Cairo (1942) Poster

(1942)

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5/10
The Girl of His Dreams
bkoganbing19 March 2006
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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8/10
Jeanette remains glamorous among a nest of spies
jjnxn-125 September 2013
Pleasant mix of spy caper and comedy stars a much more relaxed Jeanette MacDonald than was usually the case during her MGM years. Perhaps it was the freedom of not having Nelson Eddy bellowing in her face but she's loose and charming and has a fine chemistry with both Robert Young and Ethel Waters her two major scene partners. Jeanette and Ethel's differing singing styles offer a nice variety to the entertainment although why Ethel is Jeanette's maid and still has to sing in the big show is never explained. It doesn't really matter and her musical numbers are terrific. There's also a funny bit where Jeanette sends up one of her biggest hits, San Francisco. One quibble: a good deal of the picture is very dark, hard to tell if it's intentional or the age of the film. Not a great film but a little known enjoyable gem.
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10/10
A good film to watch!!
rapzz30 April 2006
If you are a Jeanette MacDonald fan this is a "MUST SEE" film. No, it's not her very best film, but it's different enough for her that it's really great watching!! Read the other comments - except for the fellow that doesn't like Musicals (poor fellow), they're pretty much right on track. While Robert Young gets a bit "hammy" in a couple scenes, overall it's a very delightful musical/spy spoof/drama/etc. A good balance of songs and drama, which was important for morale during the early years of WWII.

Hint for Jeanette MacDonald fans: You _MUST_ see Ethyl Waters and Jeanette's rendition of "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" about half way through the film. You've NEVER seen Jeanete like this - very cute, very well done!!
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8/10
Funny spy spoof comedy/musical - not too many songs!!
bobegan18 June 2003
In one of her last movies, Miss MacDonald shows a real gift for light comedy - along with her well known vocal talents.

And for the guy who said there were too many songs...WAKE UP!!!...it's a musical! LOL That's like saying there are too many explosions in an action flick or jokes in a comedy.
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6/10
TCM gave this two stars
blanche-223 May 2011
Really, they could have gone to 2-1/2. Would it have killed them? When I see two stars, I expect to see a complete disaster.

"Cairo" from 1942 is a bit convoluted, but there are some fun moments. The film stars Robert Young, Jeannette MacDonald, Ethel Waters, Lionel Atwill, Eduardo Ciannelli and Reginald Owen.

Part of the problem with "Cairo" is you're not sure what you're watching - musical, comedy, drama, what? It's a comedy with music, but a bit unsure of itself. Young plays Homer Smith, a newspaper reporter who suspects the famous singer/movie star Marcia Warren of being a Nazi spy. She suspects him of being one as well. The best scene occurs when they go out for an evening, manage to get away from one another, and each go back to MacDonald's house to search the other's room. There's also a joke with her high C, which inadvertently opens a secret passage.

One of the assets of "Cairo" is Jeannette MacDonald, who was so beautiful, and here she's in good voice and very appealing in her performances. Ethel Waters is wonderful, though she certainly could have done more. Young was never a top-flight movie star, but he does okay. MacDonald is excellent, very charming and funny.

