Screen Team VS: Bing & Fred vs. Frank & Gene

In 1941, a chance meeting between director Mark Sandrich and composer Irving Berlin resulted in them planning on a musical inspired by various holidays. It was planned as a vehicle for Bing Crosby, and they also decided that it would be right up Fred Astaire’s alley, too. And so we had those two friends paired together for the classic 1942 Paramount movie Holiday Inn. A few years later, MGM responded with their own song-and-dance team of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. While I haven’t seen anything that makes them out to be rival teams, considering the individual members were indeed rivals, one can’t help but want to compare them. While I certainly have my preference as to which I enjoy watching more (and so, like on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, the points don’t matter), I still feel like talking about the two teams, mainly sticking to the movies they made together.

Holiday Inn (1942) (no review from me yet, but I’ll post the link here when I do it) – My Rating: 8/10

Blue Skies (1946) – My Rating: 10/10

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – My Rating: 5/10

Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) – My Rating: 9/10

On The Town (1949) – My Rating: 8/10

Screen Team Edition: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire

Screen Team Edition: Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly

So let’s start with some of the more obvious differences. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire made two movies together, while Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly made three. Between their two films, Bing and Fred have two songs that they work together directly and two more that they are both involved together (just not as much). Frank and Gene can claim about twelve songs that they work together in pretty solidly through their three movies. Irving Berlin provides all the music for Bing and Fred, while Frank and Gene are served by the likes of Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Roger Edens, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein.

To get a little deeper into the elements of that differentiate the two, I would say at least two come to mind: how their friendships are portrayed on screen, and how their offscreen careers may have affected the films. On screen, Bing and Fred were similar to Bing and Bob. They were both romantic rivals, and they had no troubles double-crossing each other when it came to romance in Holiday Inn. While Blue Skies started out with a similar relationship, partway through, Fred’s character started to soften, and care enough for the film’s leading lady that he wasn’t as willing to come between them. Meanwhile, Frank and Gene portrayed their characters as good buddies. Admittedly, Gene mainly tried to help Frank to get him off his back in his own attempts at romance, but he still felt like he was betraying a good friend when he fell for the same girl that Frank first fell for. Admittedly, some of that might be different just purely from occupations, as Bing and Fred portrayed characters in show business, and in two of their three movies, Frank and Gene were sailors who no doubt had gone through a lot together.

I also believe their movie careers affected these movies. When Bing and Fred were teamed up, they had both been in the movies for nearly a decade, and were some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. When Frank and Gene were paired together, neither of them had been in the movies for very long (in fact, I get the impression Anchors Aweigh was Frank’s first starring role). Consequently, that affected the various situations. I get the impression from what I have read that both Bing and Frank weren’t big into rehearsing, while Fred and Gene were both perfectionists who put a lot of work into what they did. With Bing as a more established star, he apparently didn’t feel the need to rehearse as much (and I can only imagine that must have driven Fred nuts), thus his dancing comes off poorly. With Frank not as established, he had to put in more rehearsal time with Gene, and so we see them looking at least decent together (and who knows how much natural talent Frank might have had as a dancer compared to Bing). Of course, age might also come into play, too, and Frank and Gene were both in their late 20s/early thirties when first paired together, while Bing was in his late 30s and Fred already in his forties.

Personally, I can’t help but wish the four had made a movie together (and no, I’m not including the first That’s Entertainment movie that they all co-hosted, since they never actually share the screen at any time). Of course, I do know that they had some team up here and there. Rivals Bing and Frank worked together in High Society, Robin And The 7 Hoods, The Road To Hong Kong (Frank makes a cameo appearance), and several TV specials. Fred and Gene worked together for one song in Ziegfeld Follies and again as co-hosts of That’s Entertainment Part 2. Not to mention Bing and Gene making cameo appearances in the Marilyn Monroe movie Let’s Make Love (although they don’t appear together). I think both teams were truly wonderful to watch, but I will always pick Bing and Fred as the more fun team to watch together.

Holiday Inn

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Blue Skies

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

Anchors Aweigh

My Rating: 5/10

Audience Rating:

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

On The Town

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Winner: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire (again, just my opinion)

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TFTMM on… The “Road To…” Series (1940-1962)

Just for fun, now I would like to talk about the seven film Road series with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and their frequent co-star Dorothy Lamour. I do admit, I could easily do a post on them as a screen team (whether it be all three of them together, Bing & Bob or Bob & Dottie), but most of their other appearances together are minor (mostly cameos that might spoil some movies), so I’ll just stick to this series. Of course, with that many movies in the series, I’ll link to the individual reviews for each of them.

