Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1951. Paramount Pictures. Story by Liam O’Brien, Screenplay by Virginia Van Upp, Liam O’Brien, Myles Connolly, based on the story and treatment “You Belong To Me” by Robert Riskin. Cinematography by George Barnes. Produced by Frank Capra. Music by Joseph J. Lilley. Production Design by A. Earl Hedrick, Hal Pereira. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by Ellsworth Hoagland. Academy Awards 1951. Golden Globe Awards 1951.
Bing Crosby plays a foreign correspondent who loves taking care of the French post-war orphans that he writes about, so much so that he has done everything to avoid coming back home. Stateside, his editor is fuming mad at his star reporter not moving on to his next assignment while his fiancée (Jane Wyman) has given up hope of him ever sealing the deal. With two children in tow, Crosby finally returns to America only to discover that Wyman is about to marry her millionaire real-estate tycoon boss (Franchot Tone) and he has to do everything he can to stop the wedding. Aside from the fact that he still loves Wyman and believes she still loves him, there’s the issue of the orphans, who are permitted to stay with him for only a few days unless he gets married. Trust Frank Capra to take as serious a topic as European refugee children and treat it with the same corny simplicity that his movies were often slathered in, a starry-eyed view of the world that seemed so fitting during the Depression but never could find its footing at any other time. Watch Fred Zinnemann’s The Search for a fascinating contrast in how the subject was treated by another director, and where the youngsters are real and sympathetic and not the shrill-voiced, packaged concoctions of child stardom that are so irritating to behold here. Crosby sings beautifully and is convincingly effortless at whipping off the rapid-fire dialogue, but Capra overdoes the character’s devil-may-care whimsy to the point of his seeming callous about everyone (and the script backs him up, resolving the story with an ending that could care less if his lady love has any feelings about what to do with the rest of her life). Wyman fares so much better, her remarkable acting skills rising above both the lack of chemistry with her co-star and the film’s confusion over what to do with her. Capra is equally confounded by choosing a genre, playing out his usual idea of a politically tinged feel-good comedy but throwing in musical numbers that feel out of place even when the songs are good; the Oscar-winning hit “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” shows the stars off beautifully, but you can’t shake the feeling that it was inserted at the last minute. Alexis Smith rounds out the cast of the overloaded plot towards the end of the adventure, when she is brought in to thwart wedding plans.