Shaped from a story doodled by Garson Kanin (Adam’s Rib) by TV writers Tom and Frank Waldmam, High Time feels like it was neatly ironed into a high concept vehicle – an old dog goes to university to earn the degree and respect he felt evaded him in his youth - to give aging crooner / cinema star Bing Crosby a light, popular vehicle for his fans + function as an introduction to younger audiences by having him interact with the latest in pretty young thespians.
The script was in fact retooled for Crosby after original star Gary Cooper (!) expired. What’s remarkable is how contemporary the final product feels – it’s completely high concept, and utter fluff – and yet one can tell Crosby and the writers were straining for material to keep the film moving for its fairly lengthy running time, and maintain an onscreen balance between the film’s older star (and producer, via Bing Crosby Productions) and fresh faces Fabian (in his third film) + Tuesday Weld (both shiny and smiley at 17). And slightly older Richard Beymer and Yvonne Craig.
The obvious dilemma is Crosby the actor can’t go through everything character Harvey Howard, founder of a nation-wide restaurant chain akin to Howard Johnson’s, ought to be experiencing, so while he does pull-ups in gym and manages to climb the giant bonfire pylon for his fellow freshmen, he sits with spectators during the college basketball game, with most of the screen action showing Crosby trying to woo French teacher Helene Gauthier (Nicole Maurey) rather focus on Fabian shooting hoops (which is actually fine, since Fabian is the shortest and least skilled among the giant college athletes).
Edwards regularly intercuts between the rival actions, but his camera persistently favours Crosby, and it’s perhaps the most obvious indicator that High Time’s audience wasn’t younger kids; roommates Fabian (the athlete), Beymer (the jazzy brainiac), and Patrick Adiarte (Indian foreign exchange student / token coloured boy who embraces all things Christian) exist to keep Crosby busy between the steeply staggered romancing rather than offer any plot-related incidents. (The only exception occurs around the film’s midpoint when the entire college body gathers with fiery torches to protest Gauthier’s imminent resignation for getting too close to student Howard – a conflict that’s resolved in minutes in a full-volume, Yay Moment.)
Older star Crosby is very entertaining as character Howard tries (and succeeds) to keep up with his mates, and he gets a few opportunities to sing a few songs to show off his still majestic, resonant voice, but the character arcs of the younger set involve Weld bouncing between boys each year, and the group re-gathering every September for a toast before the group’s increasingly less flamboyant hijinks restart for a new scholarly year.
Blake Edwards was reportedly brought on as a replacement director, but his stamp is all over the film: farcical elements were cleverly worked into the fairly plotless script, and he pulls off one bravura sequence where Crosby, totally in drag, is escorted by Beymer to a Southern Plantation ball where he must dance with the host in spite of the latter’s severe gout affliction. Crosby maintains a great deadpan, and Edwards neatly choreographs ridiculousness antics during a festivity with great finesse, much in the way he would maximize similar gags in The Party (1968).
High Time is very significant within Edwards’ canon because it contains the core elements of his Pink Panther films: a feeble, if not wafer-thin plot that only succeeds due to the charisma of a central comedian and able secondary cast; comedic set-pieces designed to pad out the running time; a breezy jazz score by Henry Mancini (with sometimes maniacal thematic repetition); and a visual colour palette that’s filled with attractive pastels. (High Time is packed with the best in late fifties / early sixties design without being showy, or self-consciously stylish.)
The main title sequence – one of the earliest by Pacific Title - is also reflective of Edwards’ predilection for titles that entertain, inform, and set up characters before the drama begins, but the really novel material appears in scene transitions, many of which borrow technical experimentation from NFB shorts (Norman McLaren easily comes to mind) and slick images typical of commercial magazine ads. Wipes consist of symbolic “students” pushing one shot out for the next, and there are some clever dissolves involving blown leaves blowing into the next shot, or a great transition from a group shot to a photo that’s quickly painted over by said students before the next optical wipe kicks in.
Julie Kirgo’s liner notes mention the film may have been planned at one point as a musical, and the weirdest evidence lies in the MIA status of a Sammy Chan-Jimmy Van Heusen song still billed in the main credits, and a deleted fireside guitar serenade performed by Fabian that’s glimpsed in the theatrical trailer (which itself tries to sell the songs more than Crosby himself).
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray features a clean transfer with stable colours. The film mix is mono, but there’s been some slight sweetening of the sound effects track to create a very mild, faux surround sound mix that’s most effective during the aforementioned basketball game. Henry Mancini’s score is sadly in mono, but the isolated track offers the music in full, resonant stereo.
During the sixties, Bing Crosby would appear in just a handful of feature films – The Road to Hong Kong (1962), Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), Stagecoach [M] (1966) – plus several TV appearances, whereas director Edwards would strike gold the next year with Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and enjoy a string of hits until the end of the decade.
Crosby’s mature co-star, Nicole Maurey, had previously appeared with the crooner in the drama Little Boy Lost (1953) – itself a long-lost film on home video - but the actress is perhaps best known for The Day of the Triffids (1962).
Patrick Adiarte would similarly slide into TV, although his best-known work remains The King and I (1956) and Flower Drum Song (1961), and Yvonne Craig would achieve some immortality as TV’s Batgirl, as well as lithe green dancer Marta in the Star Trek episode “TOS” in 1969. Among the more amusing bit roles in High Time is Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat) as a gratingly bumbling / effete science teacher, and James Lanphier (Bell, Book and Candle [M]) playing a snooty Matre D’.
Veteran child actor Richard Beymer would break the following year in West Side Story, whereas studio Fox would make use of Tuesday Weld in Return to Peyton Place and Wild in the Country (both 1961) before her career would get a needed upward spike in a recurring role on TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1962).
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan