Old Movie Week: Blue Skies (1946)

Bing Crosby (Johnny), Fred Astaire (Jed), Joan Caulfield (Mary)

Directed by Stuart Heisler (The Lone Ranger)

IMDB: 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.

Oh, what a mess.

Let's get the awesomeness out of the way first, because it's a little sparse and must be highlighted let it be lost entirely. First, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are hilarious. I love them both. Any notion of them fighting or competing in earnest distresses me, because they should forever be paired in a buddy comedy where both guys get their right girl--like Bing opposite Danny Kaye in White Christmas. That Bing and Fred's roles in Blue Skies and Holiday Inn are so fractious bugs the crap out of me. Can't both of you awesome studs just get along?

Second is Astaire's breathtaking "Puttin' On the Ritz" number, which simply cannot be described with words. Me...speechless here. Just watch:

OK, now for the junk: everything else. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted. Bing's character, Johnny, is an unlikable lout. Astaire is completely emasculated by his mooning over a girl who will never look his way--and then crippled? What? I just didn't get it. There's so much to dislike.

My only theory comes from the fact this film was released in 1946. Perhaps filmmakers had, by this point, grown tired of the forced cheer and optimism they'd been required to maintain throughout the war years. World War II had necessitated relentlessly happy pictures and tunes, all designed to lift morale and offer the promise of a brighter future. After the celebrations on V-J Day calmed, certain artists were probably chomping at the bit to make "serious" films with melancholy, ambiguous endings. Well, mission accomplished. Blue Skies was both melancholy and ambiguous, propped up but not saved by a few remarkable scenes.

I think I know my limit when it comes to old films...roughly August of 1945.


Verona St. James said...

I tried to watch this, and couldn't get through the first fifteen minutes. Total downer.

Carrie Lofty said...

It certainly wasn't Holiday Inn, was it? Let's cripple Fred Astaire! No, I'd rather not...

Fred said...

Another explanation is that Mark Sandrich, who was the original director for this movie died during the production. He directed Holiday Inn, as well as many of the Fred&Ginger movies. I think he would have done a better job of steering this venture. That said, Fred Astaire gave a terrifically nuanced performance. Yes, it was melancholy but he did it so well. Look for the smile he gives as he has that final drink before he goes on stage for "The Heat Wave". It is the smile of a clown whose heart is breaking.

Carrie Lofty said...

It was primarily for Fred Astaire that I watched to the conclusion. He was heartbreaking as the guy who'll never get the girl, whereas Bing wasn't well served by how unlikable his character was. Sandrich was much better able to keep their on-screen antagonism closer to the realm of friendly sport, not outright warfare, which was how Blue Skies felt at time. Such a different film for both of them.