The Billy Wilder Blogathon – Rhythm on the River
Happy Birthday to one of the titans of cinema – Billy Wilder. Writer, director, producer…he could do it all. In honor of his special day I’m taking part in the Billy Wilder Blogathon – a celebration of his great works from all corners of the web hosted by Once Upon A Screen and Outspoken & Freckled.
Unfortunately, I was a little late to sign up and my favorite films (Sabrina, Ball of Fire, and The Apartment) were already taken. As I perused the list of available films I was surprised to find Rhythm on the River. I had seen the musical several times and had no idea that Wilder had any connection to it.
Intrigued I set to researching and learned that Billy Wilder received a story credit on the film. Rhythm on the Range has three credited screenwriters – Wilder, Jacques Thery, and Dwight Taylor (with Taylor listed as the screenwriter). This most likely indicates that Wilder wrote one of the first treatments of the film. At first, I figured this was because he was just breaking into the business but it’s not the case. Rhythm on the River was released in 1940 – a year after his first Oscar nomination for the Ninotchka screenplay.
Turns out I was over thinking it. Rhythm on the River is a Paramount Picture. Paramount was Wilder’s home studio. In the era of the contract system it was most likely one of many writing assignments he received.
Rhythm on the River is a musical starring Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, Basil Rathbone and Oscar Levant. It has the typical romance storyline of boy and girl meet, they fall in love, there’s a miscommunication, they separate, the truth comes out, they reunite, the end. But just because it employs the same old tropes doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable. There’s a unique backstory – Bing and Mary are musical ghost writers coming up with music and lyrics for a famous songwriter. There’s Oscar Levant at his wittiest self. And there’s the songs – all winner’s. Here’s Bing singing the title piece.
And here’s Mary Martin singing the fun, Ain’t It a Shame About Mame.
In fact, Rhythm on the River was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song for the Bing Crosby hit “Only Forever.”
Rhythm on the River may only be a footnote in Billy Wilder’s career but it’s a delight all the same. If you don’t believe me just read this review by contemporary film critic Bosley Crowther. He was a fan, too.