Blue Skies (film)

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Blue Skies
Blue skiesmp.jpg
Theatical release poster
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Produced by Sol C. Siegel
Written by Allan G. Scott (adaptation)
Screenplay by Arthur Sheekman
Story by Irving Berlin
Starring
Narrated by Fred Astaire
Music by Irving Berlin
Cinematography
Edited by LeRoy Stone
Production
company
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • October 16, 1946 (1946-10-16) (USA)
Running time 104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
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 and 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 the songs of Irving Berlin. 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.

Joan Caulfield was the protégé of Mark Sandrich - who directed many of the Astaire-Rogers musicals - and who was originally slated to direct this film. He 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 Bing 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 forty-seven, had already decided that this would be his final film and that he would retire, having spent over forty 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 today.

Plot[edit]

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 while serving in the Army: rising dancer Potter and the business-minded Johnny Adams. While young, hardworking Potter dreams of and works for 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, a "very pretty girl" named Mary O'Hara. He takes Mary to Adams' nightclub, and she takes a shine to Adams. Potter warns Mary that his old buddy is not the marrying kind. So, of course, 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[edit]

Soundtrack and dance routines[edit]

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.

  • "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody": Berlin's 1919 song is presented as part of a big Ziegfeld Follies production number, an aesthetic which Astaire parodies in this partnered dance with Caulfield and others. In the first of a series of references to films he made earlier in the 1940s, he reprises a tap sequence performed atop a bar counter in the "One for My Baby" number from The Sky's the Limit (1943), this time danced down a stairway.
  • "All by Myself": Crosby performs this 1921 song to Caulfield, who harmonizes with him in the closing phrases.
  • "Serenade to an Old-Fashioned Girl": Caulfield sings this number, specially written for the film.
  • "I'll See You In Cuba": A 1920 song performed as a duet by Crosby and San Juan.
  • "A Couple of Song and Dance Men": A comic song and dance duet for Astaire and Crosby to a number specially composed for the film. The concept is a reworking of the "I'll Capture Your Heart" number from Holiday Inn (1942) and the comedy centres on Crosby's legendary reluctance to rehearse.
Fred Astaire and a chorus of Fred Astaires in "Puttin' on the Ritz"
  • "Puttin' on the Ritz": Although Berlin's 1930 song was originally written for vaudevillian Harry Richman, it has become indelibly associated with Astaire, who also recorded it for Columbia in 1930. In this tap solo with cane, which was widely billed as "Astaire's last dance", the lyrics are updated,[2] replacing references to ritzy Harlemites with wealthy whites strutting their stuff up and down Lenox Avenue in Harlem. The routine was produced after the rest of the film had been completed, and according to Astaire, it took "five weeks of back-breaking physical work" to prepare. It is constructed in three sections, beginning in a dull book-lined office with a tired-looking Astaire showing his years and dressed in a morning suit. Here Astaire delivers the song while executing a gentle tap and cane solo in mock slow-motion, in an amusing parody of his impending retirement. The song finished, he returns to dancing at normal speed and dances around the office while executing an ingenious jumping cane routine, which relied on a concealed floor trigger mechanism.[citation needed] Thus rejuvenated, Astaire sweeps aside a pair of drab curtains to reveal a chorus of nine Fred Astaires - achieved by filming two separate versions of Astaire, repeating them four times and interleaving them. The final section of the number is a repeat of the tune with a greatly reduced tempo, which accompanies a complex routine for Astaire and chorus. In "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" from Top Hat (1935), Astaire proceeded to machine-gun his chorus dancers with his cane. This time, Astaire joins his chorus in adopting a confrontational, at times almost menacing posture towards his audience.[3] In 1957, on the brink of yet another temporary retirement, Astaire wittily refers back to this routine in the self-parodying "The Ritz, Roll And Rock" number from Silk Stockings.
  • "Blue Skies": Crosby sings this 1926 ballad, the film's title song, to Caulfield.
  • "Nightclub Montage": Crosby performs fragments of "The Little Things In Life" (1930), "Not for All the Rice In China" (1933) and "Russian Lullaby" (1927).
  • "Everybody Step": Crosby sings this 1921 number, followed by a brief dance for chorus choreographed by Hermes Pan. Crosby directs the chorus in the opening stages, a concept revived and further developed by Pan for the opening number of An Evening with Fred Astaire (1958).
  • "(Running Around In Circles) Getting Nowhere": Crosby sings this specially composed song to his daughter, played by Karolyn Grimes.
  • "Heat Wave": The film's major production number features Astaire, Olga San Juan and chorus in a brightly coloured Latin-themed setting. It begins with San Juan's rendition - with the lyric "making her seat wave" toned down to "making her feet wave" - of this 1933 song, while Astaire approaches warily, using dance steps reminiscent of those used in the "Dream Ballet" number from Yolanda and the Thief (1945), followed by a partnered dance for Astaire and San Juan, and then a tap solo section for Astaire who quotes from the "Boogie Barcarolle (Rehearsal Sequence)" number from You'll Never Get Rich (1941). This solo section was shot in one take and features music specially composed by Astaire, the only time his music was used in a film. In a counterpoint to the film's opening number, this number ends with him ascending a staircase, only to fall dramatically from a precipice, ending his character's dance career.
  • "Wartime Medley": Crosby performs excerpts from "Any Bonds Today" (1941), "This Is The Army Mr. Jones" (1942) and "White Christmas" (1942) - which he had introduced in his previous film with Astaire: Holiday Inn (1942).
  • "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song/Blue Skies (reprise)": Performed by Crosby and Caulfield at the film's close.

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).

References[edit]

  • Fred Astaire: Steps in Time, 1959, multiple reprints.
  • John Mueller: Astaire Dancing - The Musical Films of Fred Astaire, Knopf 1985, ISBN 0-394-51654-0
  • Larry Billman: Fred Astaire - A Bio-bibliography, Greenwood Press 1997, ISBN 0-313-29010-5

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ Mueller, p.267: "The change may have had to do with changing attitudes towards race and Hollywood's dawning wariness about offending blacks."
  3. ^ Mueller, p.267

External links[edit]