Friday, August 5, 2011

The 5 Best Bing Crosby Performances

We had such fun last July with our "5 Best" lists at the Cafe that we've decided to continue them on a biweekly basis. So, welcome to the first 5 Best Friday! In this installment, I'll list my picks for Bing Crosby's five best performances. There are some unusual choices here, but I'll stand by them...having seen most of Mr. Crosby's movies.

1. Man on Fire - Bing got greater recognition for playing an alcoholic in The Country Girl. However, his best dramatic performance is in this seldom-shown drama about a man recovering from a bitter divorce and fighting for sole custody of his son. I always wondered if Man on Fire was the inspiration for the later novel (and film) Kramer vs. Kramer.

2. The Bells of St. Mary's - Yes, Bing won an Oscar for playing Father O'Malley in the earlier Going My Way. Yet, he's even better in the sequel, as evidenced by his poignant scene with Ingrid Bergman in which he reveals why she's being sent away from the school she loves. (I know...Bing had some great scenes with Barry Fitzgerald in Going My you can substitute that film here if you want!)

3. Road to Utopia - Bing was an underrated comedian, especially in the Road movies where he kept pace nicely with Bob Hope in his prime. You could easily plug The Road to Morocco into this slot, if you prefer--but Utopia and Morocco clearly are the best of the Road series.

4. White Christmas - Let the controversy begin! I'm sure many Crosby fans would rate his performances in Holiday Inn, Blue Skies, Mississippi, Little Boy Lost, or others above this popular musical. However, I always thought that one of Bing's gifts was his ability to bring out the best in his co-stars. I think that's one of the reasons White Christmas ranks high in the filmographies of Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen.

5. Dr. Cook's Garden - Crosby sought out the part of a seemingly gentle small-town physician with a very dark secret. This 1971 made-for-TV film was based on a play by Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives) which folded after barely a week. Burl Ives played the Crosby role on stage.

Honorable Mentions: The Country Girl (I'm not as big a fan as some, but it still includes some potent scenes); Stagecoach (a rickety remake, but Bing is good in the Thomas Mitchell role); and Pennies from Heaven (hey, it was my Dad's fave).


  1. I can't find anything to argue about in your selections. "Man on Fire", with its frank and honest script and lead performance works. (I wouldn't have minded a TV spin-off with Anne Seymour and William Schallert.)

    I generally think of "The Bells of St. Mary's" as Ingrid's show, but that's Bing's fault for being so perfectly natural on screen. Doesn't he know you're supposed to let the audience and critics hear the clickety clack of your brain so they know you're acting?

    I'm a "Utopia" gal and the hubby is a "Morocco" fella. Can this marriage last?

    Okay. "White Christmas". I've never really been that big of a fan, but my daughter is and I'm starting to get it. Maybe one more holiday and I'll be over the top.

    I haven't seen "Dr. Cook's Garden" since it first aired on TV (40 years ago!). I do remember it made me feel sad and creepy.

  2. I love your selections - glad you spotlighted my man Bing! I may have to publicize this article on my Bing blog if that is okay.

    I also have all of these movies on DVD if you ever want me to make you a copy!

  3. It is wonderful to see you pay tribute to the very talented Bing Crosby, Rick. My favorite film of his is "White Christmas" which is our Christmas Eve film of choice. I have never seen "Dr. Cook's Garden."

    There is a sweet little song Bing sings in "The Emperor Waltz" that I have always liked.

    In dreams I kiss your hand, madame,
    Your dainty fingertips
    And while in slumberland, madame,
    I'm begging for your lips
    I haven't any right, madame,
    To do the things I do

    Just when I hold you tight, madame,
    You vanish with the night, madame,
    In dreams I kiss your hand, madame,
    and pray my dreams come true.

  4. I truly recommend Dr. Cook's Garden for anyone interested in Bing's serious side.

  5. Rick, I think it is an Awesome idea to post the "5 Best" lists biweekly. It seems like everyone loves lists.. I have a few more ideas up my sleeve. :)

    I love Bing Crosby, He reminds me so much of my Grandfather. Anywhoo. The Bells of St. Mary's, is my favorite, Bing Crosby film. His performances, always seem so easy and natural for him..

  6. Great line-up Rick. I think I prefer Going My Way to Bells as a great Crosby performance, but Caftan Woman said it just right - there is a lot of emphasis on Bergman and Crosby is so natural! Your first pick is, I agree, his best dramatic role, topping The Country Girl. I may be hissed and booed for this, but I think Country Girl was overrated -- seems to me Grace Kelly got an Oscar just for dressing down, which doesn't mean great acting.) And I LOVE the Road To movies (patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man...and Hopes "you can go out for popcorn now, he's going to sing.")

    I have never seen Dr. Cooks' Garden, and it sounds like I missed something good. I'll look for it.

    I think the 5 Best series is one of the best ideas you've had for the Cafe -- really fun!

  7. Great post! And so glad you gave "Stagecoach" an honorable mention - I really like his performance in that film. I also love him in "High Society" - total pro all the way. Actually, all Crosby performances rate in the top ten (if that were mathematically possible!) - in other words, he was always top of his class.

  8. I've always loved Bing and Ingrid in "The Bells of St. Mary's" - they had such phenomenal chemistry. Of course, he had even better chemistry with Bob Hope...

    I much prefer "Holiday Inn" to "White Christmas" and it has the added attraction of Bing and Fred Astaire sparring with each other (in song and dance form as much as dialogue).

    Great picks, Rick!

  9. Rick, I really enjoyed reading about your 5 Crosby performance picks, especially MAN ON FIRE and, of course, ROAD TO UTOPIA (and pretty much any ROAD... movie, for that matter :-))! You're right that back in the day, actresses were often given Oscars just for wiping off their makeup to look plain; somehow Hollywood still equates looking plain to having range. Still, that doesn't mean Grace Kelly wasn't Oscar-worthy; personally, I'd have nominated her performance in REAR WINDOW, but did they ask me? Nooooo! :-) But seriously, Rick, this is a great post!

  10. I also think Grace was better in REAR WINDOW than in THE COUNTRY GIRL. I'm not sure DR.COOK'S GARDEN is available in a legal version, but it's definitely worth a look. I love Fred Astaire, but still stand by WHITE CHRISTMAS as a better movie with better Crosby performance (plus my favorite Danny Kaye dance). Nice to hear good things about the rarely-shown MAN ON FIRE. I thought Bing and Inger Stevens made a good couple. I believe they dated briefly in real life.

  11. Rick, when you talk about your favorite Danny Kaye dance in White Chistmas, do you mean "Choreography"? I LOVE that number! So creative and funny!

  12. It's fun, but I was referring to "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" with the fabulous Vera-Ellen. Interesting that Michael Curtiz of ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and CASABLANCA fame, also directed WHITE CHRISTMAS.

  13. Oh yes! That was a lovely number. Boy, Curtiz was a man of many talents, wasn't he!

  14. I found this on dvd at these sites if anyone is interested. Thanks