Memorial Day Musical Monday: This is the Army (1943)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

TitaposThis week’s musical:
“This is the Army” –Musical #488

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Michael Curtiz

Starring:
Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Charles Butterworth, George Tobias, Alan Hale, Dolores Costello, Una Merkel, Rosemary DeCamp, Dan Dailey (uncredited), Gary Merrill (uncredited), Gene Nelson (uncredited), Herb Anderson (uncredited), Victor Mature
As themselves: Frances Langford, Kate Smith, Joe Louis, Irving Berlin

Plot:

The movie starts in 1917, when dancer Jerry Jones (Murphy) is drafted to fight in World War I. Before leaving, he marries his sweetheart Ethel (DeCamp).
But before the soldiers are shipped overseas, Jones stages an all-soldier Broadway show called “Yip Yip Yaphank.” While fighting in France, Jones hurts his leg and will no longer be able to dance.
When he returns to the states, he becomes a producer, and his buddy Eddie Dibble (Butterworth) -who was the bugler in the Army-opens a music store.
Over 20 years pass, and we see Jones’s son Johnny (Reagan) preparing to fight in World War II. Dibble’s daughter Eileen (Leslie) wants to get married before Johnny goes overseas, but he doesn’t want to potentially leave her as a young widow.
Now that Johnny is in the military, he is given the order to create a military show just like his dad. This time, it’s called “This is the Army.”
Once the plot is set up, the remainder of the movie is the the actual show “This is the Army” including musical performances, a magic act, a comedian and acrobats.

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in "This is the Army"

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in “This is the Army”

Trivia:
-The movie came from two Irving Berlin shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” and “This is the Army,” according to a disclaimer from Warner Brothers at the beginning of the film. The cast of both the stage and play version of “This is the Army” included soldiers who were performers in civilian life.
-The original Broadway play of “This is the Army” came by request of the United States War Department. Irving Berlin received a letter in 1942 asking him to do a revival of the World War I show, “Yip Yip Yaphank,” to help raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief. Berlin had already considered doing this, but knew he had to change the title, according to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin  edited by Robert Kimball, Linda Emmet
-Warner Brother’s first three strip Technicolor film.
-Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, earning $9,555,586.44. The money made was donated to the Army Emergency Relief.
-This is actress Dolores Costello’s last film.

Notable Songs:
-God Bless America sung by Kate Smith
-What Does He Look Like sung by Frances Langford
-This is the Army Mr. Jones sung by the chorus
-I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep sung by James Burrell
-Ladies of the Chorus sung by Alan Hale (dressed as a woman)
-I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen sung by Earl Oxford
-That’s What the Well Dressed Men in Harlem Wear sung by James Cross, featuring boxer Joe Louis
-Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning sung by Irving Berlin

Highlights:
-A disclaimer before the film noted that the Army does not condone black face, which is used in a number during the film, but says it is a part of history.
-Irving Berlin singing “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” in a rare film appearance.
-Real color footage of the attack of Pearl Harbor during the montage of the bombing.
-Alan Hale dressed as a woman in the musical number “Ladies in the Chorus.”
-Warner Brother stars such as Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Alan Hale, Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel in color!
-One of the character actors does fairly convincing speech impersonations of Herbert Marshall, Charles Boyer, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt.

My Review:

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

Like the rest of Hollywood during World War II, Warner Brothers was releasing star spangled patriotic films. Around this same time, “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943) were released. All three films focus mainly on musical performances and celebrity appearances (Kate Smith, Frances Langford, Joe Louis) and a very thin plot.

Other studio equivalents would be MGM’s “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944) and Paramount’s “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942).

But while the other four listed musicals still hold attention and are fun, somehow “This is the Army” falls flat. The initial plot set up seems promising, but after the first 45 minutes, the movie turns into musical number after number after number with little plot interlude. That is where “This is the Army” differs from similar films. For example, in “Hollywood Canteen,” you have the romance of Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton between the different performances.

The lack of plot interlude is honestly disappointing, because actress Joan Leslie and some of the other leads are maybe on screen for 20 to 30 minutes in the two hour and five minute film.

On a more technical side, the DVD print that came in the 2008 “Homefront Collection” isn’t very good. In close shots, the color is gorgeous. But in a few scenes, it looks over exposed and washed out.

