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