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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Crosby Plays To The South


Dixie (1943) Is Bing's First Feature In Technicolor


Was there nothing of interest in Dan Emmett's life other than minstrelsy and fact he wrote "Dixie"? Judging by total fictionalization here, I'd guess not. Emmett was obscure to a 40's public beyond cleffing of immortal title song, a 19th century one-hit wonder. Other of Dixie music came of modern tunesmiths, done to Crosby measure and never mind fidelity to the period or unique format that was minstrelsy. That last gets in Bing's way for his having to cork up for most numbers and thus lost in crowd of similarly disguised ensemble. Recreation of minstrel shows is true to basics, but not detail. We get little sense of how hugely popular this format was back in heyday, peak of which predated even oldsters who went to see Dixie in 1943. Still, most at least knew what minstrels were, even as race sensitivity had begun process of discrediting them. WWII was spur to this --- I'd venture there would not have been a Dixie made even three-four years later. Advantage pic had in 1943 was nary mention of the current war, audiences having got exhausted with the topic, and eager for full escape from it. Still, the trailer lauded "Dixie" as "The Greatest War Song Of All Time," so there's at least a nod.



Six "New Songs" were on tap --- Crosby faithfuls Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen got a workout here. Beating of formula rug needed six writers, an always trouble with highest profile product where each party second-guessed the other. This was surprisingly Bing Crosby's first feature in Technicolor, a fact made well-known in ads, but he'd otherwise be poorly served, for Dixie wavers where he's not singing, the gags lame and a love triangle hardly to liking of viewers then or now. There's a running joke of Bing's mislaid pipe starting fires, as in to-the-ground, which is not only unfunny, but outright disturbing when one of blazes takes place in a crowded theatre. Was it wise to make light of disasters still in memory of many during that nitrate era when cataclysms often resulted in loss of lives? Theatre fires were simply not something to kid about, and I'm surprised Para brass didn't scotch the over-emphasized routine. Directing Dixie was A. Edward Sutherland, a comedy whiz from silents, but defeated by faulty makings here; he and Crosby had done much better by similar content in 1935's Mississippi. Dixie can be had on Region Two DVD, another of Universal's bearded transfers, a pity because this one could look great in HD with reclaimed Technicolor.

10 Comments:

Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky is curious, mostly for the Burke/Van Heusen songs. Considering the blackface, how likely is this to be restored? Or even released in the States?

Personally, Stinky would rather wait til next Friday to see Hope and Hutton in 'Let's Face It'. But he would arrive late so as to miss Ted Lewis.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Any idea who the woman is with Edgar and Charlie in the current top photo?

5:14 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...


Answer to Randy, it's Myrna Loy.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

6:16 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Maybe something to team with "Birth of the Blues", which put forth the quasi-true tale of the white musicians who made jazz respectable. Crosby starred, and Eddie Anderson was his faithful sidekick assuring us that black Americans were thrilled by this validation of their music. It's a light comedy most of the way; just sort of nonsensical to modern audiences. There was a single color sequence, where a song was accompanied by magic lantern slides.

2:20 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Okay, topic for conversation: how many golden age movie stars appeared in blackface. There's a semi-complete list on Wikipedia... Bing was practically in Jolson/Cantor category corking up in at least half a dozen films!

9:28 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

When I showed one long musical sequence (with everyone in blackface) to the students in my Popular Arts class, there were audible gasps as the minstrel recreation began. People asked, "And they released this in 1940?" Yesm they did, Mr. Tambo. Even twenty years ago few students remembered Bing Crosby, but those who did gasped at him in blackface (well, even Bugs Bunny did it).

I'd say the chance of this being re-released in the U.S. in any form is slim to none.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

At least one if the "Road" pictures used a circus fire as a gag, so "Dixie" is in good(?)company.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

As a black male, I'd say the chances of this being put on DVD by anybody is indeed 'slim to none'. People would have a fit about it, and social media would be abuzz with condemnation of the movie and of the company involved in putting this movie on DVD, as well as cried for said company to put black movies on DVD, as well as a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite/#HollywoodSoWhite controversy.

I think that this could be released, but only to educational and scholarly institutions, and then only used under certain conditions.

3:55 AM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

This was announced by Universal for one of their Crosby sets, then pulled, so it probably has been restored.

4:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I had forgotten about that until you mentioned it, Lou. Pity that Universal didn't make the new transfer available to their Region Two licensee. Have been much enjoying your Facebook articles on early New York broadcast of movies, much of that info being all new to me, like for instance "Foreign Correspondent" being the first Hitchcock feature to show up on NY television.

6:57 PM  

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