With a little work on the script, this could have been an excellent film. However, it looks like it was rushed out as a propaganda movie and done on the cheap. The film has some great in jokes. When Marcia Warren and Homer Smith question one another, they learn that they are both from California. She's from the north; he's from the south. Both denigrate where the other lives. Finally Smith says to her, "Have you ever been to San Francisco?" "Once," she answers, "with Gable and Tracy and the joint fell apart."
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8/10
Who can decide when critics disagree?
JohnHowardReid22 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Unappreciated in its day, this delightful, elaborately mounted spoof of counter-espionage movies is my favorite W.S. Van Dyke film. The screenplay bubbles with wit and humor. The direction is deft, the photography superb. An outstanding support cast make the most of their opportunities. The movie is also a must-see – or rather a must-hear – for its songs, the best of which is the fast-paced medley with the King's Men and the final spectacular "Cairo". This is the only place you'll hear it! It was never recorded. In fact, the songs are by far, the movie's chief attraction. At this point, I disagree with good old George Addison. He feels that what he describes as "a silly, lame story" is allowed to run too long, and that Miss MacDonald's acting in the comedy stretches is both arch and reach-me-down. "Furthermore, it will not please her fans who are used to a much more serious MacDonald. Not that I personally object to a tongue-in-cheek approach. It's just that her timing is all wrong. Weak in-jokes do not help. Admittedly, Ethel Waters is even worse and her tray-carrying shuffle and MacDonald's response are in remarkably poor taste, to say the least. Another embarrassing incident involves Robert Young in a tedious 'dark house' in which Young ends up, dripping wet, under the piano. Van Dyke's direction seems as tired and listless as the dated, overlong (at 101 minutes) plot."
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6/10
Robert Young vs. Waters and Wilson
RNQ8 June 2013
This would be OK as a wartime musical, praying that ships get back to the harbours of Home. But Robert Young's character in infuriating. The gags, the pratfalls aren't funny, or they require the mindset of the Three Stooges. This is supposed to be an investigative reporter? Classy Jeanette MacDonald is supposed to fall for this goofball? But what saves the movie, as other have noted, is Ethel Waters. Sure, she's dressed as a maid until she gets to do a stage number. And Dooley Wilson, who watches that number, is dressed as an "A-rab." And of course there's nobody else they can pair up with. But they steal the show, and inspire even MacDonald to move her hips for a moment. Not Robert Young's character, still out of it.
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5/10
Amusing "B" spy spoof
bbmtwist16 July 2013
Although not very funny, it does have its moments. Jeanette and Ethel are the classiest folks in this and one wishes the vehicle were more worthy as they are a great team, both vocally and in easy going comedy.

I won't go into the story line as it can be found elsewhere on this page. Robert Young tries valiantly, but is miscast. A light comedy actor with a penchant for bumbling or being a bit dumb, such as Ralph Bellamy or Fred MacMurray, may have been a better choice, although they were not under an MGM contract at the time.

The score, by Arlen and Harburg, is lackluster with the exception of the classic "Buds Won't Bud," which Ethel Waters does full justice to in what is for me the high point of the film.

Jeannette takes part in 6 numbers: Les Filles de Cadiz, The Waltz is Over, No Place Like Love, Avalon, Cairo, and a bizarre patriotic medley, including Keep The Light Burning Bright, Waiting For The Robert. E. Lee, Sky Blue Waters, Home Sweet Home and The Beautiful Ohio.

This is the sort of film that needed an Ernst Lubitsch at the helm to make it a frothy and fun spoof on espionage and mistaken identity. W. S. Van Dyke takes the script a bit too seriously and loses most of the comedic opportunities.

All in all, harmless fun with a splendid Jeanette and Ethel duo.
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Leonard Maltin's summary says it all...
Neil Doyle6 May 2001
'Cairo' is a World War II spy story with Jeanette MacDonald and Robert Young each suspecting the other of being a spy. It's a spoof of all the spy stories popular in the '40s and strains to be funny--but the script defeats the purpose. Despite obvious flaws, it's interesting to see Jeanette looking her very best and in fine voice for a good number of songs--including a clip from one of her old films. The cast includes the dependable Ethel Waters (but the script makes poor use of her abilities), Lionel Atwill, Eduardo Ciannelli and Reginald Owen. It's a muddled mixture of musical comedy and espionage intrigue salvaged in part by Jeanette's occasional bursts of song. She's obviously having fun with her role as a movie star suspected of being a spy--and there are some inside jokes thrown in for good measure--but nothing really helps. One outstanding number is a night scene using a dramatic pyramid as the background for one of her songs--too bad it's just about the only musical highlight of the film.
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6/10
Too many musical numbers
Dave Banks3 February 2003
I enjoyed the story line and comic sequences in this spy-movie spoof. But, I was a bit wary knowing that Jeanette MacDonald was in the cast. I hoped that, for a change, she would give her voice a rest and just play the comedy. I was sure wrong. There are too many musical numbers in this film and, for me, they detracted from my enjoyment of the movie.

