Sunday, May 27, 2012
MOVIE REVIEW: RIDING HIGH
Riding High (1950) is a black and white musical racetrack film featuring Bing Crosby and directed by Frank Capra in which the songs were actually sung as the movie was being filmed instead of the customary lip-synching to previous recordings. The movie is a remake of an earlier Capra film called Broadway Bill (1934). While the film is generally a light musical comedy, it has an unexpected tragic turn in its story.
Frank Capra did not particularly like his film Broadway Bill. It's chief problem was that Warner Baxter did not like horses and it showed. He got to re-make it with a man who loved horses. Bing at the track was a natural fit. There is a great Van Heusen-Burke score. It was probably one of the last great scores they wrote for a Bing Crosby movie before moving on to Sinatra material. "Sunshine Cake" became one of Bing's million sellers, a great addition to his group of upbeat philosophical numbers. My favorite number however was his version of Stephen Foster's "De Camptown Races", sung while walking Broadway Bill to the track for the big race, accompanied by a gang of kids.
I was pleasantly surprised the way the Clarence Muse character was portrayed here. Yes, he was the exercise boy/groom for the horse, a subservient role to Bing Crosby as owner, but he was not portrayed negatively as many blacks were portrayed in such movies. He was an equal partner in the training of the horse - and sang equally well with Bing Crosby! No eye-rolling, silly cavorting as many of these movies show blacks (as in the Marx Brothers' "Day at the Races."). If you read Capra's autobiography, "The Name Above the Title", he addresses the performance of Clarence Muse as it regards racial stereotypes. He quotes one reviewer's harsh criticism of the role of Muse, and then in his defense he quotes a Black newspaper article which actually praises the importance of and respect shown to the character of Whitey. I also noticed that early on in the film Crosby's fiance, whom we are not supposed to like, arrives at his house and is greeted by Whitey. She disdainfully asks, "What IS your name anyway?" Muse replies, "Clarence White". This was obviously inserted for the purpose of explaining the nickname Whitey.
This film is Capra casting at its best. My favorites are Raymond Walburn and William Demarest. Demarest is one of the few of the replacement cast since Lynne Overman had died the year before. Also watch for Oliver Hardy, he has a bit that is short but very memorable. The movie is more than just a movie about horses. It is a story of a man's love for his horse. The plot is slight at times and dramatic at others, but I recommend RIDING HIGH to anyone who likes horses, Bing Crosby, or a good Frank Capra movie...
MY RATING: 8 out of 10