Sunday, May 27, 2012


Growing up I never had a pet of any kind - not even a pet rock. I would never hurt a living creature, but I do not have a desire to have a pet. That being said, there has been some great animal movies out there. My favorites are the horse movies. One of the biggest champions of horses and the sport of horce racing was Bing Crosby. He founded the now famous Del Mar Racetrack in 1937, and he had a lifelong love of horses. It was only natural in his career that he would make at least one horse movie.

Riding High (1950) is a black and white musical racetrack film featuring Bing Crosby and directed by Frank Capra in which the songs were actually sung as the movie was being filmed instead of the customary lip-synching to previous recordings. The movie is a remake of an earlier Capra film called Broadway Bill (1934). While the film is generally a light musical comedy, it has an unexpected tragic turn in its story.

Frank Capra did not particularly like his film Broadway Bill. It's chief problem was that Warner Baxter did not like horses and it showed. He got to re-make it with a man who loved horses. Bing at the track was a natural fit. There is a great Van Heusen-Burke score. It was probably one of the last great scores they wrote for a Bing Crosby movie before moving on to Sinatra material. "Sunshine Cake" became one of Bing's million sellers, a great addition to his group of upbeat philosophical numbers. My favorite number however was his version of Stephen Foster's "De Camptown Races", sung while walking Broadway Bill to the track for the big race, accompanied by a gang of kids.

I was pleasantly surprised the way the Clarence Muse character was portrayed here. Yes, he was the exercise boy/groom for the horse, a subservient role to Bing Crosby as owner, but he was not portrayed negatively as many blacks were portrayed in such movies. He was an equal partner in the training of the horse - and sang equally well with Bing Crosby! No eye-rolling, silly cavorting as many of these movies show blacks (as in the Marx Brothers' "Day at the Races."). If you read Capra's autobiography, "The Name Above the Title", he addresses the performance of Clarence Muse as it regards racial stereotypes. He quotes one reviewer's harsh criticism of the role of Muse, and then in his defense he quotes a Black newspaper article which actually praises the importance of and respect shown to the character of Whitey. I also noticed that early on in the film Crosby's fiance, whom we are not supposed to like, arrives at his house and is greeted by Whitey. She disdainfully asks, "What IS your name anyway?" Muse replies, "Clarence White". This was obviously inserted for the purpose of explaining the nickname Whitey.

This film is Capra casting at its best. My favorites are Raymond Walburn and William Demarest. Demarest is one of the few of the replacement cast since Lynne Overman had died the year before. Also watch for Oliver Hardy, he has a bit that is short but very memorable. The movie is more than just a movie about horses. It is a story of a man's love for his horse. The plot is slight at times and dramatic at others, but I recommend RIDING HIGH to anyone who likes horses, Bing Crosby, or a good Frank Capra movie...

MY RATING: 8 out of 10


  1. Have added this movie to my must-see list - thanks for recommending!

  2. I don't know how I've missed this one through the years, but it's a movie I'd really like to see. Thanks for a charming post.

  3. David,
    I always learn such interesting stuff from your articles. I had no idea that Bing founded Del Mar in the 30's. I'm a big fan of horse racing having grown up getting to go to Santa Anita and Hollywood Downs racetracks with the parents. (sneaking bets through my mom as great although frowned upon)

    I had no idea that Baxter didn't care for horses until reading Lindsay's review and I wish Capra would have cast someone else. As you've pointed out here, at least Capra gave another racing film a go.

    This one sounds like the better film of the two and I will add it to the 'must see' list.

    I've never owned pets or wanted pets either but I do love my parents dogs. We had poodles when I was a kid and I never took to them. We did have a couple of horses for a time but after getting run through a chicken coop while on the back of one I soured on riding them after that!

    Thanks for participating in the Horseathon and exposing us to another great Bing vehicle with your stellar review.

  4. It's great fun to watch "Broadway Bill" and "Riding High" back to back because when a supporting cast member from the original was available, he was used again. It's a real treat and it's one of the ways I introduced my daughter to classic character greats. Clarence Muse is one of the actors who repeated his role. In the original film he clearly is working for "Dan", but in "Riding High" he is a partner in every sense of the word.

    "Riding High" features one of Bing's most appealing roles. He must have had a lot of fun making this picture.

  5. David ~ may I begin by saying how nice it is to see you are part of the horseathon. This is a great choice for a blogathon with horses as the focus. I can think of only one other musical set at the track, “The Lemon Drop Kid” with Bob Hope, a great favorite a Christmas time. I have seen Capra’s “Broadway Bill”, and while I don’t think it is as bad as the director claims, Myrna Loy really is the highlight of the film. Your fascinating background information on “Riding High” has me curious to see how the films compare, and if Crosby made a better lead than Warner Baxter.

  6. How cool to have two posts in the Horseathon, one about the original film and one about the remake. BROADWAY BILL sounds interesting but RIDING HIGH seems even better. I have yet to see either film but will try and remedy that soon. Thanks for the fascinating info about Clarence Muse; I always find classic Hollywood's treatment and availability of ethnic roles so interesting. Thanks for a good read!

  7. Bing Crosby, horses, Capra - what's not to like? I'm a fan of Mr. C, so anything he was in was elevated by his presence (in my opinion). Thanks for an entertaining post!

  8. It's awfully hard to top the original (which is one of my favorite Capra features) but Riding High is an entertaining little romp, primarily for the Oliver Hardy bit and especially for the presence of Clarence Muse, whose treatment by Hollywood is a crying shame. (You only have to watch a few chapters of the atrocity that is Jungle Queen to know what I mean.) Great review, David!

  9. This is was really great classic movie about that riding a horse. It is a great and informative article I have read. I hope I can watch this classic movie.