Mickey Moran, a talented singer and musician, son of a veteran from the show business. Mickey has a partner, Patsi Barton, a pretty girl and also a very talented singer. One day, a big opportunity arrives for Mickey, a big contract to set up his own show. However, things don't go well, and in order to avoid being sent to a work farm, he'll improvise a show in the country, despite the awful weather conditions. Patsi's in love with Mickey, he loves her too, but for him the show must go on, and his big dream maybe will come true: formally stage his play in a big scenario, with a huge production. Written by
Camera shadow on front row of violin players just before Mickey covers his ears. See more »
Michael C. 'Mickey' Moran:
Here we are together, a couple of stayer uppers. Our day is done at breakfast time, and starts it with our suppers. Here we are together, but the best of friends must party. So let me sing this parting song from the bottom of my hearty.
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In the 1939 Mickey Rooney was among the top box office draws in the world. Judy Garland had appeared as a supporting player in several Rooney films, and the two had significant chemistry--more over, Garland had just completed photography for THE WIZARD OF OZ--a film that MGM rightly expected would launch her to international stardom. The time was right to costar the two, and MGM did it with BABES IN ARMS. The film was an immediate hit, one of the most admired musicals of the year. But time has a way of changing our perspective. Seen today, BABES IN ARMS feels a little strange, a little strained, and at times just downright, well, ODD.
BABES IN ARMS was originally a Rogers and Hart show that proved a smash on the New York stage--a slightly satirical script with one of the most powerful scores of the 1930s. MGM specifically purchased the property for Rooney and Garland and then promptly threw out the script, most of the score, and transformed the thing into the tale of young teenagers who decide to put on a show in a barn.
Although well performed, the songs that replaced the original score simply do not measure up to the play's original score, and viewers are likely to be startled by a minstrel show number that finds Mickey and Judy romping in blackface. In justice to the film, it should be remembered that while minstrel shows remained popular well into the 1950s, and such great stars as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor performed in full blackface well into the 1930s. While the number is stereotypical, it is not meanspirited, and if nothing else it offers a glimpse into a now dead theatrical tradition.
But weirdest of all is the grand finale "In God's Country," a strange mixture of Hollywood ballyhoo, patriotism, and fear of the European war that would soon engulf the world. In its original form, the number also included Rooney and Garland doing a take off of FDR and Eleanor; although cleverly performed and quite mild in content, this was later cut in re-release, for MGM worried it might be construed as disrespectful during wartime.
The film has a number of distinct flaws. Director Busby Berkley was most at home with big-budget musicals that had scope for the elaborate dance numbers he favored--he's something of a fish out of water with this more intimate material, and his approach feels heavy handed. Although much admired at the time (he actually received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for this film), Mickey Rooney's performance is absurdly manic by modern standards, and Garland's more natural performance is too often overshadowed by his excesses. The script is as weak as the score, few of the supporting performers are memorable (Margaret Hamilton is an exception), and the whole thing has a awkward quality to it.
Even so, it's still possible to see what all the fuss was about. The film does capture an inkling of the famous Rooney-Garland chemistry--a chemistry that would fuel three more "let's put on a show!" musicals, each one more more effective than the last. It is there in every musical number the two perform, in every line, in every scene, a very real and very powerful thing. While casual viewers would do better to select either BABES ON Broadway or GIRL CRAZY, in spite of all its flaws, Rooney-Garland fans will likely find BABES IN ARMS an essential.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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