I was long overdue to catch up with THE SKY'S THE LIMIT, one of just a couple Fred Astaire musicals I'd not yet seen, but it was worth the wait.
Although often dismissed as a relatively minor Astaire effort, the film has charm to spare, including a delightful leading lady in Joan Leslie, an amusing supporting performance by Robert Benchley, one of Robert Ryan's first film roles, and a Mercer-Arlen score which includes the Oscar-nominated "My Shining Hour" and the great standard "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," which was introduced in the movie. The latter song leads into Astaire doing a marvelous "drunken" dance atop a bar. The Astaire-Leslie dance numbers are also very enjoyable.
The plot concerns a WWII ace pilot (Astaire) who ditches his uniform in search of some anonymity while he's on a brief leave in the States. He meets a photographer (Leslie) who thinks he's a jobless ne'er-do-well but falls in love with him anyway. The film's final shot of Leslie's beautiful tear-streaked face, watching Astaire's plane head for the Pacific, is a sober reminder that this film was made at the heart of the war when the outcome was still uncertain.
Joan Leslie, who is referred to by Astaire's character as "the sweetest thing I ever hope to meet on this Earth," was all of 17 years old when the movie began filming -- she celebrated her 18th birthday on the set -- but her maturity was such that she could pass for several years older. Like Linda Darnell in the same era, Leslie was playing leading ladies while still in her mid teens.
The lovely Miss Leslie has been able to contribute her memories to a number of special edition DVDs, including SERGEANT YORK, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, and the new Homefront Collection. Leslie appears in all three movies in the Homefront set -- THIS IS THE ARMY, HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN, and THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS -- and participates in a commentary track for THIS IS THE ARMY along with USC professor Drew Casper.
Leslie's singing was dubbed by Sally Sweetland, who sang for Leslie in several movies including YANKEE DOODLE DANDY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE.
This was the next-to-last film directed by Edward H. Griffith. It runs 89 minutes.
Leigh Harline, who among other things co-wrote the score for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Scoring. A fun bit of trivia related to the score is that early on in the film the song "Three Little Words" is heard in the background. In 1950 Astaire played that song's co-writer, Bert Kalmar, in the film THREE LITTLE WORDS.
THE SKY'S THE LIMIT is available on video. Rather inexplicably, if you ask this Astaire fan, it has not yet been released on DVD.
The film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.
Joan Leslie films previously reviewed: THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), THE HARD WAY (1943), and MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951).
March 2012 Update: This film is now available in DVD-R format from the Warner Archive.