High Time (Blu-ray Review)27 Aug, 2012 By: Mike Clark
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Stars Bing Crosby, Fabian, Tuesday Weld, Nicole Maurey, Richard Beymer.
On paper any day of the week, I’ll take the concept of Blake Edwards directing Bing Crosby and Fabian (now, there’s a battle of the bands) as college roomies — even without Tuesday Weld hanging around the dorm and frat house in and with an array of costumes and men. As it turns out, the on-screen realization isn’t bad, either, as a borderline serviceable script gets juiced up with the most beguiling CinemaScope transitions (Edwards employs more wipes than a Warner newspaper yarn from the early ’30s) of the entire era.
An intended Gary Cooper vehicle that got substantially reworked when the actor got hit with the cancer that would soon prematurely kill him, High Time — whose working title is said to have been Daddy-O — ended up being the last “pure” big-screen Crosby vehicle. This is to say that the latter’s remaining three features were the final “Road” picture (Hong Kong, which one critic likened to a class reunion where Crosby and Bob Hope were the only living survivors) plus supporting roles in Robin and the 7 Hoods and the remake of Stagecoach, which were both superior to the movies they served.
HT’s hook is something of an unintended throwback to a Jan 20, 1952, episode of NBC’s “Colgate Comedy Hour” I own called Cantor Goes to College, whose central gag had Eddie Cantor, who was then about to be 60, invading a California campus as a freshman (somehow, Kirk Douglas fit into all this, live television being what it was). In the movie’s case, it’s more like McDonald’s brand-maker Ray Kroc doing the same thing, with Crosby cast as a burger-chain magnate seeking a belated formal education against the wishes of a grown son and daughter who are both as callow and snotty as kids you’d find in a Douglas Sirk movie.
As for manufactured teen idol Fabian, he was a likely nice guy who probably deserved the deathless crack Mel Torme heaved at him: “What’s a Fabian?” Yet while no one was particularly looking, the Chancellor Records recording artist of "Tiger and Turn Me Loose" also managed to end up working for Edwards; HT producer and former Billy Wilder partner Charles Brackett; Don Siegel (on Hound-Dog Man); Darryl Zanuck (on The Longest Day); with the biggest box office draw of the ’40s (Crosby); the biggest of the ’50s (John Wayne, in North to Alaska, in which it is a pretty well kept secret that Fabian is pretty funny opposite the Duke’s ass-kicking); and James Stewart (Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation). Surprisingly, except for a couple stanzas in a group setting, the 20th Century-Fox marketers must not have lobbied very hard for Fabian to sing on screen here — a missed opportunity for a Bing-Fabe duet for the footnote ages. Though, yes: on Crosby’s posthumously telecast 1977 Christmas special, Bing did get to pair with David Bowie — and Fabian had already teamed with Dean Martin on a great Jan 12, 1960, special I have as part of NBC’s “Startime” series in which Dino wore a guitar around his neck.
The one song that Crosby gets to perform here is the Cahn-Van Heusen “The Second Time Around,” which became a standard after getting beaten for the Oscar by “Never on Sunday” (a big pop hit at the time) in a field that also included "The Green Leaves of Summer." He sings it to an attractive campus French teacher played Nicole Maurey, with whom Crosby had previously starred with in 1953’s Little Boy Lost, a dramatic George Seaton warm-up for that writer/director’s Oscar-bait The Country Girl from the following year). An HT sub-premise is that Crosby’s widower (the actor was 56 playing 51) is too old to remarry — a concept as out of date as this film’s ’50s-mired portrayal of college life (five or six in a phone booth, anyone?) just four years before Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. (Matter of fact, even the concept of cougar-dom with younger men would get a trial run in George Cukor’s censor-compromised movie of The Chapman Report released just two years later and out as a Warner Archive title as we speak.) This part of HT seems even more contrived after we see Crosby’s character do eleven pull-ups in physical education class (with Crosby managing three or four of them before a camera cut).
I saw this confection in one of the more agreeable double bills of my early adolescence (with Fred Zinnemann’s Oscar-nominated The Sundowners; those were the days). This limited Twilight Time edition does approximate the look of Fox DeLuxe Color from the period, though it’s not among the most stellar of the niche distributor’s renderings. I don’t think it would take a seasoned moviegoer more than a couple minutes to speculate that Edwards was the director here — and much less if the sound is up and you can hear the Henry Mancini score that makes nice use of "March of the Cue Balls" (this was the first of many big-screen collaborations between Mancini and Edwards). This was a good period for the director, who sandwiched High Time between Operation Petticoat (which at the time was either the biggest commercial hit in the history of Universal or close) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s while “Peter Gunn” (coming in a “complete” Shout! Factory box set on Oct 23) was in its third and final season on NBC. This was before Edwards’ career began to hit some periodic rough spots, but the beauty of the system is that he got his second time around (maybe three, depending on how you slice it).