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).

Now I can already hear some of you 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”

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.

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.

What do you think ladies? Unfortunately, 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.

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.

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.

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.