27 April 2002 | lugonian
From songwriter to playwright
"Two for Tonight" (Paramount, 1935), directed by Frank Tuttle, is a virtually forgotten musical that pairs Bing Crosby and Joan Bennett, recent stars of "Mississippi" (1935), for the second and final time. The difference between these two movies is like night and day. With "Mississippi" comes WC Fields to brighten up the comedy, and composers Rodgers and Hart with their lively score. With "Two for Tonight," it looks more like a 20 minute short stretched out to 61 minutes with the use of numerous tunes, mostly sung by the crooning Crosby himself, to fill in the blanks.
The movie opens with Bing Crosby singing the title tune during the opening screen credits. After that, the story begins with Mrs. J.E. Smythe (Mary Boland), a scatterbrained mother with three grown sons, each by an ex or deceased husband, being interviewed by a visiting census taker (Bert Hanlon), who quips an amusing line regarding Mrs. Smythe's deceased husband, "Buried because of death!" The three grown sons in question are Gilbert Gordon (Bing Crosby), an ambitious songwriter and piano player; "Pooch" Donahue (Douglas Fowley); and Buster De Costa (James Blakeley). But the center of attention goes to Gilbert, who hopes to promote his new songs to Alexander Myers (Maurice Cass), a music publisher. The census taker, who knows Myers, tells Gilbert how he can reach him. Learning that Myers likes to relax by sitting under a tree and reading his newspaper, Gilbert arrives at his estate where he parks himself on top of the tree where he sings out one of his songs to Myers below. Aside from the fact that Myers is hard of hearing, Gilbert's singing is drowned out by the noise of a passing airplane that soon crashes into the tree, injuring Gilbert. The daring aviatrix turns out to be Bobbie Lockwood (Joan Bennett), who not only agrees to help pay Gilbert for his medical expenses and damages, but because she works for Broadway producer, Harry Kling (Lynne Overman), she arranges for Gilbert to be granted an interview. Kline, who wants to present a new script for his temperamental actress, Lilly Blanca (Thelma Todd), offers Gilbert an opportunity by offering him a chance to come up with a complete play, with song and lyrics, within seven days. He agrees to the challenge, having Bobbie act as his secretary. But problems arise when Lilly tries to make a play for Gilbert.
Aside from too much plot inserted in such a short time frame, "Two for Tonight" succeeds in presenting itself with new melodies, compliments of composers Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, including, in order of presentation, "Two for Tonight," "Takes Two to Make a Bargain," "Takes Two to Make a Bargain" (reprise); "From the Top of Your Head to the Tip of Your Toes," "Without a Word of Warning," "I Wish I Were Aladdin" and "Without a Word of Warning" (reprise). The "Aladdin" number, which is sung inside a jail cell by Crosby and others inmates, with one singing he would rather be RIP VAN WINKLE, ranks one of the more catchy tunes in the story. "Without a Word of Warning" a smoother, mellow tune, might have been a more worthy movie title than the one used for this production.
Seen in the supporting cast are Ernest Cossart as Hompe, a loyal butler who helps Gilbert come up with ideas to the storyline of his play; Jack Mulhall, Charles Lane and Charles Arnt, among many others. Mary Boland, a resident character actress in numerous Paramount comedies, does what she does best with her comedy lines in the manner of Gracie Allen, such as, "It shouldn't be hard (to write a play). A play runs only two hours, and you have a whole week to write it," or doing a combination of Louise Fazenda and Alice Brady dizziness characterizations, which mostly add up to Mary Boland's own interpretation of her screen persona.
"Two for Tonight" is as close as to having Bing Crosby featured in "B" movie material. While I wouldn't label this to be his worst movie, it comes nowhere near his borderline average films either. It's obviously an excuse to exercise the crooner's vocal chords and give him more experience with his acting ability until a better script comes along. And that would soon happen, especially in the 1940s where Crosby would not only be at the top of his profession, but an Academy Award winner as best actor of 1944 to boot.
A real curio in itself, "Two for Tonight" is worth seeing, especially to devoted fans of the legendary Bing Crosby himself. (**)