The first film in the series, Road To Singapore, was almost a different beast entirely. Originally, the script went by the title The Road To Mandalay, and it was planned for different stars, including George Burns and Gracie Allen, and possibly a few others, all of whom turned it down. How it came to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, who knows, as there have been many different stories of how that came to be. However, what is known is that Bing and Bob had worked together previously, on stage and at a racetrack opening, so they had established some kind of relationship, that eventually resulted in them being paired together for Road To Singapore, where they mostly “ad-libbed” their way through (much to the dismay of the film’s writers but the enjoyment of the film’s director, Victor Schertzinger).

Road To Singapore (1940)

My Rating: 9/10

Few at Paramount had any idea how big Road To Singapore would turn out to be. The movie’s success prompted them to look at another property for them to do. What would become Road To Zanzibar came from a script called “Find Colonel Fawcett” that they had turned down before due to its similarity to another movie. Reworked, it became the next film in the Road series. With Victor Schertzinger returning as director, the boys were given the same freedom they had enjoyed before, with “ad-libs” thrown around, and an increase in breaking the fourth wall, with many winks to the audience. Of course, their characters and their relationship onscreen became more defined, and less dramatic than the movie before.

Road To Zanzibar (1941)

My Rating: 8/10

Coming off the success of the first two movies, they were finally given a script written specifically for them. Victor Schertzinger was slated to be the film’s director, but his sudden passing left the film’s reins being passed to David Butler. With a script written for them, even more hilarity was allowed, whether it be talking camels (with animated lips and eyes but otherwise realistic bodies) or songs that fit their style of comedy, like the title song. And then there’s the start of a trend for the remaining films, in which stuff happens that, in other films, would be considered goofs or plot holes in other movies, but are done on purpose. For example, in Morocco, the boys are tied up and left behind stuck in nets in the desert, trying to hop their way after the villains in one shot, and in the next are completely free, and they openly state they won’t tell the audience how they got out).

Road To Morocco (1942)

My Rating: 8/10

With Road To Morocco proving to be a big success, the fact that another movie would come was inevitable. However, Road To Utopia went through a number of delays. The writers had a hard time coming up with a script that all three of the leads would agree to. Consequently, it is the odd duck in the series, with us being introduced to Dorothy Lamour’s character as soon as the boys (the only time in the series that she was introduced that soon instead of making her first appearance nearly twenty minutes into the movie like in the other five she starred in). Once finished, the movie would still be delayed, partly due to the success of Road To Morocco (since movies stayed in theatres longer then), as well as giving Bing room for success with his Academy Award winning role in Going My Way.

Road To Utopia (1945)

My Rating: 7/10

Road To Rio (1947)

My Rating: 9/10

With Road To Rio, the series began bringing in celebrities for various cameo appearances. The Andrews Sisters joined Bing for the song “You Don’t Have To Know The Language,” and Jerry Colonna was the leader of the cavalry trying to come to the rescue at the end of the movie. Road To Bali brought in a few more celebrities (borrowing footage from The African Queen for Humphrey Bogart’s appearance). Another change for Bali was the change to color, as the previous entries had all been filmed in black-and-white. However, this would also be the last movie in the series done at Paramount Studios.

Road To Bali (1952)

My Rating: 7/10

After a decade (and the ends of their contracts with Paramount), Bing and Bob came back for The Road To Hong Kong. This time, the movie was back to being black-and-white, but now was in widescreen for the first time. At Bing’s insistence, they brought in a new, younger female co-star. Dorothy Lamour wanted in, and Bob Hope tried to make a push for her to be, so as a compromise, she was given a cameo and a song of her own. However, the series and its stars was showing its age, even if they did try to make it more modern by parodying spy movies and the space race, and it ended up being the final movie in the series (although there were plans for another that were squashed partly by Bing’s death).

The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

My Rating: 4/10

I would have to say, these are the movies that helped start my fondness for classic movies. Prior to watching these, I mainly had seen the animated Disney movies and maybe one or two of the really big classics, but I really wasn’t interested, otherwise. When my family first upgraded to a DVD player and subscribed to Netflix, these were some of the movies my parents tried to rent. We didn’t see them in the order they were made, but they ended up being an enjoyable treat, and one I have enjoyed ever since. If possible, I know I would recommend seeing the series in the right order, as some jokes about the series work better if the series is viewed from the start. My own opinion is that the first six films are the ones most worth seeing, and The Road To Hong Kong can more or less be ignored. While I have grown older and started to see how politically incorrect some of these movies can be, they are still always worth a good laugh for me, and I have no trouble whatsoever recommending this wonderful series!

