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After the Cavity Rock, California Times Leader newspaper is chosen as America's typical small town newspaper, reporter Homer Smith gets to abroad and report on the war in a series of articles to be shared with other small-town newspapers. He has a number of adventures including having his ship sink while en route to Cairo. He meets another survivor, Philo Cobson, who gives him a message to deliver to a woman in Cairo - should he survive. He delivers the message but convinces himself that an American singer-actress, Marcia Warren, is a spy. She in turn believes he's the spy. Mistaken identities abound but it all works out in the end. Written by
Cairo doesn't open in Cairo. It opens in that garden spot community of Cavity Rock, California in the northern part of the state where the local paper has won a contest by being declared the best small town newspaper in the USA. That contest carries with it the distinction of having their star reporter, one Homer Smith played by Robert Young, the appointment of foreign correspondent to cover World War II personally.
Previous to getting the news Young is watching his favorite film star Marcia Warren on the screen. It happens to be a scene from Maytime with Jeanette MacDonald singing Les Filles Des Cadiz. In the film MacDonald had gone to Europe to make a film three years earlier and the outbreak of war forced her to flee to North Africa from France.
In the meantime Young gets torpedoed in the Mediterranean and finds himself on a floating piece of wreckage with a garrulous, but mysterious Englishman played by Reginald Owen. They're forced to split up, but Young's given a message for someone in Cairo by Owen who tells him he's with British Intelligence.
Of course Young meets the movie star girl of his dreams in Cairo and what follows is a comedy of errors in which each believes the other is a spy. The enemy does have a dastardly bit of business cooked up, but that's for you to watch the film to find out.
As a satire on spy films Cairo is uneven. Some of the stuff is brilliant, some of it trite. One of the gags involves Jeanette's ability to hit a high C because that opens certain doors. Even the bad Nazi lady, Mona Barrie, says why don't we just have doorknobs like everyone else.
The master plot itself is kind of dumb. It's an elaborate scheme, but it only involves the destruction of one troop transport which it the long range scheme of things seems a waste.
But what really makes Cairo worth watching isn't Jeanette so much as Ethel Waters. Ms. Waters is playing a maid, but she's quite a bit more than that as Jeanette's girl Friday and personal assistant. She's not subservient in the least. And of course she gets a couple of numbers to sing with her style contrasting quite nicely with Jeanette. Ethel sings the Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg tune Buds Won't Bud and in grand style.
Jeanette's highlight is a song about the Lady in the Harbor, the Statue of Liberty. She sings it in grand bravura style and I'm sure brought many a tear to the eyes of GIs when this film was shown abroad.
Fans of Jeanette will love this film, others might find it amusing but only in spots. And fans of Ethel Waters shouldn't miss it.
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