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Almost Musical: 'The Sky's the Limit'

One for his baby and one more for the sky.

The Sky's the Limit

Director: Edward H. Griffith
Cast: Fred Astaire, Joan Leslie
Distributor: Warner Archives
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1943
USDVD release date: 2012-4-19

Lt. Fred Atkins (Fred Astaire) shoots down so many Japanese planes as a member of the Flying Tigers air squad that he's dragged into a coast-to-coast fundraising and publicity tour of the type we saw in Flags of Our Fathers. Bailing out of the assignment for the remainder of his leave, he spots Joan (Joan Leslie), a professional shutterbug who wants to do serious war photography like Margaret Bourke-White instead of celebrity shots in nightclubs. Fred immediately begins a campaign of making a pest of himself that today would lead to a restraining order.

Of course she's eventually charmed and worn down, but the most artificial contrivance of all is that he doesn't tell her he's in the military and about to go back on assignment. Why not? Only the writers know, but without such a wisp of a conflict, it couldn't be blown away like a dandelion in the last two minutes. We might say he's modest and avoids publicity, but that doesn't translate to needlessly misleading the woman you're in love with.

This modest RKO item (now available on-demand through Warner Archive) isn't a full-blown musical. However, there are three songs by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen--which ain't hay--and two of the tunes are immortal. Joan sings "My Shining Hour" in a nightclub, and this becomes a recurring theme. She and Fred dance to it on a terrace, and they also dance to a lively novelty at a USO club. These are moments of pure joy. Near the end, Fred sings "One for My Baby and One More for the Road" before bursting into an energetic routine on a bar and smashing a lot of glasses. These scenes, running maybe 10 or 12 minutes of screen time out of the movie's 90, could go into an Astaire anthology while the rest of the picture is mostly for sitting through without too great irritation.

Robert Ryan looks out of place in an early role as Fred's buddy, but the only supporting character worth mentioning is Joan's boss Robert Benchley, who delivers one of his patented routines of the hemming and hawing after-dinner speech. Depending on your sense of humor, he's either hilarious or stops the show dead; we think his sense of timing and naturalism foreshadow today's humor of discomfort, which may be why it seems a tad out of place amid the general artifice.


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