When I first saw this movie in 2009, I really enjoyed it. Now I found I was rather bored. I appreciate any patriotic World War II film, because it gives you a feel of what audiences wanted during the war. After all, this was Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, so apparently audiences enjoyed it at the time. Or maybe they were watching the movie so their money would be donated to the Army Emergency Relief.

I feel that the movie could have been better structured. Actors like Una Merkel, Dolores Costello, George Murphy and Charles Butterworth are wasted in this film because they barely have any screen tirme. Less songs and more plot in this slightly over two hour film would have been more enjoyable.

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Classic Christmas Addiction

Part of why I love Christmas is getting to watch my favorite classic holiday films such as “Christmas in Connecticut”, “White Christmas” and “Remember the Night.”

But I also love looking at Christmas related photos with classic actors and actresses.

Every day since December 1, I’ve been posting a Christmas related photo on Comet Over Hollywood’s Facebook Page, and searching for the day’s photo can be an addicting task.

Even long after I find the photo of the day, I keep browsing-marveling at the ridiculousness of vintage Christmas photos.

I’ve found these classic photos can be divided into categories. Here are some examples:

Glamour: These photos show actors looking beautiful and wealthy at their homes during Christmas.

gina

Gina Lollabrigida looking glamorous in her Christmas tree

Copy of Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard

glam paulette goddard

Paulette Goddard

glam jean harlow1

Jean Harlow

glam Anite Page

Anita Page in 1932

glam christmas jennifer jones

Jennifer Jones

Adorable and cute: These involve child actors or actresses looking sweet and angelic. 

cute jackie cooper

Jackie Cooper

Bacall And Bogart

The Bogart: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and their son Stephen.

cute leslie

Joan Leslie

cute keatons

Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge with Junior and Bob

cute our gang

The children of Our Gang

cuteNatalie Wood

Little Natalie Wood

cute Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple in 1935

cute Priscilla Lane

Priscilla Lane

rita hayworth

Rita Hayworth

Ridiculous or funny: Photos that try way to hard to make a photo Christmasy or make it a sexy Christmas photo.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don't even understand what's happening.

Dorothy Jordan and Gwenn Lee, I don’t even understand what’s happening.

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford flirting with Santa in 1932

Janet Leigh

Janet Leigh with a Christmas tree hat

Esther Williams

Esther Williams in unreasonable winter clothing

funny Maureen Osullivan

Maureen O’Sullivan…..dressed as a choir boy.

funny Margaret Obrien

Margaret O’Brien…wrapped as a package?

funny Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb as the most unlikely Santa Claus

Visit Comet for more holiday fun this month!

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Just like the prince and the pauper…

Do you ever watch a movie and think, “Man, those actresses could be sisters.” or  “It’s hard to tell those two men apart because they look so similar.”   These actors could maybe even switch places just like Billy and Bobby Mauch did in “The Prince and the Pauper” (1937).

Younger movie viewers of today may say that all old actors all look the same. This isn’t true of course, but there are some that certainly look very similar. This is a result of being groomed by movie studios to have glamour and charm.

Actors and actresses also are given names that sound similar and can cause confusion.

Here is a list of actors who look similar and have confusingly similar names.

Look-a-likes:

Joan Leslie, Joyce Reynolds, Teresa Wright

Joan Leslie, Joyce Reynolds, Teresa Wright
-Joyce Reynolds emerged in the 1940s in the movie “Janie” with a clean Joan Leslie appearance and a squeaky Teresa Wright voice.  Warner Brothers must have thought that Joan and Joyce looked similar as well, since Joan Leslie played Janie in the sequel to “Janie”: “Janie Gets Married.”

Vera Miles, Vera-Ellen, Mitzi Gaynor

Vera-Ellen, Vera Miles, Mitzi Gaynor
- I think the thing that is funniest is that two of the women have the same first name.  I can tell the difference between them, but you have to admit they all look very similar. All three women are very thin, blonde and rather tan. Vera Miles had one of her first acting roles on the TV show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and looked very similar to Vera-Ellen because she was thinner than I had ever seen her.   However, all three women had different careers.
Vera Miles stared mostly in dramatic roles, and occasionally in bit parts on TV (like a romantic interest for Fred MacMurray on “My Three Sons“) .  After Grace Kelly, she was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite actress, according to IMDB. Unfortunately, she had to turn down roles because she was pregnant. Miles is still living.
Vera-Ellen was a ballet dancer and was in several musicals. In earlier movies like “On the Town,” Vera was thin, but looked healthy. In later movies, like “White Christmas,” she was almost dangerously thin, because she was anorexic. She had the smallest waist in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s and suffered from early aging because of anorexia ,according to IMDB, so you will notice that she wears turtle necks to cover it.  After she retired she had severe arthritis and was practically a recluse, dying in 1981.
Mitzi Gaynor is best known for her role in movie musicals like “South Pacific.” Though she didn’t have a tremendous career, she was very successful with her comedic, musical variety TV specials in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, Mitzi is performing a one woman show. 0

