Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees got a case of the warm fuzzies after reviewing this double feature starring Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman, but she should snap out of it soon.
"Do you realize that if you were half the man you think you are, I'd be the mother of a brood of children by now?"—Emmadel Jones (Jane Wyman)
Of all the great partnerships of the silver screen, one that doesn't spring readily to mind is the duo of Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman. Nevertheless, in the two films in which they were starred together—1951's Here Comes the Groom and 1952's Just for You—the two work well together both as singers and as actors. Released together on one disc, these two lighthearted films make a great double feature and show Bing and Wyman at their most charming.
Facts of the Case
In Here Comes the Groom, Bing plays Pete Garvey, a journalist stationed in France at a home for French war orphans. When his boss and father figure George Degnan (Robert Keith) pulls him off the assignment, Pete decides he can't bear to leave two of the kids behind, so he makes arrangements to adopt them and take them to America with him. The adoption is conditional, however: He must marry within five days of his return to America or lose the children. Even though his girlfriend Emmadel Jones (Wyman) has gotten fed up during his three-year absence and sent him a brush-off message, he's confident that, with a ready-made family in tow, he can talk her into marrying him. What Pete doesn't know is that Emmadel has become engaged to her millionaire boss, Wilbur Stanley (Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty). Pete determines to fight for Emmadel with every means at his disposal, and when he discovers that Wilbur's inhibited blue-blooded cousin, Winifred (Alexis Smith, Night and Day), has been in love with Wilbur for years, he turns Pygmalion and transforms her into a hotsy-totsy capable of stealing Wilbur away from Emmadel. But the clock is ticking, and Wilbur is no fool; will Pete manage to win Emmadel away from him and keep custody of the kids?
Just for You, the last film to be directed by Elliott Nugent (My Favorite Brunette), stars Bing as Jordan Blake, a successful widowed composer on the brink of opening his new show, which he has tailored to the talents of singer-actress Carolina Hill (Wyman). The timing finally seems to be right for these longtime collaborators to pursue a romance, but when Jordan's prep-student son announces that he has decided to skip college and become a composer, Jordan must face the fact that he has neglected his children in favor of his career for far too long. Not only does Jerry (Robert Arthur) need some direction, but daughter Barbara (Natalie Wood) often seems to be babysitting her own nannies, and she's pining to enter an exclusive school that frowns on theatrical folk. Carolina is happy to let Jordan reconnect with his children before proceeding with their marriage plans, but their situation becomes exponentially more complicated when Jerry falls in love with Carolina.
Here Comes the Groom is an unexpected but fun mixture of sentiment and screwball—both of which are specialties of its legendary director, Frank Capra. It starts out a bit slowly and sentimentally, showing Bing as the father figure among the French orphans, working to find loving families to take in these tykes. The slow start then comes to an outright halt with a long musical solo by an orphan (Bing is showing off her singing talent to win her a place in the home of a notable musician), but as soon as Wyman appears—in a miniaturized vision conjured up by Bing's affectionate imagination—the film starts to take on a tart vigor. Wyman's performance here as an outspoken, hot-tempered sea captain's daughter is great fun, especially considering how demure and noble some of her later roles would be. Bing rises to her level by becoming increasingly boyish and high-spirited as he leaps into a series of schemes designed to break up her engagement and bring her running back to him. When Bing begins his makeover of Alexis Smith, the film really takes off: The pace gets faster, the pratfalls start, and before we know it we're in screwball territory, with the two leading ladies going after each other in an all-out wrestling match at the wedding rehearsal. It's particularly enjoyable after the comparatively staid beginning, and I readily confess I had a lot more fun than I had anticipated; the film just seemed to keep getting funnier the longer it went on. The sight of Jane Wyman flipping Alexis Smith onto her kiester is definitely something you don't see every day. Even the two orphans that Bing totes around are surprisingly un-cloying: Bobby is a scrappy little fellow, and the waifish Suzi provides a running joke by constantly asking, in plaintive French, "What is he saying?" Although it's not as consistent in tone as Capra's better-known comedies, Here Comes the Groom is a lively, fun time.
