Musical Monday: Cowboy Canteen (1944)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

cowboy canteen2This week’s musical:
Cowboy Canteen (1944) – Musical #688

Columbia Pictures

Lew Landers

Charles Starrett, Jane Frazee, Barbara Jo Allen (as Vera Vague), Tex Ritter, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams
Themselves: The Mills Brothers, Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls, Jimmy Wakely and His Saddle Pals, The Tailor Maids

Instead of going on a vacation, Connie (Frazee) and her singing group decide to take a job working on a ranch. When the girls arrive, Steve (Starrett), the owner of the ranch, is about to enlist in the military and he’s angry that the new ranch hands are women. The ranch is transformed into a canteen to entertain troops.

• Working titles were “Close Harmony” and “Barnyard Canteen.”
• In Sept. 1943, Shirley Ross was announced to star in the film. However, not long after, news briefs said she to drop out due to illness, and Ross was replaced by Jane Frazee.

• The musical performances

cowboy canteen

Jane Frazee and the Tailor Maids

Notable Songs:
• “Boogie Woogie Special” performed by Jane Frazee
• “Ridin’ Herd on a Cloud” performed by Jimmy Wakley and His Saddle Pals
• “Goin’ To Lasso a Rainbow” performed by Tex Ritter
• “Wait For the Light To Shine” performed by Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys
• “Just a Spot in Arizona” performed by Jane Frazee
• “Up a Lazy River” performed by the Mills Brothers
• “Paperdoll” performed by the Mills Brothers

cowboy canteen 2

Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams and Barbara Jo Allen (billed here as Vera Vague)

My review:
When I ran across the title “Cowboy Canteen” (1944), I knew I had to see this film. It combine two things I enjoy: western musicals and World War II-themed films. I couldn’t resist a World War II-themed western musical comedy – “Cowboy Canteen” is the first film that I’ve seen with this genre mixture.
And this film didn’t disappoint. “Cowboy Canteen” is a low budget, 72-minute B-movie, but it is filled with fantastic music and some fun comedy.

We open with music on a train — and I am a sucker for singing on a train so I was instantly in love. First we see Jimmy Wakley and His Saddle Pals in military uniforms traveling to serve in World War II. Wakley sings “Ridin’ Herd on a Cloud,” which is a western war song, even mentioning the Axis.

Then Jane Frazee and The Tailor Maids sing “Boogie Woogie Special.” The girl group is traveling to a ranch to work as ranch hands while men are serving in the military. But when the girls arrive, the owner of the ranch Steve Bradley (Charles Starrett) isn’t pleased, because he doesn’t think the girls will be any help to his mother. However, he’s pleasantly surprised by how they help out, and how they create a canteen for servicemen and women on the ranch.

While I had a ball watching this film, there were a few times I felt like information was presented to the audience, like we already knew it. Almost like perhaps a scene ended up on the cutting room floor, or perhaps those pages of the script were tossed due to budget.

For example, Steve reads a letter from his mother about what a help the women have been on the ranch. Next thing we know, Steve is called into the corporal’s office to go home to the ranch and help with the canteen … this is the first time the ranch canteen is mentioned but everyone seems to know about it. I thought, “Did I miss something?” It just comes out of nowhere like we knew about it.

But otherwise, while the plot is light, the music is awesome. Jane Frazee, The Mills Brothers and then lots of great western music from Tex Ritter, Jimmy Wakley and His Saddle Pals, and Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys. While all of the tongs were toe-tappers, the song that stayed with me was “Wait for the Light to Shine” performed by Roy Acuff. I realized while I don’t love country music, I really like western music.

There was also a western version of a ventriloquist puppet performed by Max Terhune who made fun of Charlie McCarthy, so that was entertaining.

The lead actors in the film were B-level. The only other movie that I knew Charles Starrett from was The Mask for Fu Manchu (1932). Jane Frazee is a pleasant singer, and I have seen her in other films, but she isn’t as well known. The comedic highlights were Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (who I love in any film) and Vera Vague (who also goes by the name as Barbara Jo Allen).

This wasn’t an easy to film to find, but if you do find it, it is well worth your time.


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