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland
-Anne Shirley  never had the same star power or acting skills as Olivia de Havilland, but you can’t deny their similar appearance. Particularly the way Anne Shirley looks in “The Devil & Daniel Webster.” The two starred together in the irritating comedy “Government Girl” (a movie that de Havilland hated and had to make because of contractual agreements. She purposefully acted ridiculous in the movie).

 
 
 

John Carroll and James Craig

John Carroll and James Craig
– Both men played small romantic roles in the 1940s when most of the lead actors like Clark Gable and Robert Taylor were fighting in World War II. Carroll starred with Esther Williams in “Fiesta ” (1947) and “Flying Tigers” (1942) with John Wayne. Craig was in several “feel good” movies in the 1940s like “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” (1945) with Margaret O’Brien and “The Human Comedy” (1943) with Fay Bainter.

Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern

Joan Blondell and Ann Sothern
-In the 1930s, Joan Blondell had a curvy, sassy look of her own; pretty but also comedic. In the 1940s, Blondell was a bit more curvy and switched from the tight 1930s hair styles to long and wavy. Her 1940s look was similar to Ann Sothern, who also was a bit curvy. Both actresses can be found in light comedic roles.

Names that confuse:

-Reginald Gardner, Reginald Owen, Reginald Denny (I’m still not sure which is which sometimes)

-Eleanor Parker and Eleanor Powell

-Margaret Sullivan and Maureen O’Sullivan

-Connie Stevens and Stella Stevens

What actors do you confuse? What names can you not remember?  Let me know!

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Bedtime for Bonzo is not the only movie Ronald Reagan made

This is another post I wrote early in my blogging career on blogger. It is a little better than the Susan Slade one, but yet again just a plot summary. Hopefully you can see the improvements of the blog from then to now.

It has once again been another long absence from my blog. I didn’t mean for it to be this way; I actually have several movies in mind to blog about, but I end up watching more movies instead of blogging. Movie watching is what I do, as lazy it may be-but sometimes I do exercise while watching movies!

Today’s blog is the Ronald Reagan/Joan Leslie movie “This Is the Army” (1943).

This is the Army5

Now I can already hear some of you (especailly you liberals) groaning, “Ronaaald Reeeeaaaggan. Uggggggh.” Well I don’t know much about how he was politically, but I do know that he was a top notch actor for Warner Brothers back in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Those politicians and late night talk show hosts just look like uneducated film boobs when they talk about Ronald Reagan’s sub-par career, because they obviously know nothing about classic film or Warner Brothers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Ronald Reagan was actually the star of the month for March on Turner Classic Movies-which is nothing to sneeze at. Usually it is someone like Spencer Tracey, Sean Connery or Bette Davis.

Robert Osborne writes about the star of the month at the beginning of every month in the Now Playing Guide (which I subscribe to of course) and wrote very glowing things about Reagan’s career. He defended him against those mean talk show hosts who made it sound like he was only in three or four movies and talked about the movies he made famous. Ronald Reagan even has two very famous film quotes:

1.) “Go out there and win one for the Gipper” from Knute Rockne All American

2.) “Where is the rest of me?” from Kings Row (probably his most famous movie)

Anyways, I’ll get off of my Ronald Reagan tanget and talk about the movie after I say this-watch any Warner Brother’s movie-whether it is with Bette Davis, Humphry Bogart or Priscilla Lane and you might just spot Ronald Reagan doing very well in his acting.

So let’s discuss “This is the Army”

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If you like a good sentimental World War II canteen homefront feel in a movie, this movie is for you. It is one of those movies (like Hollywood Canteen) that make you tear up when they sing patriotic songs because you think about the boys in World War II and how happy and patriotic everyone was during that very popular war-past and present. Maybe I’m the only one who gets teary eyed because I’m a sap.

