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Birth of the Blues Rather shaky as history, Birth of the Blues delivers the goods in terms of entertainment, thanks to the unbeatable star combination of Bing Crosby and Mary Martin. Set in New Orleans in the 'teens, the film stars Crosby as clarinetist Jeff Lambert, who breaks away from a traditionalist orchestra to form his own jazz band. His partners in this endeavor are songstress Betty Lou Cobb (Martin) and trumpeter Memphis (Brian Donlevy), a character obviously meant to be a white-bread version of Louis Armstrong. Inspired by the rhythms heard amongst the African American population of Louisiana, Jeff, Betty Lou and Memphis rise to fame and fortune, but internal jealousies and external gangster threats seriously compromise their success. An added complication is the presence of cute little orphan girl Phoebe (Carolyn Lee), Betty Lou's aunt, whom Jeff is obliged to hide from the child-welfare behemoths. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is in his element as Jeff's long-suffering general factotum Louey, whose near-death experience towards the end of the story results in one of film's most powerful musical vignettes. The 14 songs heard in Birth of the Blues range from such classics as "St. Louis Blues" and "St. James Infirmary" to such newly-minted ditties as Johnny Mercer's "The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid". ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Blue Skies Jed Potter (Fred Astaire) is a popular radio personality who was once a famous dancer. He also used to be friends with Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby) until they became rivals for the affections of Mary O'Hara (Joan Caulfield). Jed lost out when Johnny and Mary got married, but life hasn't been too rosy for the couple since; Johnny's career in business was a washout, and not long after the birth of their daughter, the couple decided to divorce. Mary gave Jed another chance with her, but in time she chose to patch things up with Johnny, leading Jed to a close partnership with alcohol that ended with an accident, preventing him from ever dancing again. However, the aftermath of this tragedy helps bring the three former friends back together. Blue Skies was not much more than a framework for a bunch of musical numbers featuring great tunes from the Irving Berlin catalog, but when you've got Bing singing and Fred dancing to songs like "Puttin' on the Ritz," "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song," "A Couple of Song and Dance Men," and "White Christmas," why carp? Noted stage actor and tap dancer Paul Draper was originally cast as Jed, but he was fired after several days of filming and replaced by Astaire; Draper would make only one more movie before his film career came to an end after he was branded a Communist sympathizer. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi