Throwback Thursday: Anything Goes is a rambunctious musical jaunt into the past


When you pair Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor with Zizi Jeanmaire and Mitzi Gaynor and mishaps on a boat, you have the recipe for a ‘de-lovely’ musical in ‘Anything Goes.’


Last time I reviewed a DVD from the Warner Archive Collection, I concluded that actors are some of the vainest people to walk the earth. Continuing in that trend are the main characters of this week’s movie — Anything Goes (1956), starring Bing Crosby, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Zizi Jeanmarie and Phil Harris. In this film, Crosby and O’Connor play a couple of big-time Broadway acts who join forces to appear in a show together. Because both men consider themselves top billing for the act, both take it upon themselves to find and sign the perfect leading lady for the show.

Crosby finds himself signing Patsy Blair (Gaynor) while traveling abroad in England, while O’Connor finds himself signing Gaby Duval (Jeanmarie) in France. Both bring their girls aboard a boat that has set its course for New York and antics ensue as they try to convince each other that their lady is the right one for the part and they attempt to keep both women in the dark about the role having been doubly cast. This creates some memorable scenes with fast-talking and the clever usage of extras to block conversations at times. My favorite scene of this nature involves a pair of French-speaking sailors who just happen to converse in front of Crosby and the ship’s captain so the audience can’t hear the master plan that will woo back the hearts of both leading ladies. It’s just so ridiculous that it’s almost fun.

Naturally, both men fall madly in love with the opposite’s leading lady and each is full of remorse that they ever wanted to cast another leading lady. However, by the film’s end, a brand new show is written that makes it possible to cast both women as leading ladies and life presumably ends happily ever after for all four.

Isn’t life in a musical from the 1950s grand? 

Isn’t life in a musical from the 1950s grand? You’ve got the wonderful boat setting, the excitement of being cast in a Broadway show, the tenderness of falling in love (although really, who falls passionately in love at first sight?) and the exquisite costuming and well-choreographed musical dance numbers. I’m a longtime admirer of musicals, and I think I respect dancers because I’m far from graceful. I grew up fondly watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance their way across any number of locales and star-crossed lovers’ angles. By now, I’d like to think I’m somewhat of an expert on this genre and I can tell the difference between a first-class musical and one that is a little sub-par. I hate to admit it, but this one would be in the latter category.

The opening musical number “Ya Gotta Give the People Hoke” is certainly no “Make ‘Em Laugh,” though it has a kindred spirit in that both feature an eager O’Connor singing his heart out while attempting to be a clown and get a laugh from the audience. Somehow it just ended up a little flat and hokey, but I blame the writing more than I blame the acting, singing or dancing. O’Connor was certainly a talented man. If I had to award prizes for the best musical numbers in the film, I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-Lovely” or “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” which comes at the very end.

Seeing O’Connor bounce around on various balls and his tap shoes is a playful scene not to be missed.

Another notable standout is “Bounce Right Back,” which involves O’Connor delighting a room full of small children in the ship’s playroom. I thought it was sweet that he took the time to sing to a little girl who was feeling left out when the other children were ignoring her. Seeing O’Connor bounce around on various balls and his tap shoes is a playful, rambunctious scene not to be missed. In a musical that is perhaps mediocre when compared to some of both gentlemen’s more famous ones from their impressive bodies of work (White Christmas, Singin’ in the Rain, etc.), this was a bright, shining moment that I’m happy I took the time to watch.

Anything Goes features a talented cast and hardworking crew, though I can’t say it’s the best musical or romantic comedy I’ve seen from the era. The DVD may not have any bonus features, but the film has been restored to its amazing Technicolor splendor and is certainly worth a once-over. At the very least, it provides an enjoyable escape from the bitter cold that has plagued much of the U.S. this winter. It made me want to take a tropical cruise, preferably one where people burst into random musical numbers for no reason, if such a thing exists. Anything goes!


Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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