Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” (1946) – reviewed by George

A musical with two leading men (Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire), one leading woman (Joan Caulfield), one second-lead man (Billy De Wolfe), and one second-lead woman (Olga San Juan), and a plot designed to use as many Irving Berlin tunes as possible. That’s about as good as it gets.
Fred is starring on Broadway, and Joan is in the chorus, but he singles her out, in front of an audience, to dance with him and she keeps up brilliantly. However, she’s embarrassed and feels somewhat exploited. Bing has kind of left show biz for a career as a nightclub owner and he can’t resist singing there – why should he try? Billy and Olga work for him in the club, and they perform too. As the years go by, Fred only loves Joan more, but she prefers Bing and won’t commit to Fred. Finally he asks her, “Do you think he’s the right guy for you?” And she answers slowly, “Noooo, …..but he’s the only one.”
As the three of them continue to be in each other’s lives, through an assortment of changes, the problem with Bing is that he can’t sit still. He buys a club, makes it profitable, sells it for less than it’s worth, and moves on, while Fred is a constant presence, completely dependable.
With dances staged by Hermes Pan, and with direction by Stuart Heisler, and with all those wonderful Berlin songs, this movie is something of a treasure. You’ll see fully staged versions of “You’d Be Surprised”, “All by Myself”. “Cuba (I’ll see you in C-U-B-A)” which features a counter-point section and some incredibly fast lyrics, “(We’re Just) A Couple of Song and Dance Men (when my voice hits the air, and my feet hit the ground)”, “You Keep Coming Back Like a Song”, “Always”, “Heat Wave”, the title song, and so many more. There’s even a medley of Army songs: Berlin was nothing if not patriotic.
But maybe the most iconic number is Fred singing and dancing to “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. I may be wrong, but I think this particular rendition was the one that associated the song with him forever after. He does the first part alone, then turns to look into two angled mirrors that display his reflection to the theater audience (and to us). The mirrors open up and reveal a chorus line of men in top hat and tails doing the same dance moves right along with Fred. It’s a stunning moment.

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