Sunday, December 03, 2006


In the genre of wartime musical extravaganza, this film is both like and unlike its brethren. Like STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM and THOUSANDS CHEER, its main narrative thrust involves the putting together of an Army-related variety show. Unlike those films, it's not a star-driven spectacle; based on an actual Broadway revue with music by Irving Berlin, most of the performers in the variety show are real soldiers. There is a fictional framework, but most of the last third of the movie consists of songs and comedy bits featuring the GIs who appeared in the show on Broadway. The film begins during WWI, with dancer George Murphy (along with his buddies George Tobias and Charles Butterworth) putting on a soldier show, "Yip Yip Yaphank" (an actual Irving Berlin show from that era). The show's a hit, but the men are called overseas at the end of its first performance; Murphy and his friends survive the war, but Murphy gets a leg injury which leaves him with a permanent limp and ends his career as a dancer. Flash forward to the beginning of WWII and Murphy, now a theatrical producer, decides to put on another soldier show, with the assistance of Tobias, Butterworth, and his own son (Ronald Reagan) who's a lieutenant in the Army. What little dramatic tension there is comes from a subplot which has Reagan refusing to marry his girlfriend, Butterworth's daughter (Joan Leslie), until after the war; she decides this is weak reasoning and breaks off their engagement; will these cute kids get back together by the end of the film, when, almost certainly, Reagan will be sent overseas just like his father was? Otherwise, the rest of the movie consists of the plans to mount the show in New York, the successful premiere, and the national tour. The two most famous songs are "God Bless America" sung by Kate Smith herself, and "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" performed by Irving Berlin. Alan Hale is Murphy's commanding officer in WWI, who, despite his advanced age, is back in active duty for WWII and winds up in drag for "Ladies of the Chorus," Una Merkel is Butterworth's wife, and boxer (and Army volunteer) Joe Louis appears as himself. There are some fun numbers including "This is the Army, Mr. Jones" and "That's What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear." The comedy skits don't translate too well today, and part of the problem is that, although they are supposedly being performed in front of a live audience, there is no laughter or audience reaction of any kind, which throws off the performers' timing. One bit that was still funny to me involved GIs doing impressions of Lynn Fontanne, Charles Boyer, and other stars. There is a long, tedious section that amounts to a roll call of most of the soldiers who are called to New York to participate in the show, but otherwise, the movie moves along at a nice clip. The Warner Brothers film is apparently in the public domain and the disc I saw, from Delta, is in particularly bad shape, with faded colors and several splices. [DVD]

No comments: