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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
For Mickey and Judy fans, Babes in Arms is an absolute must. It's the
only one of their films in which one of the two got an Oscar
nomination. Mickey Rooney was nominated for Best Actor, personally I
think as an afterthought because his competition was Clark Gable for
Gone With the Wind, Laurence Olivier for Wuthering Heights, James
Stewart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the winner Robert Donat
for Goodbue Mr. Chips. Not that Mickey's bad, but he really didn't
belong with this field.
What he and Judy do, they do better than anyone else, put on a show. In fact in this case the 'put on a show' gambit did originate in the original Broadway Musical. Babes in Arms was one of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's best shows it ran for 289 performances in the 1937 season and boasted such Rodgers&Hart classics as Johnny One Note, Way Out West, My Funny Valentine, I Wish I Were in Love Again all of which were discarded for the film. The Lady is a Tramp is only heard instrumentally, my guess is the Code frowned on that lyric. The title song and Where or When are retained. In fact when you come right down to it, only the basic idea the songs mentioned and a couple characters names came over from Broadway.
Still Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed wrote Good Morning which is better known from Singin' in the Rain, but it was Judy and Mickey who introduced it here. And a whole lot of other Brown&Freed songs from MGM musicals got interpolated into the score.
Douglas MacPhail and Betty Jaynes who were introduced in Sweethearts also are here and sing beautifully. They married, but the marriage and MacPhail's career fell apart and he committed suicide a few years later. He had a great baritone voice, what a shame. The following year he introduced my favorite Cole Porter song, I Concentrate On You in The Broadway Melody of 1940.
This was the film Judy Garland did right after The Wizard of Oz and coming along right with her is Margaret Hamilton playing another Miss Gulch like character. One of those spinster ladies who forever pry into other people's business.
Believe it or not there was still a lot of prejudice against theatrical people even in 1937. A lot of old vaudeville types like Charles Winninger, Rooney's father in the film, settle in the town of Seaport on Long Island and their presence apparently upsets the ruling families like Hamilton's. When times go bad and vaudeville goes to seed, things get kind of rough for them. The old timers try to take a last tour to raise some money, but instead it's the kids who are up to the latest trends in pop music who save the day.
Guy Kibbee is in this also, playing against type as a wise and sympathetic judge, usually the parts MGM reserved for Lewis Stone or Lionel Barrymore. A more typical Kibbee type would be the oafish tycoon in 42nd Street, but he's fine here.
Possibly director Busby Berkeley wanted Kibbee, maybe as a good luck charm from that other breakthrough musical of his from his days at Warner Brothers. Of course the musical numbers in the show are set with the usual Berkeley surrealism, a little tempered though from his high flying days at Warner Brothers. That same year Berkeley had done a surreal type number in the Jeanette MacDonald-Lew Ayres film Broadway Serenade and it laid an egg. Someone at MGM must have reined him in.
Babes In Arms retains all its charms from 1939 mainly because Mickey Rooney is infectious and Judy Garland's singing is eternal.
Babes In Arms is one of my favorite movies of all time. I will never forget seeing this film. In fact, it was the first Mickey Rooney film I ever saw. Mickey Rooney shows off all of his talents here, proving why he was Hollywood's biggest star. Also, earning a much deserved Oscar nominations. Mickey and Judy always charm the pants off of me. Hollywood will never know two more talented teenagers. If you want a good laugh just watch Mickey's impersonations of Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore. Very impressive stuff. Judy is simply gorgeous in this film as Mickey's girlfriend. The Rooney/Garland chemistry is unmatched to this day. For great music and fun, check out this classic musical.
This movie was done right after "Wizard of Oz" and shows Judy Garland in a
more appropriate role for her age. It is great to see her and Mickey-- the
"Good Morning" duet at the beginning is just priceless! Watch the opera
versus swing number she does with Betty Jaynes and you can almost imagine
the short "Every Sunday" with Deanna Durbin being an influence. June
Preisser plays a spirited Shirley Temple parody, which was weird because I
could have sworn Shirley Temple was being signed, or soon to be signed to
MGM. Unfortunately, they try to make Judy be the homely one, which
mystifies me because she looked absolutely gorgeous in this film. Good
songs, and good numbers throughout. Yes, the minstrel scene near the end
will make your jaw drop, but if we didn't have things like this on film, we
would never know how it really was back then, and therefore not know how
hard it really was.
Oh, and Mickey Rooney was good, too. Hyper, but good.
This 1939 musical reflects the tastes of the American public of that
era. As such, "Babes in Arms", proved to be a favorite film that made a
lot of money for the studio. The young stars of this film proved to be
the main attraction for watching it more than sixty years after it was
"Babes in Arms" was a Broadway musical by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. Like most of those movies of that time, the creative people in the studio took liberties, incorporating material that was not in the original theater work. Busby Berkeley, the genius of those musical films, was at the helm. It's easy to see his imprint all over the movie in the way he stages the big musical numbers and move his players to get a maximum result out of them.
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were two young actors at the time that were good in whatever they did together. The pair showed an amazing amount of charisma in their musical numbers as well as in the over all chemistry in all their scenes together. Mickey Rooney plays the earnest Mickey Moran, the son of vaudevillians, who wants to make a name for himself. Judy Garland is Patsy Barton, a girl-next-door type that is sweet, wise and patient, even when Mickey is dazzled by the film star that wants to back their show in order to have the lead in it.
The other players are excellent, which is not saying much, as MGM and the other studios were blessed with solid talent that went from film to film doing amazing work in whatever picture they appeared. Charles Winninger, Guy Kibee, Betty Jaynes, Douglas McPhail, and the wonderful Margaret Hamilton appear in supporting roles.
Enjoy the infectious actors of this movie and the Rodgers and Hart music, as well as the other songs that were added to it. Busby Berkeley did a marvelous job with the film that shows a less stressful time in the country.
This is not good because it's a Busby Berkley film. It's not good
because of the corn fed mom country and apple-pie sentiment. It's not
good because of the Rogers and hart score.
This is great to watch because it comes from the hard years of the depression where even in hard times young people learned how to sing, or dance, or act, or sing dance and act.
This large cast of performers is packed with showbiz musical theater talent born of Vaudeville, that represents an era that was unparalleled and we will never see again. For all his goofiness Rooney does it all here. And Judy, oh dear Judy, she shines in absolutely every thing she does. Giving more than we have a right to expect in every thing she does.
Even with it's flaws as an over the top movie, the black face routine is not defensible even in it's own time, there are moments in this moving where if you don't see the awesome musical theater talent of the whole cast of "PERFORMERS", you are miserable indeed.
The children of struggling vaudeville stars decide to put on a musical
show to save their homes. Yes, it's a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland
"let's put on a show" musical. Their first such movie, I think, and
probably their most famous. Mickey & Judy are great. Mickey does Lionel
Barrymore and Clark Gable impressions that are a hoot. He also has a
fight scene in a drug store which is amusing. The supporting cast is
made up of fine character actors like Guy Kibbee, Charles Winninger,
and Henry Hull. Adorable June Preisser steals every scene she's in.
Margaret Hamilton plays the villain, a busybody who tries to get the
kids taken away from their parents. Garland & Hamilton filmed this
right after Wizard of Oz, by the way. Interestingly, this was actually
a bigger hit at the box office than Oz was in 1939.
Most of the songs are nice but none wowed me. Several classic Rodgers & Hart tunes from the Broadway musical this was based on are either omitted altogether or featured too briefly to make an impact. An ear-splitting operatic version of "You're My Lucky Star" by Betty Jaynes is probably the worst song in the movie. Judy's "I Cried for You" is best. Salute to minstrel shows with cast members in blackface will upset some so prepare yourself if you're one of them. Directed by Busby Berkeley, as evidenced by his distinct touches on the "God's Country" closing number. Speaking of which, that number has Mickey & Judy satirizing FDR & Eleanor. After FDR's death this part was cut out of future showings and it remained that way until the '90s. It's a lively number and the added historical value is a plus. Good old-fashioned fun. Charming, innocent, and yes, a little corny, but an enjoyable movie overall.