This movie is also in surprising Technicolor! “This is the Army” was actually Warner Brothers first three-strip Technicolor film. Granted, the first two strip color film was released in 1934, but when the war began it was very unusual to see color films during this time-possibly the reason why there was such an explosion of color in the 1950’s (not to mention the competition with the dawn of television).

The movie begins with George Murphy (as Jerry Jones)-one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s best dancers-doing a vaudeville show right before the start of World War I. During the show, Rosmary DeCamp (as Ethel Jones)-who seems to always get stuck with mother roles-is standing off stage and recieves a draft notice for Jerry. He opens the letter and after reading about his “command performance” proposes to Ethel and dubs her a war bride.

Here is a clip so you can see for youself the effortless dancing skills of George Murphy:

This is a wonderful film, but when I started watching it I was very concerned that it was going to go down hill with the entry of….Charles Butterworth. He is not a noteable actor today, he died very young in the 1940’s in an automobile actress and was engaged at the time to Natalie Schaffer (the millionaire’s wife on Gilligan’s Island), but he usually plays an irritating, scatter-brained fellow who gets confused easily. His name also makes me think of syrup or popcorn too.

Surprisingly though, Mr. Butterworth played a loving and sweet man with only a few irritating scenese. Butterworth (as Eddie Dibble) plays an inept trumpt player who struggles through Reveile every morning. Alan Hale-as Sgt. McGee) (father of Alan Hale, Jr. better known as the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) plays a loud mouthed drill sargent that is a thorn in everyone’s side. McGee is exasperated with Jerry Jones when he says he wants to dance after McGree asked what he wants to do in the army. After some discussion with McGee’s supieriors, it is decided that it would be good for the men to put on a show for their camp for moral. Now, I’m not positive how they would have time during basic training for singing, dancing and practices; let alone be allowed to, but it makes for a nice story.

Photobucket Butterworth attempting to play the trumpet

The name of their show is “Yip Yip Yaphank” (odd, crazy name but it is refreshing to have something silly rather than vulgar), during their show they end up being shipped out to fight World War I overseas. They change the finale of the their show so they march out of the theater not to waste any time with their orders. The whole crowd stands up and cheers and claps as they leave and wives kiss their husbands. It is a very touching scene which brings tears to my eyes at least.

Flash forward to a battle montage of the men fighting in France. Finally we see a cave in of a roof and Jerry Jones is injured. He has injured his leg, which will ultimately hinder his career as a dancer. He laughs it off with his friends, but we all know it is killing him. We also find out that Jerry Jones is having a child with his wife Ethel. Jerry Jones and his friends all toast to The War That Ends All Wars and may their families live with peace.

We move forward about twenty years and hear a radio announcer talking about the trouble in Europe. Following this we have two musical guest performances of two of the great performers of the 1940’s.

The first is Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” It is announced as a brand new song, which is funny since we all have known it forever. I have never been a huge fan of this song-probably one of my least favorite patriotic songs-but Smith’s version is very moving. Kate Smith is not the a very beautiful woman, but she is a really great singer! The second performance is by the lovely Frances Langford singing “What Does He Look Like” talking about the soldier she will fall in love with.

During the song, we see Charles Butterworth (Eddie Dibble) listening to the song on a radio outside of his music store and we also see his lovely daughter JOAN LESLIE. Now, I am not going to hold anything back. This is one reason I wanted to see this movie because I absolutley love Joan Leslie (Eileen Dibble). She is pretty, sweet and gracious with autographs and interviews. I plan on naming my daughter after her…no really I am.

We also see other men from the Yip Yip Yaphank show like George Tobias (Mr. Cravetts on Bewitched) with their families and businesses so we can see their lives as they are civilans now. This little montage is rather touching as well because it shows some of them preparing to go back to war and worrying about their sons going to war as well. We then see our hero, Jerry Jones, who now owns a music business and enters Ronald Reagan (Johnny Jones), looking very attractive!

Johnny (Ronald) enlists in the war and visits his girlfriend Eileen (Joan)to tell her, and she seems really excited that he enlisted. They go out and have fun that evening but it soon turns sour. Eileen is anxious to get married to him before he leaves so that they can have security while he is gone. Johnny wants to marry her, but tells her a soldier has nothing to offer a wife and would rather wait until he returns from the war. One of the major underlying reasons he doesn’t want to get married before he leaves is that Johnny doesn’t want Eileen to be a war widow.