And click on any of the following images to go to Amazon and buy any of these movies (or anything, for that matter), and help support this blog!

Road To Singapore
Road To Zanzibar
Road To Morocco

Road To Utopia
Road To Rio
Road To Bali

The Road To Hong Kong

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Road To Utopia (1946)

We’re back for the fourth road trip with Road To Utopia with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

In flashback, we are told of how Sal’s (Dorothy Lamour) lawyer is murdered by two criminals, Sperry and McGurk, who steal a map to an Alaskan gold mine, and Sal gets on the first ship to Alaska to try to head them off. Meanwhile, a pair of song-and-dance con men, Duke Johnson (Bing Crosby) and Chester Hooton (Bob Hope), end up on a later ship to Alaska (after Duke cons Chester into going along). However, Chester shoves their money out a porthole (mistaking it for a safe), and they have to work their way over.  While cleaning the room occupied by Sperry and McGurk, they find the map.  Subduing the two criminals, they assume their identities to get off the boat. Sal, having already made it to the town of Skagway, has turned to her father’s friend Ace Larson (Douglas Dumbrille) for help (although he secretly wants the mine for himself). Duke and Chester also come to Skagway, where, as Sperry and McGurk, they are big men in town and gain Sal’s attention as she tries to get the map from them. However, Duke and Chester quickly find themselves on the run when the real Sperry and McGurk come gunning for them (not to mention some of Ace Larson’s goons, too).

While this may be the fourth movie in the series, the laughs are still coming hard and fast!  We get a second go-round of “talking” animals (achieved by mainly animating the lips).  Then we have the guys defining their relationship even further, with Bing’s Duke now even more willing to con Bob’s Chester (as exemplified by Chester feeling the need to count his fingers after shaking hands with Duke, or watching them pickpocket the same wallet from each other).  Then, of course, there are their quips, lampooning each other and a lot of other things, including the censors!  And who could forget Bob literally getting steamed up when Dottie is singing to him? Of course, these are just a handful of wonderful moments in a movie full of them.

A lot of what I’ve read seems to indicate that most feel that this movie is right up there with Road To Morocco as one of the best, if not the best, movies in the Road series. Personally, I disagree with that. I do like this movie, that I will admit. But at the same time, I do miss them doing their “patty-cake” routine (since this is the ONLY film in the series that they don’t do it at least once), and their reliance on the old “literally pull the rug out from under the bad guys” schtick instead of it just doesn’t work for me. That, and, to a degree, some of the movie’s suspense is removed just by the fact that the movie starts with the three leads (in old age makeup) as they tell the story of how they came to be separated for many years.  To be fair, these are minor quibbles, as I do still enjoy this movie.  This is the one in the series that modern viewers might have the easiest time with as it has the fewest issues with being politically correct (since it only takes place in Noth America, starting in San Francisco and moving to Alaska). So, yes, I would recommend this one for a good laugh!

The movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (and has been available on DVD from Universal for a number of years). As to the Blu-ray, I think it looks very good, possibly the best-looking transfer of the first four movies with few, if any, defects. Certainly the method of viewing I would recommend! The movie is one hour, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 7/10

Audience Rating:

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Road To Morocco (1942)

We’re back for the third film in the Road series, Road To Morocco, again with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

When the ship that Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby) and Orville “Turkey” Jackson (Bob Hope) are stowed away on explodes, they manage to get to the shores of North Africa on a raft. Once there, they make their way on camel to Morocco. In the first town they come to, Jeff sells Orville as a slave to help pay for some food. However, after Orville is taken away, Jeff can’t find him to rescue him, until the ghostly form of Orville’s Aunt Lucy (also Bob Hope) appears to him in a dream and points him in the right direction. Jeff is able to locate him, and discovers that, instead of being a slave, Orville is engaged to Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour)! When Jeff bursts in on them, Shalmar takes a liking to him, but still insists on marrying Orville (for reasons I refuse to spoil). Meanwhile, they also have to deal with the desert sheik Mullay Kassim (Anthony Quinn), who is determined to marry Shalmar himself.

