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Special Theme: The Irish on Film
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Top o' the Morning

After Paramount's Going My Way (1944) won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, it was inevitable that the studio would try to recapture its magic. One way of doing that was by re-teaming its Oscar-winning stars, Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, whose chemistry had proved so entertaining. Paramount found a comedy vehicle for them entitled Welcome Stranger (1947) and then paired them for a third and final time in the musical comedy Top o' the Morning (1949).

As writer Ruth Barton later observed in her book Acting Irish in Hollywood, "All three films establish similar personae for their two leads: Fitzgerald is the crusty old Irishman who resists change and is losing the authority he has held in a small community; Crosby is a modernizer who must learn to win over the trust of the older man as he solves the crisis his old-fashioned leadership has been unable to prevent. The films balance change against continuity, reserving their most sentimental moments for depictions of the 'old ways' while still insisting on the need for some limited modernization."

Top o' the Morning casts Crosby as an American insurance investigator who arrives in Ireland to look into the theft of the Blarney Stone from its namesake castle. To keep his identity secret, he poses as an artist. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, plays a local constable who sees the theft as a chance to establish himself as a hotshot detective; he also has a lovely lass of a daughter, played by 20-year-old Ann Blyth, with whom Crosby falls in love. (Blyth got the role after 17-year-old Deanna Durbin turned it down in favor of retirement.) Along the way, Bing croons several Irish folk tunes as well as two new songs by Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen: "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" and the title tune.

The picture was the fourth to be directed by David Miller, who had transitioned to features after a long career as an assistant editor and shorts director at MGM. His last short subject, the 1946 Seeds of Destiny, about the plight of children in war-torn Europe, had won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

More recently, he had just directed the Marx Brothers in Love Happy (1949), a gig that led directly to Top o' the Morning. As Miller told film critic Jim Bawden in 1982: "That was entirely Groucho [Marx]. He talked me up to Bing Crosby, who had veto power over his directors. In fact, his company, Bing Crosby Productions, made it for Paramount. And he said I was on, after a short interview. This one was the third in a series starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. Now I'm going to tell: these two barely tolerated each other. Barry would wander far from the script and he mugged atrociously. Bing was a one-take kind of guy but Barry tested his patience. Bing's in Ireland hunting down the Blarney Stone. Not quite in the category of The Quiet Man and our Irish village was backlot stuff. Ann Blyth was the love interest but she was 25 years Bing's junior and looked more like his daughter. Hume Cronyn was in it. I used every Irish actor I could find in Hollywood. It was a crowd pleaser but not much more."

For a film that is regarded as a minor work for all involved, Top o' the Morning received some very strong reviews in 1949. Variety deemed it "a pleasant little comedy with music that will please the Bing Crosby fans," and The Hollywood Reporter observed, "Crosby ambles through the gentle show and persuasive part with his characteristic easiness. His numbers are excellently done." Hume Cronyn, who plays Fitzgerald's assistant, drew particularly strong reviews.

Fitzgerald's brother, Arthur Shields, served as the film's technical director, as he did on many Irish-themed Hollywood films of the era.

By Jeremy Arnold



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