Crosby, Wyman, and Barrymore mesmerize in... Just for You (1952)


Ever since his wife died ten years ago, Broadway producer Jordan Blake has slowly built up a wall between himself and his two children, Barbara and Jerry. Although he undoubtedly loves his kids, Jordan finds it easier to pour his energy into his newest stage success rather than his family. Piece by piece, we see how fractured the Blakes have become. Barbara, or "Babs," has gone through 19 governesses; her latest, Mrs. Angevine, turns out to be a drunk, a fact Babs hid so as not to bother her busy father. Jerry, meanwhile, wants to be a songwriter but finds it difficult living in Jordan's immense shadow. To complicate matters, the 18-year-old is in love with Carolina Hill, the star of Jordan's current show... and the woman Jordan also loves.

A sweet, little-known musical, Just for You (1952) has a lot to boast about. For one thing, although he would live until 1980, it was director Elliott Nugent's last film, due to alcoholism and mental illness. The movie also has a formidable cast with Bing Crosby as Jordan, Jane Wyman as Carolina, Natalie Wood and Robert Arthur as the Blake children, and Ethel Barrymore as Alida De Bronkhart, the headmistress of a finishing school that Babs desperately wants to attend. While I expected astounding performances from all of these actors (except Arthur, someone I confess I don't really know), the best surprise about Just for You was the incredible score from Harry Warren and Leo Robin.

The film starts off with a bang when Jordan hops up onstage during his show's dress rehearsal to demonstrate how he wants things done for the number "I'll Si-Si Ya in Bahia." I can't even describe how much joy this scene gave me. Crosby is perfection as he dances, sings, and throws in a few funny faces for good measure. The song itself has a brilliant melody, made all the more exciting by Crosby's velvet voice. You can (and should!) watch it here.




Contrasting "I'll Si-Si Ya in Bahia" is the next tune, Jerry's songwriting effort "Call Me Tonight." As soon as Jerry and his friend begin presenting the song to Jordan, it is clear that something is off. They bang down on the piano keys and sing out the lyrics with speed and loudness, lessening the words' effect. Jordan notices this and has them slow it down to let the song breathe a little more, but unfortunately for Jerry, the new tempo points out how unpolished the lyrics are. Acting like a producer instead of a father, Jordan tears the song apart and questions whether Jerry even understands what he is writing about: "What do you know about being lonely?" With downcast eyes, Jerry murmurs, "Quite a lot," a quiet blow that becomes Jordan's first indicator of the damage that has been done by his lack of parenting.

In addition to "I'll Si-Si Ya," the other songs in Jordan's show that we see are "Checkin' My Heart" and "The Maiden of Guadalupe," both performed by Carolina. The first of these, "Checkin' My Heart," sees Carolina playing a bride who has been jilted. Angry, she sings about how she'll be more careful in the future and, in a moment of special effects trickery, she is advised by three different mirror versions of herself, including a flirty playgirl and a glasses-wearing spinster (insert eyeroll here).






"The Maiden of Guadalupe" is vastly different. As Carolina croons a tragic tale about a bullfighter and his forgotten small-town sweetheart, dancers Daniel Nagrin, Florence Lessing, and Miriam Pandor enact the lyrics through a beautiful routine that is part ballet and part contemporary. Interestingly enough, Nagrin studied with and was married to Just for You's choreographer, Helen Tamiris. Another fun fact: Lessing was a member of Jack Cole's company and can be spotted dancing in the Betty Grable vehicle Moon Over Miami. You can see a part of "The Maiden of Guadalupe" here, although the quality isn't very good. If you'd rather just listen to the song, you can find Wyman's recording of it here.








Just for You's most well-known number is undoubtedly "Zing a Little Zong," which was a radio hit before the film was even released and then was later nominated for an Academy Award. It's easy to understand why -- this song is a whimsical earworm and Crosby and Wyman's performance of it is pure sunshine. If watching this scene doesn't put a smile on your face, I suggest a trip to the doctor because something is definitely wrong with you.