Some consider this movie to be the best of the Road series. Personally, I like a couple of the others better, but I won’t deny that this movie probably has the best music of the series, provided by composers James Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. The title song definitely feels like it was written for Bing and Bob, allowing them to break the fourth wall with knowing winks to the audience. “Moonlight Becomes You,” Bing’s big romantic song in this movie, was the biggest hit in the series. “Ain’t Got A Dime To My Name” is also kind of fun and catchy (made a little more amusing by the presence of Bob Hope’s Aunt Lucy).

You sure can say one thing about this movie: it’s not short on comedy! While the boys continued to “ad-lib” most of their lines (as provided by their gag writers), one genuine ad-lib made it in, when, in one of the early scenes in the movie, the camel they were working with spit on Bob Hope, and the director kept the camera going long enough to get Bing’s reaction. Then, of course, there is the film’s reprise of “Moonlight Becomes You” later in the movie, with Bing and Bob joined by a mirage of Dorothy, and their voices all switching around. Dottie plays it straight, with Bing reacting a little to the voice switching and Bob just having fun with it. Now that I’ve had a chance to see the movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I do think that the references to that movie play a little better (but, since there is no real “world-building” here, you can get away with not watching that movie). There are certainly a lot of other wonderful bits of comedy (including a pair of “talking” camels), but I should mention that at least one moment early on might sour modern audiences, a moment where they observe a mentally challenged man able to get free food from the market vendors because they consider them sacred, and so Bob’s Orville tries to act mentally challenged to get some food (and fails). Otherwise, though, I do consider this to be a fun movie, and would easily recommend it (of course, I do suggest seeing the earlier movies in the series first).

This movie has been made available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (and has been available on DVD for years from Universal Studios). The transfer on the new Blu-ray looks about as good as I’ve ever seen the movie, with maybe a few scratches here and there. It’s certainly the way I would recommend seeing the movie. The movie is one hour, twenty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… Road To Zanzibar (1941)

Time to hit the road again! This time we’re on the Road To Zanzibar, again with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour!

Carnival performers Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and “Fearless” (Hubert) Frazier (Bob Hope) have to go on the run after they accidentally burn down a carnival. Instead of buying tickets to go back home, Chuck Reardon buys what turned out to be a phony diamond mine.  When Fearless sells it to a dangerous man, they end up on the run again. They run into Donna Latour (Dorothy Lamour) and Julia Quimby (Una Merkel), a pair of con artists who persuade Chuck and Fearless to take them on a safari to find Donna’s “father” (who is in reality a millionaire that Donna wants to marry). Thing is, while on safari, both Chuck and Fearless fall in love with Donna, and she starts to develop feelings for one of them (and if you know the series, you can guess which one).

For the second film in the Road series, more of the series’ trademarks are falling into place. Bing and Bob bring back their “patty-cake” routine from Road To Singapore, acknowledging that film when, in the first of the two times they use it in this movie, the guy they try to use it on gets them first. Then, of course, there are those marvelous quips by both Bing and Bob, not to mention we see their type of relationship more solidified. Admittedly, this is probably the most politically incorrect movie in the series, in between the background images for the opening credits and the cannibalistic African tribe that they have to deal with.

Personally, I really enjoy this movie and all its wonderful comedic moments. One moment would definitely have to be when Fearless Frazier has to fight a gorilla (ok, so it’s just a person in a gorilla suit). It’s an amusing fight, with Chuck periodically lighting matches from outside the cage to distract the gorilla (although he distracts Fearless at least once). Then, of course, there’s the song “It’s Always You,” which mocks the moments in musicals where the background music just comes out of nowhere. I could easily list quite a few more, but I do like this movie and would easily recommend it (at least, if you can get past the politically incorrect stuff).

This movie has been made available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (and has been available on DVD for years from Universal Studios). The transfer on the new Blu-ray looks about as good as I’ve ever seen the movie, with only a few scratches here and there, and is the way I would certainly recommend seeing the movie. The movie is one hour, thirty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

Time for a bit of time traveling, with the movie A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (based on the Mark Twain story), starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

In 1905, blacksmith Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) is trying to return a horse to his owner during a storm, and is knocked out by a tree.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in Camelot, circa 528 A.D.  Found by Sir Sagramore Le Desirous (“Saggy”) (William Bendix), he is then condemned to be burned to death.  Performing a miracle, he is knighted by King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), becoming “Sir Boss.”  At a ball, he meets one of King Arthur’s nieces, the Lady Alisande (Rhonda Fleming), and falls in love with her, even though she is engaged to Sir Lancelot.  Hank jousts with Sir Lancelot, winning his own way, but “Sandy” goes back to Lancelot.  Hank gets the king and Saggy to join him on a trip through the kingdom so that King Arthur can learn what his people really think of him.  As this is probably getting to be a little too much, I’ll just leave it there, and suggest you watch the movie!

