A soldier falls for a chorus girl and then experiences trouble when he is posted to the Pacific.A soldier falls for a chorus girl and then experiences trouble when he is posted to the Pacific.A soldier falls for a chorus girl and then experiences trouble when he is posted to the Pacific.
- Benny Goodman's Orchestraas Benny Goodman's Orchestra
- (as Benny Goodman Orchestra)
This film is what could happen when Busby Berkeley was given full rein and a lot of money to spend, and the results are incredible. Like the "Big Broadcast" musicals, this one is for the most part a series of vaudeville acts, but this time it's in Technicolor and Busby has a really big crane!! The plot is silly, negligible, and a reductio ad absurdum of the "gee kids, let's put on a show" genre, except this time Eugene Palette's kid, James Ellison, is coming back a decorated hero from the South Pacific, and Palette talks his neighbor, Edward Everett Horton, into putting on a benefit in his rose garden to sell war bonds. Both Palette and Horton are rich. their neighbors are rich, and they intend to make a pile of money. They convince comedian Phil Baker (a radio phenomenon also featured in the incredibly underrated "Goldwyn Follies" where he does a great number with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy) to participate, along with Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye, Ted DeMarco, Benny Goodman (playing incredible knockoffs of some of his best numbers, as well as original ones for the show), Charlotte Greenwood (doing her vaudeville shtick: this is her most characteristic film appearance, "Oklahoma" notwithstanding) to participate. This in spite of the fact that the Horton character ("Peyton Potter") is trying to hide the fact that he married a showgirl, Greenwood, and trying to keep his daughter stuck on James Ellison (Pallette's decorated son, "Andy Mason") in spite of the fact that she really has a yen to follow Mama's steps in show biz, and in spite of the fact that "Andy" is really stuck on Alice Faye, who has been called "the blondest of all baritones," and a sexy baritone she is. People are running in all directions in this movie, and they all play themselves, regardless of their characters' names. The plot is as complicated and as silly as a Feydeau farce--and just as inconsequential.
The opening of the film is as striking a use of Technicolor as you will ever find. It's a lead-in to that great tune, "Brasil," and features Aloysio DeOliviera (who? don't ask me!) dressed in an exquisite black gown and wearing chartreuse above-the-elbow gloves that create a breathtaking effect--which leads into a silly number starring Camen and Phil and commenting on the 1943 scarcity of coffee.
Later in the show you also get Carmen doing one of the greatest of Busby Berkeley numbers, "The Lady in the Tutti-Fruitti Hat," featuring hundreds of cute toes digging into studio beach sand, an incredibly suggestive bit with girls dancing with giant phallic bananas--a play, I'm sure, on the horniness of long-distance wartime love--and culminating in the bananas growing out of Carmen's hat. You also get Benny Goodman and "Paducah," a song so inane that when I am in a really bad mood my wife will start singing it, and I will burst into giggles:
"Paducah, Paducah, if ya wanna you can rhyme it with bazooka/But you can't pooh-pooh Paducah: it's a little bit of paradise--/Paducah, Paducah, just a little bitty city in Kentucky/ But to me the word means lucky, when I'm lookin' into two blue eyes..." believe me, the lyrics get worse from here.
Alice Faye gets to sing her hymn to wartime celibacy, "No Love," and everybody gets to take a whack at what they do best. Some of the film's moments may be lost upon those who fail to see it not only as film but in its historical context. Unlike filmmakers today, nobody in 1943 made movies that approached the war from a pro-Axis point-of view. (John Wayne discovered that, by the 1970's, few were making films that weren't, when he tried to celebrate the Green Berets in Vietnam!)
Alice also gets to sing "The Polka Dot Polka," which leads into Busby's most incredible number, featuring hundreds--or at least tens--of gorgeous girls dancing with day-glo (and it hadn't even been invented yet!) discs or better yet, circles made of neon tubes. My first wife and I saw this film, aided by cigarettes filled with a controlled substance, on the campus of the University of Minnesota in the early 'seventies. The controlled substance was superfluous, but the movie's images were burned into my brain.
There is no route this film takes that doesn't call for a willing suspension of disbelief, and yet its total is one that makes a person feeling better walking out of the movie theatre than he did when he walked in. This is a movie conceived as a movie, using the right people playing themselves, and without pretense.
Like much of Paramount's output in the musical department, it's underrated--just as are the terrific "Road" pictures of Hope and Crosby, which never fail to tickle me. I have a copy I taped off of Turner Classic Movies. If Fox doesn't bring this out as a DVD, I guess I'll have to buy a DVD recorder so I can get a copy that doesn't degrade with each viewing the next time TCM shows it. I have a feeling that this great movie is just what Joel McCrea was talking about at the end of "Sullivan's Travels."
- Oct 22, 2006