I guess there was no way that the producers of any movie with Ms. MacDonald in the cast would not utilize her voice. My fault, I should have known better. Oh, I almost forgot. Ethel Waters (she of the very big mouth) was also in the cast and, of course, sang a couple of songs.

If all of this sounds as if I don't like Musicals, you're absolutely correct. We all have our own individual tastes.
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Few laughs, no sex, a film by lazy writers for undemanding viewers
rhoda-925 October 2016
The comedy-mystery or comedy-thriller is a peculiar genre. Bob Hope used to make a lot of these, but I think they have become extinct, which is all to the good. It's a combination that guarantees some awkwardness and tastelessness with its jokes about death, and, in the case of Cairo, a wartime picture whose villains seek to bomb an aircraft carrier and kill 5,000 Americans, a great deal.

This kind of movie also gives a lot of license to the lazy writer. One has the feeling, watching Cairo, that a lot of bad jokes, as well as sloppy and absurd plotting, were let through in the name of irony. Robert Young plays an American newspaperman more unobservant and naive than the average ten-year-old boy (the movie wants to make sure, you see, that even the dimmest viewers realise he is screwing up). Jimmy Stewart might have been able to invest even this awful role with charm, but Robert Young was made for the part of the dumb cluck with nothing left over. (I have read that Louis B. Mayer, puzzled, once asked someone how someone with no sex appeal and nothing else could be a star. I share his bewilderment.)

Jeanette MacDonald, of course, sings ravishingly, particularly the silky ballad "The Moon Looks Down on Cairo," but she looks much older than Young (she was several years older, but looks as if the difference were much greater). They have one kiss, when he is cold and wet and she wraps a blanket around him. To call it maternal would be to credit it with more passion than it has.

The one bright spot is the shamefully underused, in this film as in Hollywood in general, Ethel Waters. She sings one number, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's delightful "Buds Won't Bud," and gives the movie the punch and zest it otherwise lacks. (But the choice is odd--it's a sweet little reflective number, and is here given the powerhouse treatment.)

I was for many years curious about this movie and thought it particularly difficult to find--it was never shown on TV. This may have been because of the scene in which Young accidentally fires a gun and immediately a few dozen soldiers rush out with their hands up, shouting, "We're Italians! We surrender!"
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3/10
Too many songs, not enough real comedy.
MartinHafer23 March 2013
"Cairo" is clearly a misfire and I my wife and I groaned repeatedly while watching this poor MGM spoof. It suffers in two major areas--there is too much singing (which is odd, as one reviewer thought the opposite) and the comedy is very forced and unfunny.

The film begins with Homer Smith (Robert Young) being sent by his small town newspaper to be a war correspondent. However, his adventure is short-lived when his ship is sunk. While floating about the Mediteranian, he meets up with a spy (Reginald Owen) and they eventually decide to separate. The spy asks Homer to deliver a message to a lady in a bar in Cairo (in case he cannot make it) and this drops dopey Homey into a nest of Nazi spies. Now this is VERY obvious and it's a tribute to how stupid they made his character that he had no indication that they were enemy agents. However, the Nazi lady spy decides to send Homer on a wild goose chase and tells him that a famous American actress who just happens to be in Cairo is a Nazi! So, Homer applies for a job as a butler for Marcia Warren (Jeanette MacDonald) so he can spy on her! There's a lot more to the film, but none of it works well because the film keeps getting interrupted by songs. The MacDonald ones are typical for her--with LOTS of high-pitched operatic stuff that would make most folks ill. I know I found myself using the fast-forward button whenever she began singing. The other problem is that Homer and Marcia seems incredibly stupid--yet, they somehow defeat the Nazis and save the world! Unfunny, forced and dumb. Perhaps my score of 3 is a bit charitable.
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