I’ll admit, this movie is a little harder to recommend because of one reason: it is based on a well-known story.  How anybody reacts to this movie will depend on how they feel about the original story.  I have read the original story, as well as the Wishbone version of it (and I know that dates me just a little), and my conclusion on this movie is that it feels like the writers used the main concept from the story, a few specific events (some moved around in the story), a few character name, and wrote a story that was built around Bing’s screen persona, and the usual type of musical he would do.  Now, for me, that works, and I enjoy the movie far better than the original story (and for those young enough to still write book reports, I wouldn’t suggest watching this movie to help you write a book report, because you would get A LOT wrong)!

There are many wonderful things about this movie, though.  One wonderful (and hilarious) scene is at the ball, when Hank is introduced to the lords and ladies of the court.  He sees the old-style dancing and the music, and decides to make some changes.  Once he gets the musicians to start a new tune, he then starts to dance with Sandy in a more “modern” ballroom style.  At first, everyone else is incensed, until the king sees that it looks like fun as well, and then everybody joins in!  It always cracks me up, and is well worth watching the movie for!

The music is enjoyable as well.  The main standouts are the romantic tune, “Once And For Always” and the comedy song “Busy Doing Nothing.”  Just, as a whole, I do enjoy this movie and recommend it very much (at least, to those who can live with the movie not being a strict interpretation of the story)!

The movie is available on DVD from Universal, and is about one hour, forty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

https://www.amazon.com/Bing-Crosby-Collection-Holiday-Morocco/dp/B00N1S7O48/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1545663842&sr=1-1&keywords=bing+crosby+silver+screen+collection&linkCode=ll1&tag=thoughtsfr066-20&linkId=c1576608383a382c5125da66c95bb2ee&language=en_US

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… The Emperor Waltz (1948)

Time for a trip to Austria in the early 1900s, courtesy of the 1948 movie The Emperor Waltz, starring Bing Crosby as Virgil Smith, Joan Fontaine as Johanna, the Countess Von Stolzenberg-Stolzenberg, and Richard Haydn (in another Austrian-set movie pre-dating his famous role as “Uncle Max” in The Sound of Music) as the Emperor Franz-Josef.

In this movie, which proves that Vienna had “gone to the dogs,” we find the Emperor has summoned the Countess Von Stolzenberg-Stolzenberg and her father, the Baron Holenia (Roland Culver), to tell them about an arranged marriage: between their dogs!  At the same time, traveling salesman Virgil Smith has arrived with his fox terrier, Buttons, planning to sell a phonograph to the Emperor in the hopes that the country would buy it because he did.  Buttons ends up getting into a fight with the Countess’s poodle Scheherezade, which later causes her to suffer a breakdown.  At the advice of the veterinarian (who had studied alongside Dr. Freud),  she brings Scheherezade to Virgil and Buttons, for them to make peace.  In doing so, we see the dogs falling for each other, as well as Virgil and the Countess.  After a while, Virgil gets an appointment with the Emperor to ask for the Countess’s hand in marriage.  The emperor talks him out of the idea, instead opting to buy the phonograph.  You want more than that?  Watch the movie!

This is a movie that I very much enjoy.  A few of the songs in this movie are worth mentioning, such as the song “Friendly Mountains,” which is apparently based on some Austrian yodeling songs, and allows us to hear Bing singing with his echoes a little (cue at least one comedic moment of one “echo” intentionally being different than what was said).  Another song would be “I Kiss Your Little Hand, Madame,” used when Bing is trying to help the two dogs learn to get along (and he and the countess end up falling for each other, with the song affecting her afterwards when she can’t sleep), and we see a brief, balletic dance from two women working at the inn it is staged at and the countess’s driver.

The dogs themselves help make the movie, especially as they go along with their owners (while using a little more sense, since they aren’t as divided by class).  The movie works well for me, and it is one I highly recommend you see if you get a chance!  This movie is available on DVD from Universal, and is about one hour, forty-six minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

https://www.amazon.com/Bing-Crosby-Collection-Holiday-Morocco/dp/B00N1S7O48/ref=as_li_ss_tl?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1545663842&sr=1-1&keywords=bing+crosby+silver+screen+collection&linkCode=ll1&tag=thoughtsfr066-20&linkId=c1576608383a382c5125da66c95bb2ee&language=en_US