Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here Comes the Groom - 1951

“Here Comes the Groom” (1951) can be viewed through a prism of different spectrums, first and foremost perhaps, as the first in the last handful of movies directed by Frank Capra. There are pieces of Capra’s canon here: a smidgen of screwball comedy, a bit of social commentary. But, as if not too deeply touched by the great director, the film summons up all its parts and walks away on its own, flawed but triumphant just for getting there.

Maybe you could say the same for Frankenstein’s monster. It got up and walked away on its own, too. But, I have a fondness for the monster, and I have a fondness for this pretty delightful movie that tries hard to be more than it is.

Here we have Bing Crosby as a happy-go-lucky foreign correspondent in Paris writing about war orphans. Capra reminds us that we are still in the mopping up stage in the aftermath of World War II, when some six years after the war ended, Americans are getting a bit weary of it.

“The war orphan racket’s milked dry. It’s not news anymore,” Bing’s editor says, played by Robert Keith, who we last saw here in “I Want You” (1950). Words like UNESCO, the United Nations, the Atlantic Charter are bandied about, reminding us of the timeline this movie places us.

We even get a generous dose of the young Anna Maria Alberghetti as a blind orphan (her mother refused to “entertain” the enemy, we are told) singing “Caro None” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” in an audition to be adopted by Alan Reed and Minna Gombell.

She is very sweet, and very good, and Alan Reed (AKA Fred Flintstone, as if you didn’t know), an opera impresario, adopts her and promises her not only a home but a bright career. The movie is barely ten minutes old and we already have our first happy ending.

(Does anybody else automatically think of the old line from the “Mary Tyler Moore” show, “Anna Maria Alberghetti in a taxi, honey…”?)

Perhaps Mr. Capra, too, is weary of the aftermath of World War II, because this is all that constitutes social commentary in this breezy musical, and we move on, tentatively, to the screwball comedy.

Bing Crosby, despite his efforts at finding homes for war orphans, is not really as much a hero as a lazy fellow for whom things always work out. Doing good comes as a coincidence.

Two of his orphan friends become his own adopted children (eventually): a rascally little boy played by Jacques Gencel, who displays admirable stewardship over the ever-adorable Beverly Washburn, who being younger and not really being French, doesn’t have much to say. We saw her last, I think in this post on “Old Yeller”, where she was a bit older and had a bit more to do.

I like little Jacques’s mimicking of Crosby on the phone.

Crosby receives a letter in the form of a recording, an interestingly used holographic image, from Jane Wyman, the gal he left behind. If he doesn’t high-tail it home, she’s going husband-hunting elsewhere.

Crosby flies home to stop her, with his two orphans, and we get a sudden smidgen of vaudeville right out of left field when several passengers erupt into song with Bing on the plane. “Misto Cristofo Columbo” is a bouncy, fun song about discovering America, as the orphans are about to do, and opening up freedom’s door for war refugees. It is sung by real-life impromptu USO troupe of Frank Fontaine, Phil Harris, Cass Daley, Dorothy Lamour, and Louis Armstrong. Nothing fun like that ever happens when I fly.

When he arrives with the kids in Boston, he discovers that Miss Wyman’s already bound for the altar that week with a millionaire, played by Franchot Tone. Mr. Tone makes a refreshing nemesis; he is handsome, intelligent, kind, and superior in every way. Crosby realizes he has his work cut out for him and he must be especially devious to steal Wyman away from this great guy.

But there is chemistry between Miss Wyman and Mr. Crosby that we discover right off the bat, despite her criticism of his maddeningly casual take on life. When she brings him to the office building of her real-estate investor employer, who is also her fiancé, to help Bing find a cottage for his young-uns, they demonstrate rapport and sparkling musicality in the number “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening”, which they warble from the office, to the elevator, and out into the street.

The song immediately became a big hit on the radio. Some of the audience then, and perhaps more so today, who had become used to thinking of Jane Wyman as a dramatic actress may have forgotten she started out a chorus girl and could belt a song out with the best of them.

Another fun “the gang’s all here” kind of aspect is engendered by so many familiar faces getting a piece of the action: James Barton and Connie Gilchrist as Jane’s “wrong side of the track” parents. (It was disapprovingly noted in a recent viewing of this film by one of my relatives that though Jane’s family is from Gloucester, Mass. and the movie takes place in Boston, nobody here has the proper accent. I don’t hold it against anybody, though. I can be big.)

We also have dear old Adeline De Walt Reynolds, who we featured once in this post, who gets a couple of funny lines. Charles Halton, who last showed up as the detective in “The Shop Around the Corner” shows up here as an immigration agent. H.B. Warner is one of Franchot Tone’s stodgy wealthy uncles.

The magnificent (so says anyone carrying a torch for him) Charles Lane as the FBI agent makes my day.

Chris Appel, who surprisingly made only two films, appears here as the frantic wedding arranger who cannot get anyone to cooperate during the wedding rehearsal.

Check out Jane Wyman’s wedding apparel, particularly the tiara and recall our series on the 1950s princess here, here, and here.

I’m saving the best for last. Alexis Smith. She plays the distant cousin of Franchot Tone who agonizingly harbors a secret crush on him. Her awkward, blue-blood tweediness has left her ignored by him and her family, until Bing Crosby takes her in hand and teaches her how to flirt, and how to wrestle, in order to give her the confidence to go after Franchot Tone, so that Crosby may have Miss Wyman to himself. Though it’s a preposterous scene, it’s also touching when we realize that Crosby is the only one to understand her feelings and to give her the confidence she desperately needs.

