Oliver Courtney (Basil Rathbone) is Broadway’s most successful and most acclaimed songwriter. His shows are guaranteed hits. He’s on top of the world. There’s only one problem. Courtney can’t write songs any more. He hasn’t been able to write songs for several years, since he had his heart broken. Since then he’s been relying on ghost writers, for both the tunes and the lyrics.
The tunes have been provided by Bob Sommers (Bing Crosby). Bob is happy enough with the arrangement. He gets a guaranteed income and he’s really not a very ambitious guy. All he wants in life is a catboat. Courtney will give him one in order to endure that those tunes keep coming.
Bob and Cherry keep bumping into each other but each of them is unaware that the other is also ghost-writing for Courtney.
Cherry’s having difficulties writing her lyrics since a six-piece hot jazz combo moved into the apartment next door to hers. She needs peace and quiet but owing to the kinds of coincidences that you expect in a musical she ends up seeking out that peace and quiet at Nobody’s Inn, a little place that just happens to be owned by Bob’s uncle.
Backstage musicals and musicals about the songwriting business are a dime a dozen but this picture has something that you very rarely encounter in a musical - a plot with some genuine originality. In fact it has a very clever plot (and at this point it should be noted that one of the writers was a fellow by the name of Billy Wilder).
This is a musical that doesn’t have to rely entirely on the music. There’s a decent story, reasonably three-dimensional characters and some sparkling dialogue. And the music is very good with some very fine songs.
Rhythm on the River is available on DVD paired on a single disc with another Bing Crosby musical, Rhythm on the Range. Rhythm on the Range isn’t quite as good but it’s not bad and this pleasingly cheap double-header DVD really is a must-buy for Crosby fans. The transfer is very good as well.
Rhythm on the River is a bit of a mystery. It’s one of Bing Crosby’s best musicals and yet it seems to be one of those chronically overlooked and underrated movies. It has wit, style, romance, humour and great songs. Highly recommended.