Oscar Movies: Rhythm on the River (1940)

Paramount

One of the Bing Crosby’s mildly charming programmers at Paramount, “Rhythm on the River” co-stars Mary Martin, and directed by Victor Schertzinger, who had made better films.

Though Wilder was among the screenwriters of this musical, the tale doesn’t reflect his wit or sensibility.  The other two writers are Dwight Taylor and Jacques Thery.

Character actor Basil Rathbone plays Oliver Courtney, a popular composer whose most successful tunes were actually ghost-written by musician Bob Summers (Crosby) and lyricist Cherry Lane (Martin).

At first, the couple is unaware of each other’s existence, but when they discover that both have been manipulated by the pompous Courtney, they decide to break away from their employer and team up on their own.

Initially, the powerful Courtney stops their professional efforts, but predictably the team emerges triumphant, with Courtney is forced to help them get started lest he be exposed as a phony and charlatan.

Piano prodigy and actor Oscar Levant plays one of his first comedy roles as Courtney’s sarcastic assistant, poking fun at his own real-life phobias (as he would be asked to do in later pictures).

The supporting cast includes Charley Grapewin and William Frawley.

None of the seven original songs in Rhythm on the River became a big hit, though one song was Oscar-nominated (see below).

Oscar Nominations: 1

 

Song: “Only Forever,” music by James Monaco, lyrics by Johnny Burke

 

Oscar Awards; None

 

Oscar Context

 

The Best Song Oscar winners were Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the movie “Pinocchio.”