Just for You is more sedate in tone, and both stars are playing more mature characters—indeed, since Bing has a teenaged son in this movie, it's appropriate for him to act his age a little more. The comedy in Just for You is thus more low-key, but it's still a highly enjoyable film. The look is much more lavish in this Technicolor film, with opulent sets and dramatic costumes by Edith Head (who also designed the costumes in Here Comes the Groom), and the theatrical setting allows for long and spectacular dance numbers. Toward the end the mood becomes melodramatic, which is a bit of a letdown but not unexpected, since the characters of Jordan and Jerry still have A Lesson To Learn. Fortunately, they show they've learned it without too much ado, and the film closes with a spirited reprise of Bing and Wyman's big duet. As Carolina, Wyman gets to look quite glamorous and show off her stems, and she has a sassy, entertaining musical solo, "Checkin' My Heart." The film does a nice job of balancing the more earnest story line about Jordan's failings as a parent with comedy fueled by misunderstanding. I wouldn't call it gripping, but it's quite enjoyable and satisfying, as well as being honest about some of the conflicts that can disrupt the relationship between parent and teenaged child.
Acting in Here Comes the Groom is by and large stronger than in Just for You: Franchot Tone, as Bing's rival, is both amiable and suave, and best of all, he has a sense of humor. Tone could be stiff in his earlier films, so his relaxed, humorous approach to the role of Wilbur is a delightful surprise. Watch how he reacts when cousin Winifred plants a big unexpected kiss on him—it's a nicely executed bit of comedy. Likewise, Alexis Smith, sometimes a static and uninteresting presence as a leading lady, turns in a solid supporting performance, throwing herself into the physical comedy with a ready will; the scene in which she flaunts her new hip-wiggling talent at Emmadel, who is trying to rise to her new lifestyle with dignity and lady-of-the-manor poise, is priceless. The movie throngs with solid character actors, most notably James Barton and Connie Gilchrist as Emmadel's uncouth parents, but there's also a strong turn by Robert Keith as the hard-bitten newspaper man, and there's even a Franklin Pangborn-esque fussy wedding coordinator (too bad Pangborn himself wasn't there to play the role). The supporting characters in Just for You don't get to let loose as much, although Ethel Barrymore brings sly humor to her role, and Natalie Wood is pert and intelligent as Bing's daughter. Robert Arthur as Bing's son is awfully wooden, but that actually enhances the humor in the lighter scenes, especially when he thinks that Carolina is discussing their forbidden love. Wyman and Crosby make a charming couple, and both films take advantage of their pleasing camaraderie together by showcasing them in a duet of a silly yet infectious song—in Here Comes the Groom, the Oscar-winning "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," and in Just for You the Oscar-nominated "Zing a Little Zong."
The visual quality of both films is generally strong. Both films are presented in full frame in accordance with their original aspect ratio. The black-and-white picture in Here Comes the Groom varies in quality, with some scenes busy with grain and others very clear and clean, but the transfer is rich in tone, with deep, glossy blacks, and overall it looks handsome. Just for You glows in Technicolor and is quite clean. The audio fares better in this film; in Here Comes the Groom it sometimes verges on the tinny. No extras are included with this double feature, but it's still a terrific bargain to get two films at the low price at which Paramount is offering this disc.
Here Comes the Groom and Just for You are pleasant entertainment, and they'd be quite appropriate for family viewing, especially since both treat themes of family and parenting. Although they differ in tone, they make a good twosome. Particularly at the bargain price at which this release is being offered, I heartily recommend it for fans of the stars or of good old-fashioned light entertainment.
Not guilty! Paramount is commended for making these two fun but lesser-known movies available at a bargain price. I hope to see more of this kind of defendant in the future.
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