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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.
In a great tribute to all the performers who have entertained American
Fighting Forces, Follow the Boys assembles a nifty all-star group to
let the folks on the home front see what the soldiers are getting. The
film combines real footage in the field mixed with performers
recreating their USO acts.
The result is a bit like a training film for the USO, but it does help us appreciate how so many performers went above and beyond the call of duty. From the wonderful Andrews Sisters to magical Orson Welles, it is an eclectic revue. There is a particularly touching section in the middle, from Artur Rubinstein to a montage underscored by beautifully melancholy songs from Dinah Shore.
Of course to get to all this, you must wade through a negligible plot about a husband-and-wife dance team (George Raft and Vera Zorina) who split over one of those obnoxious movie misunderstanding as he wants to put all his efforts into entertaining the troops. The dialogue is pedantic, Zorina is a cold fish, and Raft is stiff - until he's dancing.
Though he seems to be enjoying himself ONLY when he's dancing, Raft had an emotional investment in the film. In real life, he was among the troop entertainers, and he had also been very close to Carole Lombard, who had died earlier engaged in exactly that work. Perhaps it was his personal tribute to her. He is in one of the best numbers of the film: Louis Jordan and his orchestra perform "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" and then accompany Raft as he dances "Sweet Georgia Brown" in the rain for a group of black soldiers. Though Raft was at his peak weight here, he was still nimble afoot.
It is difficult in the modern world of mega-entertainment to comprehend how little was available in 1944, especially for troops stationed in remote regions, at least if movies made during World War Two are any testimony. This movie is loaded with talent, singing what the "boys" wanted to hear. The plot is typical of USO movies, lots of entertaining and lots of appreciation. Dinah Shore's "I Promise You" and the Andrew Sisters' "Apple Blossom Time" must have put many minds at ease, at least for a short time. The film is worth seeing, especially when George Raft dances in the rain.
This is a very good movie to see for the entertainers who are really the stars here. Plus you get a real good feel for the organization that went into getting all of the stars to the troops. This is a good look at history from the standpoint of getting to see the stars of the 1940s. Good music too. 7/10
Follow The Boys was one of several "entertaining the troops" films made
during World War II. The plots often revolved around personal conflict for
the characters that is war related. The films usually pat show business on
the back for what it's doing for the troops. Finally, there are lots of
speciality numbers by popular performers of the day. Follow The Boys stays
true to the formula, but with some interesting touches. First, it provides
some background on the organization necessary to put entertainment units
together. Second, some footage was shot at actual performances before
audiences of service men and women.
George Raft plays the main character, a dancer turned show organizaer. His dancing makes us realize he is better at organizing shows. As is often the case in these films, the high spots are the speciality numbers, particularly Loius Jordan, Dinah Shore, and amazingly enough, Arthur Rubenstein here. Orson Welles does a fascinating magic act. Jeanette McDonald does a number in a hospital ward singing to injured soldiers. It's contrived, yet moving. Follow The Boys is an interesting, if uneven, WWII artifact.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is full of surprises, including an Andrews Sister mimicking
a strip tease, a full scale dog act including trapeze tricks, Dinah
Shore at the beginning of her long career, George Raft doing a
Valentino take-off, Arthur Rubinstein performing on the piano a song
that Spike Jones later had a hit with, Charlie Spivak and his orchestra
proving that Harry James had no corner on mooing horns and muted muzak,
and what appears to be Getty Grable dancing in cold weather issue Micky
Mouse boots! Louis Jourdan and his band are the stand-outs among the
musical performances, with "Is You Is or Is You Ain't". George Raft
doing a soft-shoe in the rain to Jourdan's "Sweet Georgia Brown" is a
close second. The big surprise is Orson Welles, relatively svelte,
performing some David Copperfield-like magic tricks with a magnificent
stage presence. Those who have seen the Peter Seller's and David Niven
"Casino Royale" will know what I mean. By the way, "Casino Royale" also
included George Raft in a brief cameo.
A bit long and interrupted by an unnecessary plot, this flick is worth seeing again and again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those on the homefront, this was a consoling musical to show how
the troops were being entertained and how stars of stage, screen and
radio (WHAT'S A RADIO?) got involved, whether doing bond drives,
heading to bases to entertain, or even going overseas. The premise has
a former vaudevillian turned movie star (George Raft) neglecting his
marriage to his dancing leading lady (Vera Zorina) to accomplish this.
Musical numbers and comedy sketches frame a strong storyline, so this
is a bit more than the usual "look what we did for the boys" musical
revue most of the movie studios were turning out. That isn't mean to
diminish movies like "Hollywood Canteen", "Stage Door Canteen", "This
is the Army", "Thousands Cheer" and "Thank Your Lucky Stars", but there
is a greater purpose to the movie than simply being an entertainment.
The highlights for me include a wonderful Andrews Sisters medley, as well as a reprise of "Beyond the Blue Horizon" sung by Jeanette MacDonald, which she first sang in the 1930 movie operetta "Monte Carlo". The war setting for that song is just as appropriate as it was in that earlier film. A wonderful array of stars famous and obscure include such gems as Sophia Tucker ("the last of the Red Hot Mama's"), W.C. Fields (performing his pool act which I found dated), Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan (the Mickey & Judy of Universal), Dinah Shore (singing "I Walk Alone" to a montage of soldiers overseas) and various popular bandleaders. Orson Welles gets to do a funny magic show with the help of glamorous Marlene Dietrich. And then there are character performers like Charley Grapewin, Charles Butterworth, George MacReady and Elizabeth Patterson, famous enough to play themselves, but portraying fictional characters.
Shots of various stars on actual bond tours, as well as a call board with the names and sites of the various bond and base activities going on add authenticity. As for the actual storyline between Raft and Ms. Zorina, I found it realistic to see how what was going on had an impact on their marriage as their priorities became twisted during a war of which some effects are still being felt today. Some of the situations seem a bit forced but when you've got this array of talent, that is a minor complaint.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Then-topical puttin'-on-a-show-for-the-troops film is now interesting, from a historical perspective, for a certain documentary-like quality. Though it was made by Universal, it doesn't shy away from name-dropping other movie studios and performers, as parts of the collective effort of the entertainment industries to give soldiers a few hours of joy during WWII. Worth catching are the historic first teaming of Orson Welels and Marlene Dietrich (he does some magic tricks, and then saws her in half; "we lose a girl in every performance!", he warns the audience), and a lively Donald O'Connor - Peggy Ryan duet. But the main "plot" is a drag: George Raft is miscast, especially in the early scenes that require a light touch (with that voice, he always sounds as if he is about to punch someone), and Vera Zorina, a real-life dancer, is mostly relegated to a thankless dramatic part. Note: I watched the edited, 110-minute version. ** out of 4.
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