In order to reconnect with his kids, Jordan takes them to a lakeside house in the country, but things are slow to improve. He catches a break, though, when it is discovered that St. Hilary's, the school Babs wants to attend, is nearby and he has made fast friends with the headmistress, Ms. De Bronkhart. After an impromptu performance of "The Live Oak Tree" with the girls of St. Hilary's, Jordan is invited to a luncheon at the school and brings an eager Babs along. When Jordan is asked to sing in front of the students' stuffy parents, he realizes that the bandleader is an old vaudeville pal of his played by Ben Lessy. The two dust off one of their former numbers, "On the 10:10 from Ten-Ten-Tennesse," much to Babs's embarrassment. I love this performance -- it is such a fun duet and Lessy makes for a fantastic partner for Bing. (If you're like me and think Lessy looks familiar, that's probably because you've seen him before. The comedian and actor's credits include That Darn Cat, Gypsy, The Pirate, Make Room for Daddy, McMillan and Wife, Petticoat Junction, and more.)

The final song we're introduced to is "Just for You," written by Jerry as a way to express his love for Carolina. It is a gorgeous tune that illustrates how Jerry is now able to channel his feelings into great music rather than something clich├ęd like "Call Me Tonight." As pretty as the song is, though, it doesn't change the fact that Carolina only has eyes for Jordan. The moment becomes even harder for Jerry when he finds out that his father and Carolina are going to be married.

Scenes like this one are just one of the reasons why this film is a fine example of Bing Crosby's talent. The mixture of drama, comedy, and music seems tailor-made for him, allowing him to showcase his exceptional vocals while also giving him the opportunity to be silly, romantic, caring, and flawed. Jordan isn't an unloving father; somewhere along the way he just got a little lost and his children were no longer his priority. However, as soon as he sees how bad their relationship has become, he completely devotes himself to repairing it, which includes putting his budding romance with Carolina on hold.

Wyman and Crosby had worked together the year before in Frank Capra's Here Comes the Groom, a hit musical comedy that featured the duo introducing the Oscar-winning tune "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening." (You can actually see a sign advertising the film in Just for You's first shot!) While Crosby was often considered cold and distant by his leading ladies, Wyman enjoyed her time with him and called him "the supreme professional, always accommodating, but he's the big star, so you watch and listen when he's speaking. When I got to sing with Bing, it was a dream come true." When it came to casting Just for You, Wyman was not the first choice, shockingly enough -- Crosby originally wanted Judy Garland, which would have made the film their only cinematic collaboration. Garland decided not to proceed with the project, though, and Wyman soon got the part.


One of my favorite scenes from Just for You is when Jordan and Carolina admit their feelings for one another. After a long night of rehearsal, they chat about the show as they sip their coffee, Carolina complimenting Jordan on the wonderful job he is doing as a producer. He modestly brushes aside her praise and remarks that she is the one holding everything together. He then recalls a moment from their last show when Carolina was onstage with another actor and she tenderly fixed his tie, an action that conveyed emotions that the script couldn't and proved to Jordan what an amazing instinct Carolina has. They soon fall into each other's arms and kiss.

Carolina is a wonderful character and she is vital to the story, not just as Jordan's love interest and Jerry's object of affection but also as the person who helps the Blakes mend. When Jordan struggles to spend time with Babs and Jerry in the country, he sends for Carolina, whose sheer presence improves things. Later, when she is forced to let Jerry down, she does it as gently and sweetly as she can, telling him "Hearts don't break, Jerry. They crack a little, but they go right on beating."

Can we talk about how underrated Jane Wyman is? She might be best known today for the melodramas she made with Douglas Sirk, but this woman was a superb comedienne and a terrific singer as well. Every time I see her, I just love her more and more. She had such a luminescence about her, one that radiated kindness, charm, and a delicious sense of humor. With each of her characters, I feel like she infused them with a piece of herself, a vulnerable act that only the best performers are able to do.

