Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bing Crosby in THE COUNTRY GIRL

Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Doris Day, Diana Ross,  Barbra Streisand and Cher are some the recording stars who had hit records and got major radio airplay then added Oscar nominations for acting to their accomplishments. These successful pop singer and Oscar facts are getting entertainment news mentions now because Lady Gaga, as Barbra Streisand did for her remake of A STAR IS BORN, could get an Oscar nomination in the Best Song category for her current, well-received remake of A STAR IS BORN.  Streisand won Best Actress, her first Oscar, for 1968's FUNNY GIRL and her second came for co-writing "Evergreen," the love song from 1976's A STAR IS BORN starring, of course, Barbra Streisand. Every singer who racked up hit records and an Oscar nomination for acting follows on ground broken by Bing Crosby.
We are soon to enter the season in which we'll hear a lot of Bing.  His 1954 hit film, WHITE CHRISTMAS, gets plenty of holiday season airing on TV.  We baby boomers can remember when Bing Crosby holiday specials on network TV were popular family fare.  On YouTube, a clip from one of those specials has become a retro classic -- the most unlikely duo of Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1977 singing "Little Drummer Boy."
Today, the generation that came after baby boomers may know Bing Crosby from singing "White Christmas," but they may have overlooked what an enormously successful and influential recording star he was. He was such a popular singer on network radio that Hollywood came calling. Crosby became one of Paramount's biggest stars starting in the early 1930s.  Moviegoers loved his breezy, warm personality in entertaining musical comedies.  Top songwriters wrote new tunes for him to introduce and many of those songs became standards in our Great American Songbook.  In the 1940s, he did the hit "Road" movie comedies with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. He made two musicals with Fred Astaire.  In the first, HOLIDAY INN (1942), he introduced a song that brought Irving Berlin the Oscar for Best Song. Bing Crosby's recording of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" made record sales history.  He reprised the song in the next movie with did with Astaire, 1946's BLUE SKIES, another movie chock full o' Irving Berlin songs. In a 1950s radio interview, Astaire mentioned that he and Bing were in discussions to reteam for another Irving Berlin movie musical called WHITE CHRISTMAS. However, Astaire's dear wife took ill and, sadly, the illness was terminal. Understandably, he bowed out of the project.  Donald O'Connor was mentioned as a replacement. The role ultimately went to Danny Kaye, who was perfect opposite Bing in that fun and festive Technicolor musical.

1954 was a fabulous movie year for Crosby.  WHITE CHRISTMAS was one of Paramount's biggest box office hits of the year.  The Oscar winner's other 1954 film was the black and white drama, THE COUNTRY GIRL, co-starring Grace Kelly and William Holden.  Nowadays, this strong drama seems to be mostly famous for being the movie that robbed Judy Garland of the Best Actress Oscar for her tremendous performance in the first remake of A STAR IS BORN. Grace Kelly won.
Bing Crosby was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for THE COUNTRY GIRL. This marked his last of three Oscar nominations, all in the Best Actor category. He won for his work as the priest, Father O'Malley, in 1944's GOING MY WAY. He made Oscar history for playing the same character and getting another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in 1945's THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S, a follow-up to GOING MY WAY. Bing's performance in THE COUNTRY GIRL is my favorite of his film performances. He's powerful in it and he absolutely deserved that Oscar nomination.  Just like A STAR IS BORN with Judy Garland, Paramount's adaptation of THE COUNTRY GIRL allowed a singing star famous for sunny Hollywood musical comedies to exercise dramatic muscles playing the dark side of being a star. Judy Garland as Vicki Lester, new Hollywood star, falls in love with the star who discovered her. They marry. But his alcoholism and fading Hollywood career cause the marriage to fray even though she still loves him. Occasional dark feelings of hate, jealousy and self-loathing start to wear out the fabric of their love story.  In THE COUNTRY GIRL, Crosby plays a former Broadway and recording star who, like Crosby, had a breezy, warm image. A tragedy occurred in his marriage. His grief and guilt crippled his career. He's now a co-dependent, manipulative, low income alcoholic who hides his anger behind an easy-going image. His marriage has frayed. His lovely, young wife has morphed a drab, strict nursemaid trying to keep him off the bottle.  He has a chance to be a star again when a top director/writer seeks him for the lead role in a new musical bound for Broadway. Can he overcome his co-dependency and drinking to revive his career and his marriage?

Crosby is raw and revealing in this role, going from successful to pathetic to mean to moving.  THE COUNTRY GIRL had something else in common with 1954's A STAR IS BORN.  Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin wrote new songs for Judy Garland to introduce in her acclaimed remake.  One, "The Man That Got Away," was an Oscar nominee for Best Song. It should have won, but it didn't. (See Garland sing in it my previous blog post.)  Arlen and Gershwin also wrote new songs for Crosby to sing in THE COUNTRY GIRL and one is a beauty that fits the tone and emotional journey of the film like a velvet glove. For Frank Elgin (Crosby) it was a hit record that also marked the most horrible day of his life. In flashback, we see the broken down Elgin recall the recording session that happy day before tragedy struck. Here's "The Search Is Through."
 While I'm at it, here's a trailer for THE COUNTRY GIRL, adapted from the Broadway play.
For Bing's other 1954 film, WHITE CHRISTMAS, Irving Berlin wrote a new song for Bing to introduce with Rosemary Clooney. "Count Your Blessings" brought Irving Berlin another Oscar nomination.  That song, too, was nominated in the Best Song category along with Arlen & Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away" from A STAR IS BORN.

Both lost to "Three Coins in the Fountain" from the movie of the same name.

Two years later, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly reteamed for the colorful MGM musical comedy HIGH SOCIETY with songs by Cole Porter. The 1956 musical remake of 1940's THE PHILADELPHIA STORY co-starred Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm and Louis Armstrong.  Bing and Grace took on the roles previously played by Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn as they introduced the song, "True Love." It brought Cole Porter an Oscar nomination for Best Song.

To see singer/actor Bing Crosby at his film acting best, watch THE COUNTRY GIRL.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Denzel Does Shakespeare

The New York Film Festival is underway at Lincoln Center in New York City. This is like free tickets to and free rides in Disneyland for fil...