This WWII Technicolor Warner Brothers flag waving extravaganza, directed by talented Michael Curtiz, essentially stitches together two classic war-themed Irving Berlin musical stage productions: "Yip,Yip, Yaptank", which he composed while a WWI soldier at the army base near Yaptank, Long Island, and "This is the Army", a very recent theater show, dealing with WWII, and featuring its title song, among many others.It is perhaps overly long at 2 hrs. The overture is certainly too long, and there are perhaps too many stage numbers featuring large numbers of soldiers or sailors. There are times when the background drama or stage productions sag. But, on the whole, I found this film rather entertaining and inspiring, even 70 years later. It was well attended by contemporary audiences.
George Murphy was a great choice as the lead show business-soldier combo star: sort of a stand in for Berlin.He had been and would be a star in a number of musicals during the late '30s and early '40s, having vaudevillian talents plus a fair dose of charisma, certainly more than Reagan's at this time. Often, as in this film, he served as the show director/producer, as well as a sometimes performer.Both he and Reagan would serve a term as president of the Screen Actor's Guild, and he would serve a term as a US senator, with Reagan eventually eclipsing him as a political executive.
Many people want to know why Reagan's character was included in the film, as he seems to do little except reject his long term girlfriend's periodic pleas to marry her before he goes overseas. At this time, even variety shows, such as this, were thought to require some minimal element of romance and romantic drama. He also serves to add more continuity to the story, taking the place of his father, George Murphy's character, as a soldier in WWII vs. WWI, even if he doesn't take his place as a vaudevillian performer. His conflict whether to marry his sweetheart then or after his tour of duty must of been a very common concern among the audience. Unlike Murphy's character, who married his sweetheart just before sailing, Reagan's character seemed insensitive to the desire of his girlfriend. She(Joan Leslie) finally has to basically rope and tie him to make him say yes.
Although hardly given the build up accorded Kate Smith in her stirring "God Bless America" number, gorgeous Frances Langford, in a striking blue evening dress, sings about a soldier getting a letter from his wife, saying he has a baby boy. While this wasn't hit parade material, no doubt it was a fairly common topic of conversation among soldiers.For a sampling of what she could do with more memorable songs, check out "Broadway Melody of 1936" or "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Robert Shanley also does a great job as the lead singer in the "With My Head in the Clouds", "American Eagles" and finale "This Time" productions. James Burrell lends his fine Irish tenor voice to the lullaby-like "I'm Getting Tired so I Can Sleep"
The "We're on Our Way to France" mass army performance in a theater was spectacularly staged, as was the Navy's mass performance, much later in the show. To me, the dancing highlights were the two 'blacks only' numbers. The first was a minstrel show with many in blackface, about half of whom were also in drag, as 'mammies', singing and dancing to "Mandy", which I rank as among the best songs in the film. Although this was staged as part of the WWII portion of the film,Berlin actually composed it for his 1919 Yip,Yip, Yaptank show..It soon became hit at the Ziegfeld follies,starring Eddie Cantor, who later included it in one of his talkie films.It was a soothing soft shoe-type song, with many dancing couples, including Fred Kelly, brother of Gene Kelly: presumably the one in purple trousers. I have never understood why many people in recent times consider moderate blackface performances racist. As a WASP, to me, such a minstrel show is just another form of clowning around.Should I get offended by traditional circus clowns, often in 'white face', acting foolishly? To me, it's the same. The dance performance following this, done by real African Americans, was another highlight, especially the one dressed outrageously in drag, who did a wild dance and got another going with an equally wild dance.
Dancers or singers dressed in drag are featured in several productions. Unfortunately, this caused great problems in trying to distribute the film to Latin American countries, where this rather common format in shows put on by servicemen is not considered humorous. Why didn't they use service women? I suspect they thought it would add to the humor.
In addition to singing "How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" near the end of the film, Berlin sings "My British Buddy" in an outtake on my DVD. This was included in the film version for the UK. Again, his weak singing voice wasn't the greatest, but he got the message across that he hoped the UK and USA would remain close allies for many decades after this war was won. He got his wish on that one, but the spectacular finale stage production :'This time we will make certain that this time is the last time', expressing the determination that America would not again have to send soldiers to far off lands, proved far too optimistic. The US had become too important, internationally, to again retreat into isolationism.
You may find the long documentary "Warner at War" included on my DVD to be of equal interest to this film. This DVD is currently included in a package with the other Warner war-related revues of this era : "Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Hollywood Canteen"
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