This Busby Berkeley musical of the 1930s represents Mickey Rooney and
Judy Garland at their best, which in the end really doesn't say
"greatness." The film, which involves a recurring reminiscence on the
"nostalgia" of the 1910s, is often over-acted, over-sung, and
over-choreographed. Judy Garland's portrayal of a girl in love but
shunned is reminiscent of almost all of the MGM musical roles in which
she partook during her stint that lasted into the late 1940s. The
minstrel act is a particularly interesting look at the virulent racism
that still plagued American cinema during the Studio Age-Judy Garland
in blackface is perhaps one of the most frightening images I have ever
Though, one cannot approach a film like this with more than a hint of cynicism: Busby Berkeley is arguably the greatest choreographer in the history of film, and though he does not show off the spectacle of his earlier films, like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Gold Diggers of 1935 (which he did not direct), his dance numbers are interesting (for instance, when the town's teenagers partake in a book-burning, throwing into the flames symbols of conformity). The film is sweet, fresh, and bright, and, as the first Arthur Freed musical, serves as one of his better (though certainly not his best).
In all, I give it a 3 out of 4 stars (***).
On a side note, three of the songs that appear in Singing in the Rain appear in this film, predating the Gene Kelly musical by over 15 years: Good Morning, Good Morning, Singing in the Rain (which appears in a montage showing previous MGM musicals), and You Are My Lucky Star.
I'm not kidding. Mickey Moran (Rooney) and Patsy Barton (Garland) have
parents who were in vaudeville before talkie pictures wiped the business
out. Now, the kids want to put on a show, but their folks won't let them.
Well, Mickey incites a riot, and the kids run around Town Square throwing
fire-prone things into a massive pile and chanting stuff like "a-tisket,
a-tasket, 200 yellow baskets..." Honestly. It's really bizarre. Then, when
the whole pile is burning, they join hands, and, singing like mad, proceed
to skip around the fire in a circle. WHOA! It's definitely something to see.
Moving on, the plot is pretty typical, highlighted by the aforementioned
bonfire scene and some excellent numbers. I wish they hadn't used a minstrel
act though... All in all, fairly standard.
P.S. Judy has a really cool dress in the finale.
I just saw it on TCM, after finally acquiring cable. It's sweet. I imagine the original stage score was sharper and more adult, but you must know by now that Hollywood has been tampering with the scores of stage musicals since the year 1. When they filmed GAY DIVORCE they eliminated the entire score- save one little song danced by Fred Astaire. There's been stage-to-screen tampering done with SHOW BOAT, ON THE TOWN, BRIGADOON, SWEET CHARITY, and A CHORUS LINE, to name a few. And Rodgers & Hart were decidedly more sophisticated, adult composers; they had to endure the wrath of the puritanical Hollywood image back then. This is why I've always preferred musicals originally created for the screen; no one looking for a stage predecessor would be offended. As it is, they did keep "The Lady is A Tramp" in the background and allowed "Where or When" to be performed as a slightly botched band rehearsal. But I love the staging of the title song: a march through the street, gathering more and more teens as they go, with its bonfire-rally finale; and Judy Garland's torch solo "I Cried For You" is a stunning piece of poignancy which makes you forget that she is only 17 years old. She does a magnificent job of grounding the overly ecstatic Mickey Rooney. As for dated film accusations- yes, it is dated; America just entered World War II at this movie's release, and it's probably no coincidence that the film's finale "God's Country" is an especially long, uplifting musical sequence. I mean, how ageless can it be with Mickey Rooney doing an impersonation of President Roosevelt?!
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