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What do you think ladies? Unfortuantely, I see both sides of this and I’m not sure who I agree with. Johnny is right when he worries about making Eileen a widow after a short marriage and leaving her with so much grief, but she will grieve regardless if they are married or not if she loves him. I believe I would want what Eileen wants and get married before he leaves. I have a feeling you somehow feel closer to them and get more news about their whereabouts than just being their girlfriend and having their family keep something from you. And this is the main conflict in the movie. Eileen is unsurprisingly upset and angry and leaves Johnny in a night club by himself.

We now flash to Johnny Jones in boot camp, just like his father was in WWI, being lead by Sgt. McGee (Alan Hale). The fathers’ of the soldiers visit them on a day open to visiters and have a reunion together reminiscing about their time in WWI. They decide that their sons should have a show for morale just like “Yip Yip Yaphank.”

We continue through a montage of tryouts and seeking out soldiers with unusual talents. The show is to be called “This is The Army” to show the men and their personalities and talents who are in the army. To be truthful, though “This is the Army” is probably bigger than “Yip Yip Yaphank,” the latter seems like it was more entertaining. The songs in “This is the Army” that are entertaining, but there are a couple of comedy routines that could have been shortened or cut out.

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There are several cute songs that they sing such as a very funny song called “Hostesses of the Stage Door Canteen” where all the soldiers are dressed as women (including big Alan Hale) and two other males dressed as Lynn Fontaine and Alfred Lunt, who were a husband and wife acting team who were huge on Broadway. Other songs include “This is the Army Mr. Jones” and “That’s What a Well Dressed Man in Harlem Wears” (featuring boxer Joe Lewis).

The true highlight of the film, though, is Irving Berlin (writer of songs like White Christmas and other famous songs) singing “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” For a man who writes such beautiful music, Berlin does not have the voice to match, but he has a very nice face and looks like a sweet man. This scene is really notable though because it was the only time he ever performed in a film, so if nothing else, you should watch this movie just to take a gander at Irving Berlin.

Interesting Trivia: When Mr. Berlin was singing “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning,” one of the stage hands, who didn’t know it was Irving Berlin, said that the guy who wrote the song was probably spinning in his grave if he heard the man singing the song.

This is the Army8

Anyways, after this show stopping performance, Eileen Dibble comes to say goodbye to Johnny, since the men are going to be shipped overseas and this is their last performance of “This is the Army.” Eileen brings in a chaplain and tells Johnny what’s what when she sees him basically saying that the reason they are fighting this war so that people like them can get married and raise a family so “Doggone-it, if we want to get married, let’s get married.” So they do.

This is the Army7

After this, the movie ends with the song “This Time” with all the men to end the fight that was started with the Great War. It is rather moving. The End

What do I think of this movie:

I actually got this movie for Christmas in the Warner Brothers and the Home Front Collection. The set also included “Hollywood Canteen” and “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” Our of all three movies, I had only seen “Hollywood Canteen” but I can now say I have seen them all and liked them alot.

No, “This is the Army” is no Oscar award winning film, but I think it really displays the sentiment that people felt for America and the soldiers during World War II. I think its important to remember how things were historically when you are watching a movie and not just think “this is stupid” and be thinking in terms of today.

People in 1943, obviously loved this movie as well because it was the top grossing picture of 1943.

I really love all the actors in this movie!
George Murphy wasn’t always in very large budget films, but he is always has a huge presence. When we think of Hollywood dancers, most of us just think of Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, but he was also one of he great dancers of Golden Hollywood.
It is really hard not to gush about Joan Leslie, I even want to name my daughter after her (when I have one). She is lovely, beautiful and seems like a genuinely lovely woman. Maybe I think favorably of her, because she returned an autograph picture of herself to me. She is actually in all three of the Homefront Collection films.
Rosemary DeCamp also seems like she most have been a wonderfully sweet woman. She has probably played everyone’s mother in Warner Brothers films from Ronald Reagan to Doris Day.
Last but not least, Ronald Reagan, looking very handsome. This wasn’t one of his best roles of course, but I still think he did a fine job in it. He was a very consistant presence in many of the Warner Brothers movies.

To wrap everything up, if you are a fan of World War II films, you should see this movie. I’m not here to promote the sales of a particular DVD, I’m just here to fight for old movies and try to exhibit the talents of the actors and the charm of the films.