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Nobody ever said that Bing Crosby lacked clout in Hollywood. He and Bob Hope were no longer top stars, but their popularity hadn't waned. When Crosby co-produced his starring vehicle High Time in 1961 he was just six years beyond a Best Actor nomination. High Time became a Crosby project when actor Gary Cooper took sick and had to give up the show. Fox partnered Crosby with three of its young contract talents; along the way the original director was replaced with the hot Blake Edwards, fresh from his mega-hit Operation Petticoat. That move proves that Bing could get the best, when he wanted it.
High Time is a dated college comedy that was surely just as dated in 1960. The script is by Tom & Frank Waldman, from a story by Garson Kanin; one is tempted to suggest that Kanin was waxing nostalgic about his own college days, except I'm not certain that the great film writer actually attended a regular college. One of the first expository lines of dialogue establishes that Crosby's character is nearing fifty years old, when Der Bingle was actually pushing sixty and looks every year of it.
Successful Harvey Howard (Crosby) has his chain of burger restaurants well established. He's a widower and his grown children (Nina Shipman, Angus Duncan) no longer really need him, so Harvey fulfills an old dream of earning a college diploma. Despite many shocked responses he insists on being treated like any ordinary freshman. He meets several fellow students who will follow him through four years of study: athletic Gil Sparrow (Fabian), impetuous Joy Elder (Tuesday Weld), polite Indian student T.J. Padmanagham (Patrick Adiarte) and effusive Bob Banneman (RIchard Beymer). Chemistry instructor and dorm monitor Professor Thayer (Gavin McLeod) is a nervous fool, while the excitable co-ed Scoop Pruitt (Yvonne Craig) profiles Harvey for the school paper. The episodic story sees Harvey and his pals going through the usual school routine, gathering a bonfire for homecoming, attending dances, studying. Harvey meets and forms a fast friendship with a professor, Helene Gauthier (Nicole Maurey of The Day of the Triffids). The boys pledge for a fraternity; Howard is passed up but wins a slot the next year by accepting the hazing challenge of attending a school dance in drag. Bob goes in for fads like phone both stuffing (topical, topical) and for each new semester Joy seems to pick a new dormie to be her a boyfriend -- even dressing in a sari while seeing T.J. But trouble comes when Harvey and Helene spend a summer break together. Worried that their father might remarry, Harvey's jealous offspring try to break it up by informing the college president. Will Harvey be tossed out of school? Will Helene lose her job?
Unfortunately for High Time the answers to those questions aren't all that interesting. The comedy never really gets on its feet, no thanks to a terminally inept script and fairly flat direction. The film basically has two kinds of scenes. In the dorm room (which resembles a spacious hotel suite) everybody runs around in a comic vacuum trying to be amusing and funny. Bing Crosby is at the center of this leaden dance, while Gavin McLeod runs in from time to time waving his arms and grimacing. Save for the romantic scenes with Ms. Maurey, the rest of the movie is dominated by montage sequences of 'funny stuff' -- little comic vignettes about stealing wood for a bonfire, attending sports games or being initiated into the frat. There is no drinking and no sex in this squeaky-clean fantasy college.
Bing's Harvey Howard (any relation to Johnson Howard's?) does compromise his teacher, however, by fraternizing with her outside of school. Assuming he didn't take any classes with her, he's not breaking any rules (hey, I dated my Spanish instructor, after I was her student) but he's leaving her wide open for gossip.
Harvey seems untroubled by the subterfuge and sabotage perpetrated by his spoiled adult kids, no matter how snide their attitude or how disloyal their behavior. In one perplexing scene Harvey shows one of his restaurant franchisees how to cook a decent hamburger. They guy's basically running a Denny's, yet acts as if it were Sardi's.
Blake Edwards keeps the film moving with all kinds of semi-slapstick comedy business. We're more interested in the cast. This is Fabian's second movie in the big Fox push to make him a star. He wasn't terrible in North to Alaska but he is not convincing as a college basketball star. Neither does he seem very much of a partner for Tuesday Weld, an actress with more talent than the rest of the players combined. She avoids embarrassing herself with the nothing part and is always the one we look for in group shots. Richard Beymer did this show just before (or maybe during?) West Side Story, and seems to be playing as if he is still a child actor. The idea of Beymer dating Weld seems almost creepy. Nicely enough, High Time was a good luck film for its actors. Beymer went on to some big roles, Tuesday Weld continued with her erratic career, and Fabian ... well, he's always been a household name, that's undeniable. Supporting actress Yvonne Craig still has a formidable fan following for her various movie parts, including the role as TV's Batgirl. Even Gavin McLeod hit the TV big time, albeit almost seventeen years later. And Bing? He elbowed his way into a bloated remake of Stagecoach, produced some movies and TV, made many guest appearances and avoided Hollywood Squares. This is not his shining hour.
It looks as though director Edwards and his writers Waldman (who came up with the script for The Party later in the decade) added visual embellishments to goose up the episodic, poky story. Several montages and special "Year Change" sequences utilize clever blue screen opticals engineered by Fox's in-house effects problem solver L.B. Abbott. Abbott had just earned a solo credit the year before on Journey to the Center of the Earth (also a Twilight Time Blu-ray) and his name became ubiquitous on seemingly every Fox release for the next seventeen years. "L.B" was still active on "1941" in 1979, producing flawless blue screen composites with veteran Frank Van Der Veer. The traveling matte tricks in High Time show students "pushing" the frame line across the screen to change scenes, while various wipes are done by watching rugs roll across the screen, and seeing the students "paint" the screen with the next scene. One particularly creative down-shot sees the season change when a carpet of Fall leaves is blown away. In 1960, way before the intrusion of special visual effects into every aspect of every film, these graphic antics were bright and refreshing.
Although parts of High Time were filmed on many campuses, every new school year begins with a shot of Harvey Howard being dropped off right in the middle of the U.C.L.A. quad in the center of campus.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray and DVD of High Time is a stunningly good HD transfer of this strained vehicle for an aged Hollywood megastar. Viewers wanting to revisit a tame fantasy about college life may be pleased.
The extras are an original trailer and an Isolated Music Score. Blake Edwards seems to have brought ace composer Henry Mancini along for the ride. His music has no signature themes but is an interesting entry in his film work; anything that might sound like a contemporary tune is scrupulously avoided. One very bright moment for Bing Crosby music fans is the crooner's one musical sequence. He sings The Second Time Around by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, a song that became an easy listening standard.
Julie Kirgo's insert liner notes point up relevant points of interest about the film and its lively cast. Positive critical quotes used on the package back give an accurate picture of the film's reception in 1960, at least in the trade papers. A movie like High Time probably did better than average business -- Bing Crosby was still a big name.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
High Time Blu-ray rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.