“You are beautiful. You’re a knockout,” he says, and especially compliments her height, something all shy tall girls need to hear.

Alexis Smith blooms under his rough-and-tumble tutelage, and becomes a bombshell. Later she will wrestle with Miss Wyman (or the stunt doubles will, actually), and declare her worthiness both as a member of the clan, and as an object of lust. She even gets to sing her own verse of “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” a cappella.

I like when editor Robert Keith, who is a conspirator in her “education”, leaves to head back for the office and one of Miss Smith’s stockings snags a ride on the back of his hat.

At the 11th hour, amid busybody government officials, wisecracking newspapermen, a congregation of elite Boston society at the televised wedding of the year, Crosby’s conniving plans gel as everything else falls apart. Franchot Tone and Jane Wyman choose other partners, and it’s a happy ending where nobody is foiled, not really, because there were never really any bad guys.

Have a look below for “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening”. Note how it’s sung “live” and not lip-synched.

Below that, our USO troupe singing “Miso Cristofo Columbo”.

(Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom and mute the music so you can hear the video.)


Caftan Woman said...

Franchot Tone is absolutely adorable in this movie. He's no easy to knock over second lead, but real competition.

If I recall Capra's autobiography correctly I believe he mentioned that this was one of his happiest shoots. It certainly comes through in the finished product.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I agree with you about Franchot Tone in this movie, Caftan Woman. It's more of a challenge for Bing to compete with a nice guy with a lot going for him. Having Alexis Smith pining for him made a nice subplot.

policomic said...

Like you, I cannot hear "Anna Maria Alberghetti" without remembering the MTM bit.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Policomic, I'm so glad there's somebody else out there. Many years ago a co-worker of mine was fond of repeating the gagline, and I foolishly laughed every time.

Yvette said...

I don't remember that gagline. I thought I was a big fan of MTM, how did I miss this? I'd never heard of this film, Jacqueline. Possibly because I don't pay attention to Bing Crosby movies. I'm not a fan. Although I do like Franchot Tone. He always made a good second banana. A little odd, but not bad. ;)

One thing that often softens my view of Bing Crosby is that my late mother was such a huge fan of his. But...

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Yvette. The gagline refers to a joke Ted Baxter came up with, a knock-knock joke, and this line parodies the "Darktown Strutters Ball" lyric: "I'll be down to get you in a taxi, honey." Lame, I suppose, but it cracks me up, still.

As far as fandom goes, as far as I see it, it's okay to like or not like anybody in the movies, including Bing.

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

Jacqueline, thanks for a fun review. I haven't seen this in years, but remember liking it better than JUST FOR YOU (which was made around the same time with Bing and Jane). I think "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" won an Oscar for Best Song. It's a catchy ditty, no doubt!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks so much. I think I must have seen "Just For You", but I'm drawing a blank right now. "Cool of the Evening" is a fun song, I like that they keep moving.

Yvette said...

Jacqueline, I just did a double take on the 'holograph' of Jane Wyman bit. Reminds me of "Help me Obi One Kenobi, you're my only hope." ;)

I'm sorry to be such a downer lately on some of these actors of the past. I must be in a funk of some sort.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

That line from "Star Wars" was also uttered by a member of my family with a memory and sense of comedic timing better than mine. Pretty funny how the idea, illustrated through a 78 rpm record pre-dates the imaginative future technology on "Star Wars" by decades.

Don't worry about being downer. There are popular stars of the Golden Age I could kick down the stairs if I saw them. I just keep those things to myself.

The Lady Eve said...

A movie and an MTM line I don't remember, though I know I've seen both - frustrating!...but a really enjoyable post...(will be looking for the movie and, eventually, perusing the MTM archives - that's such a great line)...

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Lady Eve. I hope you get to see the movie soon. Good to know there are so many MTM fans out there.

Ray Faiola said...

This is one of those pictures that the CinemaSnobs love to hate. While it may not be Capra's best, it has a heck of a lot going for it. Capra's timing and ability to provoke emotion in the audience is remarkable, exemplified by the Alan Reed scene in the first reel. Crosby is superb, as good if not better than in RIDING HIGH. His natural patter and the seeming ad-lib nature of his performance adds much spontaneity to the feel of the picture. The songs are breezy and light, and the COOL COOL EVENING number is a joyous thing indeed. There are some comments elsewhere about Capra's clumsy editing with regard to the held shot on Robert Keith after he answer's Alexis Smith's comment about being told she's beautiful. "It's nice" he squeaks. Long held shot. I can only imagine that this got a VERY big laugh (or rather a steadily growing laugh) with the preview audience and Capra held the shot to avoid the subsequent dialogue from being covered. One of the hazards of seeing older films by yourself on television is that you don't get the contagious audience reaction. I have a 16mm print of this film and I've shown it to an audience and it plays very, very well.

It is very interesting to see this picture and then watch Crosby's LITTLE BOY LOST. Under another great actor's director, George Seaton, Crosby shines again in a war orphan story, though one that is much more sober and dramatic.

In short, an often carelessly shunned film that earned big bucks for a darned good reason!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Ray, for a very interesting analysis of this movie. Your comment about the held shot with Robert Keith is especially intriguing. As a person who's seen these old films on TV, and most of the time by myself, I can understand your point about audience reaction influencing our opinion, and even the director's opinion. Great comments.

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