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.
This week’s musical:
No Love, No Leave (1946) – Musical #716
Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn, Pat Kirkwood, Edward Arnold, Marie Wilson, Selena Royale, Leon Ames, Marina Koshetz, Joey Preston, Arthur Walsh
Themselves: Guy Lombardo, Xavier Cugat
Sgt. Mike Hanlon (Johnson) is home from the war on leave and is a decorated hero. When Mike is invited on a radio show hosted by Susan Duncan (Kirkwood), he’s reluctant to be in the spotlight, eager to get home to his sweetheart and his mother. Mike has his friend Slinky (Wynn) pose in his place on the radio program — but regrets it when a surprise is that Mike’s mother (Royale) calls in to speak with him. His mother also shares a private message with Susan — to keep Mike occupied and in New York City until she arrives to break bad news about his sweetheart. However, Susan believes Slinky is Mike, causing confusion and complications.
• English actress Pat Kirkwood’s first American film.
• The film was originally set to star Ginny Simms and Robert Walker, according to Jan. 3, 1945, Sheila Graham column. The roles went to Pat Kirkwood and Van Johnson.
• Pamela Britton was originally announced to co-star in the film, but is not in the final film.
• Only feature film appearance of child piano player Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson.
• First feature film appearance of child drummer Joey Preston
• Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson’s piano performance.
• “Love on a Greyhound Bus” performed by Pat Kirkwood and Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra
• “All the Time” performed by Pat Kirkwood
• “Isn’t It Wonderful” performed by Pat Kirkwood and Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra
• “Oye Negra” performed by Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra
• “Caldonia” performed by Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson on piano
• “It’ll Be Great to Be Back Home” performed by the MGM chorus
During World War II, Van Johnson’s fresh-freckled face resonated with audiences. A automobile accident that almost took Johnson’s life left him with a metal plate in his forehead, keeping him from serving in the war.
But his appearance on the screen reminded people of their sons, husbands, sweethearts and neighbors, according to his biographer.
As the war came to an end, while Johnson’s popularity was still high even as Hollywood was starting to change. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Johnson was still a box office draw and that “any picture which has him will do business, big business.”
But Hollywood was to start changing. However, Johnson starred in one more film at MGM that felt similar to his earlier career, but this time he’s returning home from the war to his mother and sweetheart, continuing to tug at the heart strings.
While his biographer wrote that Johnson felt the film was light-fare and filler fluff, I find NO LEAVE, NO LOVE (1946) charming and sweet.
Told in a flashback as his wife is about to have a baby, Van Johnson plays Sgt. Mike Hanlon, a decorated World War II hero, who is coming from the war with his friend Slinky (Wynn). All Mike wants to do is go home to see his mother and sweetheart, who he is eager to marry. But before he can, Slinky and Mike end up on a popular radio program hosted by singing star, Susan Duncan (Kirkwood). Mike doesn’t want the attention of being recognized, so pushes Slinky on stage in his place, but he immediately regrets it when Susan calls Mike’s mother on air as a surprise. But before Susan hangs up, Mike’s mother gives Susan information about his sweetheart in confidence. Susan is to keep Mike and Slinky (whose identities she has confused) in New York until his mother can arrive.
While the case of switched identities of real life friends Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn can be exasperating at first, this film is quite sweet. The two pals are funny together onscreen and play well together.
Prior to this film, I wasn’t familiar with English singer Pat Kirkwood, who is making her Hollywood debut here, but she is a lovely, sensitive and great leading lady. I just wish we saw more of her in MGM films.
One of the major stand out performances to me was Marie Wilson, who usually played dumb blonde characters, plays a different role here. She’s an intelligent radio station employee.
In addition to an excellent cast, there are also some wonderful specialty performers, such as band leaders Guy Lombardo and Xavier Cugat. Even better, some of the specialty performers are adorable little kids. One is child piano playing prodigy Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson,” who not only plays the piano fantastically but is also adorable. There’s also 8-year-old Joey Preston who drums like a little Gene Krupa — and is missing some teeth, making him even more adorable.
I’ll admit, some of the plot falls apart in the third act when Keenan Wynn is running the show and Marina Koshetz shows up, but overall this is a lovely and sweet film. I love it.
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