I was delighted when Warner Archive announced that it would be reissuing its duo-pack of Bing Crosby/Jane Wyman musicals. The first time I checked out Just For You and Here Comes the Groom, I was researching for an interview with Robert Arthur, one of the juvenile actors in the former, for a profile in the magazine Films of the Golden Age. Arthur had some fun things to say about the film, which like Groom, is a lovely way to pass some time, with solid, if for the most part not memorable tunes.
You run into plenty of mischievous characters in classic Hollywood films. Heck, Lee Tracy made a career out of rubbing people the wrong way. Usually I am accepting of, and maybe even amused by these troublemakers, who are only that way to give the leading lady something to work against.
For some reason though, I don't tend to have much of a sense of humor about the Bing Crosby persona. He strikes me as a jerk, a bit a of a bully too, and not an amusing one. His charisma is potent though. He has a way making everything seem like a lark, something he just tossed together, even things that would require great effort from most men. He disarms you just enough with that loosy goosy, bumping along charm, even when he's being an ass.
In Here Comes the Groom, Crosby is a journalist who has come back from his World War II European post with a pair of orphans. He's been a dog to his girlfriend (Wyman) and she is preparing to marry an obscenely wealthy man (Tone) after waiting for far too long for a proposal. Crosby needs her to marry him though, and who knows if he really loves her that much, but he can't adopt his young charges without her. So he harasses her, and her fiancée, until he bends her to his will.
Crosby's pairings with Wyman are pleasant enough, but totally devoid of sex. When they're getting along, they seem like buddies who enjoy breaking into song together. When they're at odds, only Wyman seems like she's fighting off passion.
The best non-musical scenes in the movie are between Crosby and Tone, who have fantastic chemistry. I don't think this has anything to do with the leading lady either. Der Bingle just tended to be a lot better onscreen with other men.
For the most part it's an enjoyable film though. Crosby and Wyman perform the Oscar-winning In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening with such wholesome verve that you forgive them for the other, more lackluster tunes. Franchot Tone is amusingly sly and Alexis Smith shows off some very silly physical humor in a rare comic role as Tone's distant, and smitten, cousin.
Just for You is my favorite of the two films. The songs are a bit more fun and Crosby and Wyman are supported by the extremely likeable Natalie Wood as his teenage daughter and Ethel Barrymore as the head mistress of an exclusive school for girls. It doesn't seem like Wood ever had an awkward age and Barrymore could say totally vile things with that smooth voice and be loveable, but she gets some good quips and has an amusing rapport with Crosby. It may be one of the best interactions he's had with an actress onscreen.
I'm sure I'm being a bit biased due to my conversations with Robert Arthur, but I am especially fond of him in this film, where he plays Crosby's son. It's a shame he was not given many substantial roles, because he had a sensitivity and a way of really seeming to listen to other actors that gave his screen presence a great warmth. He reminds me a bit of Teresa Wright in that regard.
In the film, Crosby is a successful Broadway producer and Wyman is his star. This time around there's not much romantic turmoil between the leads, as most of the drama revolves around his troubled relationship with his kids. There's a smattering of musical numbers, all of which feel spontaneous to the point of seeming entirely unrehearsed, and one in particular where Crosby attempts to show a leading man how he wants a number performed while appearing perfectly polished and completely nonchalant at the same time. There's also some lively lakeside footage that opens up the movie and gives it a bit of air.
During our interview, Arthur told me that he was originally meant to sing the swoonily romantic title tune, which in the story is the first triumph of his aspiring songwriter character. Crosby knew the song was a showstopper though, and with good humor he told the young actor that he couldn't have it. It's a shame, because Arthur did have a pleasing voice, but it was also an understandable move by a star who clearly wasn't going to let a younger actor to steal his film.
I also loved Arthur's story about his encounter with Barrymore. Apparently he was studying his lines at the lakeside location when he heard her distinctive voice behind him, offering to go over his part with him. Of course he accepted with delight.
This is a good double feature for Crosby completists and devoted musical lovers and will likely hold some appeal for most other classic movie fans.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copies of the films for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.