My original intention was to have this posted on the Fourth of July (I never call it Independence Day) and have a nice little patriotic theme going. I’m a little late. I intended to have it in the bag and scheduled to go the morning of July 4th, but Netflix sent me a damaged disc last week and that set me back a few days while waiting for a replacement. Plus, schoolwork. Plus, workwork. Plus, I hate myself and can’t do anything right. Well, there’s always next year for the other movies I had intended to review!
So here’s the deal: during World War II, Hollywood and the government rallied together with all kinds of fundraisers and, basically, what amounted to propaganda films in order to work the country up into a patriotic fervor. The idea was to inspire Americans to give the war their fullest support and to encourage them do all they could over here to support the boys over there. I thought it would be fun to watch a bunch of these films in a relatively short time and then talk about them. Whether it’ll be fun for anyone to read is another matter.
Oh, and be sure to check out what I had to say about another patriotic WWII-era film– Star Spangled Rhythm! Now, here we go…
1944, Warner Bros. Pictures
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The Hollywood Canteen was a real place located in (duh) Hollywood, California. It opened in October 3, 1942 and closed November 22, 1945. It catered exclusively to servicemen and featured dancing, food and entertainment. On any given night, you could find members of Hollywood performing, cooking, cleaning, serving food or simply chatting with the servicemen. Actors Bette Davis and John Garfield are considered the driving forces behind the Hollywood Canteen. Basically, any notable musician or actor volunteered his or her time at the Canteen.
The movie itself is really just a variety show. There are segments of comedy skits, songs and dancing all with a love story between a soldier and actress Joan Leslie (playing herself) being used to tie it all together.
There are a massive amount of cameos here as you can read from the poster: the Andrews Sister, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Bette Davis, John Garfield, Peter Lorre, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Dorsey, Roy Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, etc. I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of these people were under contract to Warner Bros. at this time.
It’s a movie well worth checking out for the sheer star power and also to see the mentality of the country at the time. It’s easily the best of three movies I’ll be talking about in this post.
Oh, and of course my favorite part of the movie is Jack Benny’s performance as he performs a duet with Joseph Segetti:
This Is the Army
1943, Warner Bros. Pictures
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This is the movie that loused everything up! I had a copy come in from Netflix that was so damaged it look like a cracked mirror. Sadly, it turns out the damaged disc was the restored Warner Bros. DVD release and what I got as replacement was a public domain DVD copy with a really poor transfer.
Given that This Is the Army is an Irving Berlin musical, I had high expectations. After all, this is the man that gave us Holiday Inn and wrote classics like “White Christmas”, “Easter Parade”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Happy Holiday”, “God Bless America” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”. What I got was a disappointing effort. Granted, the video quality was poor, so maybe that hindered the film but none of the songs here grab you. There’s an appearance by “God Bless America” and “That’s What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear” is entertaining but overall the songs lack something.
It’s really a silly movie. Well, not even a movie, really. It’s a filmed stage musical, more or less. Most of the movie takes place on stage in a theater with a few behind the scenes moments and some back story leading up to the musical.
The beautiful Joan Leslie appears but George Murphy’s character was just too cheery and corny for me and I don’t like Ronald Reagan as an actor or a president. What is unique is that men from the Armed Forces were used as performers.
Overall, I was disappointed by this one and it’s a shame I didn’t end up viewing the restored version.
Stage Door Canteen
1943, United Artists Pictures
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So there was the Hollywood Canteen but across the nation, eight cities played host to where were called Stage Door Canteens: New York, Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. If you’re counting along at home, that’s only seven cities. The National World War II Museum says there are eight but they only mention seven by name. London and Paris also had their own canteens.
The Stage Door Canteen came from the minds of the American Theatre Wing, which also created and continues to sponsor the Tony Awards. The idea was very similar to that of the Hollywood Canteen but this time it was mostly theater people pitching in, not Hollywood stars. The original Stage Door Canteen was based out of New York City’s Broadway district. The NYC Stage Door Canteen opened on March 2, 1942, five months before the Hollywood Canteen kicked off and it served as the inspiration for the Hollywood Canteen. All of the Stage Door Canteens were closed by the end of 1945.
My viewing of Stage Door Canteen was really the impetus (I’m starting to use that word a lot these days) for this whole for this post. And the reason I watched Stage Door Canteen was for Jack Benny. Except as I watched this movie, I found out Jack Benny isn’t in Stage Door Canteen, he’s in Hollywood Canteen. Silly me, relying on Wikipedia for my canteen movie info.
Just like Hollywood Canteen, this movie is essentially a variety show full of star power with a love story between a G.I. and a canteen hostess thrown in to try to hold it together. The story of the film doesn’t quite work as well here but there’s still some good performances and cameos from the likes of Kenny Baker (now he used to work on Jack Benny’s radio show), Edgar Bergen w/ Charlie McCarthy, Katharine Hepburn, George Jessel, George Raft, Johnny Weissmuller, Gypsy Rose Lee (va-va-voom!), Ed Wynn, Tallulah Bankhead, Ethel Merman, Harpo Marx, Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman, etc.
It’s a fun movie (a bit long though!) with Katharine Hepburn closing the movie with a heart-felt speech about the war effort. A step below Hollywood Canteen but I still recommend it.