Wyman could also wear clothes extraordinarily well, as Just for You's exquisite Edith Head costumes demonstrate! I particularly adore her buttery yellow bathing suit and her sparkly blue gown with the high slit in the skirt.















While Wyman and Crosby provide a lot of the film's sparkle, Robert Arthur as Jerry brings the dramatic tension. Although the actor does a good job with such a heavy part, I do wish that the character wasn't so dour. It is also unfortunate that there are really no scenes between Jerry and Babs -- you can tell they care for each other, but I would've appreciated a moment where they confided in one another about their father or their shared pain over losing their mother. They're the only ones who know what the other is going through, yet they never acknowledge it. It doesn't help that they are kept separated throughout most of the film, either.

This script problem is exacerbated when a desolate Jerry joins the Army and disappears on his family. This development reminded me a lot of There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), which has Donald O'Connor's character doing the same thing after experiencing his own heartbreak. Show Business is more successful in its execution, though, because we see how close O'Connor is to his family, including his sister played by Mitzi Gaynor, making his return to them all the more heartwarming. (I may or may not cry every time I see it.) It is lovely to watch Jerry finally reunite with his father in the last scene, but mostly because of Bing Crosby's strong performance.

Jerry may receive the juicier storyline, but Babs has the power of Natalie Wood's performance to keep her from being completely overshadowed. Babs is such a bubbly, endearing character, and the way she aches to be a part of St. Hilary's is palpable. I may not understand the appeal of going to a finishing school, but I know what it's like to want something with every fiber of my being like Babs does.

Another strength of Babs's story is the marvelous Ethel Barrymore. I love this woman. As soon as I saw her make her appearance in this movie, I had to smile. She always brought an independent, feisty attitude to her roles, while still keeping intact her warmth and generosity. Alida De Bronkhart is a tough bird, but she is also delightfully funny and a softie at heart. It's a shame that she and Wyman only share one quick scene together because they're both so excellent.

Besides the cast and score, what makes Just for You fun to watch is George Barnes's breathtaking use of Technicolor. The bewitching blues of Crosby's eyes, the lake, and the sky are a sight to behold in particular. (Location scenes, by the way, were filmed at Lake Arrowhead, California and at Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino National Forest.)










A nice film that is perfect to watch in the summertime, Just for You is a pleasant piece of entertainment that is greatly enhanced by the tremendous work of Crosby, Wyman, Wood, and Barrymore, plus the enchanting, occasionally quirky score by Harry Warren and Leo Robin. Don't let this one go by unnoticed!
































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This is my entry to the Fourth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted by Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To read more about the fascinating, unbelievably talented Barrymore family, check out the roster here.

Comments

  1. I am so pleased you wrote about Just for You. Only you could do this comforting movie justice. I am a major Bing Crosby fan, and Jane Wyman is tops with me. Just for You is in my list of top ten faves of the actress: https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000051226/

    The music, the performances and the lovely scenery you highlighted with your screencaps (thanks!), as well as Edith Head's beautiful gowns for Jane make this a welcome screening. Ethel Barrymore brings something special, almost magical to her role. I would want to attend that school! More likely, but just an unrealistically, I want to wear that gown Jane wears in Zing a Little Zong.

    PS: There's no question about it. I start crying when Donald O'Connor shows up backstage in There's No Business Like Show Business. The look on Mitzi's face is priceless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for this comment, Paddy! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on this wonderful film.

      Yay, another Wyman fan! Such a talented woman. She deserves so much more recognition. I've seen about half of the films on your list, so I look forward to checking off the other half!

      Whew! Good to know I'm not the only one who turns into a mess at that ending. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

      Delete
  2. Wonderful article Michaela. "Just For You" is a really sweet movie that should be more well known. Thanks for taking part in the blogathon and for covering this great film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Crystal! I'm happy I discovered this film and that I was able to write about it for your blogathon.

      Delete

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