Ritz," which featured Astaire leading an entire dance line of Astaires, that this film is most remembered by some today.

Plot

The story is told in a series of vignettes and musical numbers that serve to show events in flashback. Our narrative link is New York radio star Jed Potter, who once was a renowned Broadway hoofer. The conceit is that he is on the air, telling his life story, which does not yet have an ending.

The tale starts just after World War I and centers on two men who became friends in the Army: rising dancer Potter and business-minded Johnny Adams. While hardworking Potter dreams of stardom, the more laid-back and less disciplined Adams has hopes of becoming a successful nightclub owner.

In time, dancer Potter falls in love with a band singer, Mary O'Hara. He takes Mary to Adams' nightclub, where she takes a shine to Adams. Potter warns Mary that his old buddy is not the marrying kind, but she marries Adams. The union is not a happy one, despite the birth of a child. Adams' nightclub business is anything but a resounding success, and it turns out Potter was right: Adams is self-centered and unable to commit to his nightclubs, his marriage, or his daughter.

The couple divorces, and Mary tries again with Potter. The two even become engaged, but Mary can't go through with the wedding and takes off. A devastated Potter turns to booze and subsequently suffers an accident that puts an end to his dancing career. He winds up behind a radio microphone, sharing his story with his audience, hoping that wherever Mary is, she can hear him.

Cast

Production

Joan Caulfield was pulled out of the film. But Paramount changed their mind and put her back in.[2]

Reception

In its initial release period in the US, the movie took in $5 million in rental income, making it one of the box office successes of the year. Variety gave a favorable review. "'Blue Skies' is another in the show biz cavalcade cycle and it'll spell beaucoup blue skies and black ink for any exhibitor. With Crosby, Astaire and Joan Caulfield on the marquee, a wealth of Irving Berlin songs and lush Technicolor production values, this filmusical can't miss for terrific grosses. . .Certainly, for Astaire, it's perhaps a new triumph. If he ever seriously thought of retiring, 'Skies' should postpone any such ideas...Crosby is Crosby although a slightly heftier Bing. He's the same troubadour, chirping the ditties as only Crosby does even though his waistline is somewhat more generous than behooves a juve."[3]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times liked it too. "So many screen exercises in the music-album line have been so cluttered up with 'biography' that it is a pleasure at last to see one in which a tune-vender's life and his music are not mutually and mawkishly abused. Such a one is the Paramount's current and cheerfully diverting "Blue Skies," which catalogues some songs of Irving Berlin without catalyzing that gentleman's career. And with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby as its bright particular stars, everyone's probity is honored by it—especially Mr. Berlin's."[4]

At the 19th Academy Awards, honoring the films from 1946, Blue Skies was nominated for two Oscars: Best MUSIC (Scoring of a Musical Picture) - Robert Emmett Dolan and Best MUSIC (Song) - "You Keep Coming Back Like A Song", Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin. The awards, however, went to The Jolson StoryMorris Stoloff and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" from The Harvey Girls – Music by Harry Warren; Lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

Soundtrack and dance routines

Crosby applies his famous relaxed crooning style to the many songs he delivers here. In contrast, Astaire, assisted by choreographers Hermes Pan and Dave Robel (for the "Puttin' on the Ritz" routine), delivers a series of dances which explore the theme of confrontation, both with partners and with the audience. As a result, it is one of only a few Astaire films not to feature a romantic-partnered dance.

The other Berlin songs which featured only as background music in the film are, in order of use: "Tell Me Little Gypsy" (1920), "Nobody Knows" (1920), "Mandy" (1918), "I Wonder" (1919), "Some Sunny Day" (1922), "When You Walked Out Someone Else Walked In" (1923), "Because I Love You" (1926), "Homesick" (1922), "How Many Times" (1926), "The Song Is Ended" (1927), "Lazy" (1924), "Always" (1925) and "I Can't Remember" (1933).

Blue Skies (Decca Records 1946)
Blue Skies (Decca Records 1946)

Other Irving Berlin sings which were recorded by Bing Crosby for the film soundtrack but omitted from the released print were "Say It Isn't So", "What'll I Do", "All Alone", "Remember", "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket", "Cheek to Cheek" and "God Bless America".[7]

Bing Crosby recorded many of the songs for Decca Records.[8] and these were also issued as a 5-disc, 78 rpm album titled Blue Skies (Decca album). "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" was in the Billboard charts for six weeks with a peak position of #12.[9] Crosby's songs were also included in the Bing's Hollywood series.

Reception

According to Variety the film earned $5 million in rentals in 1946.[10]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

References

Notes

  1. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ Joan Caulfield Keeps Cool: Neither Failure Nor Success Fazes Her Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times (20 Oct 1946: B1.
  3. ^ "Variety". September 25, 1946. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 17, 1946). "The New York Times". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Mueller, p.267: "The change may have had to do with changing attitudes towards race and Hollywood's dawning wariness about offending blacks."
  6. ^ Mueller, p.267
  7. ^ Reynolds, Fred (1986). Road to Hollywood. John Joyce. p. 166.
  8. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". A Bing Crosby Discography. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
  9. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 110. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  10. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  11. ^ "AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.