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During World War II, all the studios put out "all-star" vehicles which featured virtually every star on the lot--often playing themselves--in musical numbers and comedy skits, and were meant as morale-boosters to both the troops overseas and the civilians at home. This was Universal Pictures' effort. It features everyone from Donald O'Connor to the Andrews Sisters to Orson Welles to W.C. Fields to George Raft to Marlene Dietrich, and dozens of other Universal players. Written by
During the World War II year every major studio contributed at least one all star extravaganza for the movie going public. Many times that portion of the movie going public that was in the Armed Services and over there got to see some of this stuff first. Universal Studio's entry into this field was Follow the Boys.
The first twenty five minutes of the film consists of how screen team and married in real cinema life team George Raft and Vera Zorina got together. Raft plays one of the members of an old vaudeville show business family who after vaudeville dies, goes to Hollywood to continue his career. He meets up with Vera Zorina and they meet and fall in love and get married. Their joint careers are going good until Pearl Harbor.
Here's the part of the plot I cannot understand. Raft tries to enlist and gets turned down because of a bad knee. He wants it kept quiet for reasons I absolutely can't figure out. A few Hollywood stars like Gary Cooper (a broken hip that never mended properly) and Ward Bond (another broken hip and epilepsy) were quite legitimate 4-Fs. Why this was so embarrassing for Raft didn't make sense to me.
But what he does is start organizing shows under the USO auspices and at that point all the stars playing themselves came in. Another thing about Follow the Boys I don't understand is that several of Universal's biggest musical and comedy stars that were there at the time never appeared. I'm talking about folks like Abbott&Costello, Deanna Durbin, Allan Jones and Nelson Eddy. And they even got Jeanette MacDonald over from MGM as one of the guest stars.
But it's still a good group that's here. Sophie Tucker, Dinah Shore, Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan and the incomparable W.C. Fields. This was Fields's farewell appearance and he does his famous pool room bit that he perfected in vaudeville long before he became the screen's number one misanthrope.
Dinah Shore sang I'll Walk Alone, one of the World War II era's biggest song hits and Follow the Boys only nomination for an Academy Award. It lost that year to Swinging on a Star from Going My Way. Dinah's rendition will moisten the eyes I guarantee. She sold a few 78 platters back in the day off this.
Orson Welles is in this one and in it he gets to show off in his number two avocation, prestidigitation. Mr. Welles performs a few feats of magic, something he did when he was not acting, writing, directing, etc. And he had the loveliest of assistants in Marlene Dietrich.
Although George Raft was known for his gangster portrayals, back in the day before Hollywood he was a dancer. He showed that talent off in such films as Rumba and Bolero for Paramount in the Thirties and he was pretty good. He and Vera Zorina made a fine dance team and Raft himself does a nice soft shoe routine to Sweet Georgia Brown.
Jeanette MacDonald got to reprise one of her early screen hits Beyond the Blue Horrizon and that was a treat indeed. Too bad no one thought to team her with Nelson Eddy or Allan Jones, but I see the fine hand of Louis B. Mayer here who probably didn't want them singing together for anyone else but Leo the Lion.
I have a weakness for these all star extravaganzas so there's no way I ever give one a bad review. Despite a story line that defies belief, Follow the Boys should not be missed.
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