Joe Mulqueen (Top o’ the Morning)

Created by Edmund Beloin & Richard L. Breen

Bing (“Legalize it!) Crosby more or less ruled the forties–he was riding high, at the absolute peak of his popularity. And he would continue to be an A-lister for decades to come. But with the 1949 release of the feature film musical Top o’ the Morning, featuring Bing as a private eye of all things, the long slow slide began.

Everyone must have thought it would be a slam dunk. After all, Crosby and co-star Barry Fitzgerald had already been in two smashes: Going My Way (1944) and Welcome Stranger (1946). Plus, they had acclaimed songwriters Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen to write the film’s title song, which was played in assorted formats throughout the film. And they planned to turn the Irish up to at least eleven.

But the law of diminishing returns had definitely set in, and the film landed went with a whimper, not a bang. The plot was soggy with sentiment and thinner than high school cafeteria soup, the title song was a dud and everyone involved had been to this particular well several times already.

The plot was a mere scribble, a fluffy piece of nonsense dipped in shamrock schtick, about an American insurance investigator, JOE MULQUEEN (Cosby), dispatched to the Auld Sod to recover the Blarney Stone, which had recently been stolen. Aiding him in his investigation is the local police sergeant (plasyed, of course, by Fitzgerald). Ann Blyth (only 24 years younger than Bing) played Fitzgerald’s daughter and provided the obligatory love interest.

It made money, but nobody seemed to be buying it. Even managers of movie houses got into the act, with one warning that “(Bing) will be an also-ran if they don’t come up with a good one for him soon.,” while another tagged the film “another Crosby dud… even his old standby customers are going to look somewhere else for entertainment.” It didn’t help that Crosby’s previous film of 1949, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, had been a major disappointment as well, with the wags at the Harvard Lampoon including both it and Top of the Morning in their list of the worst films of 1949.

Soon enough, the obligatory finger pointing began. Some blamed the script, some blamed the songwriters, some blamed Bing, and some blamed the director, David Miller, whom Groucho Marx had recommended to Bing. Miller had just completed directing Love Happy, the the last and decidedly least of all the Marx Brothers’ films–which begs the question: did Groucho have it in for ol’ Bing?

The cinematic equivalent of Bud Light with green food colouring in it. Blarney indeed.


  • TOP O’ THE MORNING | Watch it now
    (1949, Paramount)
    Original screenplay by Edmund Beloin and Richard Breen
    Directed by David Miller
    Title song written by Johnny Burke-James Van Heusen
    Starring Bing Crosby as JOE MULQUEEN
    Also starring Barry Fitzgerald, Ann Blyth, Hume Cronyn, Eileen Crowe

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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