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Look at the number of actors on the IMDB cast list who had their scenes deleted (Roy Rogers, yet!), and you'll smell trouble: It's not typical for a big, expensive Technicolor wartime musical like this one to clock in under 80 minutes. Sure enough, it's a disjointed, haphazard musical fantasy, though full of talented people behind the scenes, notably Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill. The songwriters bring a little pep to the story of a 4-F wannabe soldier who finds a magic lamp inhabited by an inept genie, who keeps putting him into the wrong century. The historic events visited feel terribly random -- the American Revolution, Columbus' voyage, Puritan New England -- and make one curious about what sequences were omitted. It's a cute idea -- the screenwriters, Morrie Ryskind and Sig Herzig, were Broadway veterans, and one suspects they originally conceived this as a stage musical -- but it's spun out with little real wit, and an aggressively uninteresting supporting cast fails to mine the minimal humor in the script. MacMurray, normally not a song-and-dance man, reveals a pleasant baritone but hasn't much to play, and he looks distinctly uncharmed by either of his leading ladies, though he did in fact marry June Haver. There's one celebrated sequence, a 10-minute mini-opera-bouffe called "The Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Maria," where Bill (MacMurray) convinces Columbus' crew not to mutiny, since America needs to be discovered. (A wonderful couplet describing America's bounty was disallowed by the censors: "The girls are delightful/ Their sweaters are quite full.") Suddenly the whimsy takes off, and the singing's splendid, and the film feels as bizarre and pixilated as "The Wizard of Oz." It doesn't last, though, and then it's back to 20th Century Fox's back lot and more halfhearted jests about history and patriotism.
A try at something different, certainly, in an age where Hollywood musicals were mainly backstagers, and it has its moments. But mostly it's a missed opportunity. If the missing footage ever turns up, it might be worth looking at.
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