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Saturday, April 11, 2015

RIDING HIGH (1950)

If Frank Capra’s POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES/’61, his deadly, over-stuffed remake of LADY FOR A DAY/’33, was a career-ending last gasp, RIDING HIGH, a remake of a lesser Capra pic, BROADWAY BILL/’34, comes across as something of a last hurrah. Trapped in a face-saving production deal @ Paramount after the collapse of his Liberty Films, Capra was licking his wounds and running-for-cover, roping Bing Crosby in as box-office insurance. The story, and nearly a dozen actors, largely repeat from the earlier pic,* with Crosby taking over the lead from Warner Baxter. Bing's a natural as the gadabout horse racing hound who can’t (or won’t) settle down as a business exec. (Paramount’s default Crosby mode was always fancy-free & irresponsible.) But the rewrite of Robert Riskin’s original storyline takes a big wrong turn having Crosby engaged, rather than married to the ‘wrong’ sister. (It might be a remake of HOLIDAY/ ’38 . . . with horses.) And with the Depression long gone, many of the crazy-comic money- scams used by Crosby & his merry band to drum up entry fees come off with a nasty, acid edge. (Der Bingle's new tunes could have been better, too.) Yet, for one last time, Capra seems fully engaged, cramming his mise-en-scène with the pacey moxie of yore, plus just as many of the old, eccentric zanies as he can pile on. And they’re not just there for show, but really get a chance to shine. William Demarest works double-time since he’s doing himself and Ned Sparks. And, wonder of wonders, an unbilled solo spot for Oliver Hardy in his final Hollywood credit, as mysteriously melancholy & funny as ever. Capra quickly turned in a second Crosby vehicle, the rather maudlin HERE COMES THE GROOM/’51, to finish off his Paramount obligation then swore off features for seven years.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Repeaters include: Raymond Walburn, Ward Bond, Douglas Dumbrille, Paul Harvey, Margaret Hamilton, Clara Blandick, Charles Lane, Frankie Darro, Paul Harvey and, of course, Clarence Muse’s stable ‘boy’ who gets less roughhouse from Crosby than he got from Warner Baxter 16 years ago. Progress.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned, BROADWAY BILL which was cannibalized for some of this film’s racetrack scenes. It has its own set of problems, but also a major advantage in co-star Myrna Loy as well as feeling entirely period appropriate & all-of-a-piece.

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