Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Star Spangled Rhythm

Paramount, 1942
Starring Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, Victor Moore, and Walter Abel
Directed by George Marshall and others
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

During World War II, almost every studio in Hollywood filmed at least one all-star semi-revue as morale boosters for the troops. This one was Paramount's contribution, a nutty confection showcasing not only the studio's top performers, but it's two of its most popular directors...and the studio itself. How does all that flag-waving look now? Let's head to the entrance to Paramount, as a group of sailors prepare to spend a memorable day on shore, and find out...

The Story: William "Pop" Webster (Moore) was once a major western star during the silent era, but is now a guard at the main gate of Paramount. He's told his sailor son Johnny (Bracken) that he's an Executive Vice President In Charge of Production. Johnny brags about it to all of his buddies when they turn up on shore leave, demanding a tour. Studio switchboard operator Polly Judson (Hutton) thinks he's cute and manages to set up Pop in place of the real producer B.G DeSoto (Abel). Not only is DeSoto convinced that studio spies are trying to keep him out, but Pop goes ahead and claims that he can put on a big show for the Navy. Now Polly has to round up all the stars on the lot and get them into one big show, so she can get married to her gob and Pop can keep up the illusion.

The Song and Dance: If you love the movies and stars of the 40's, have I got a treat for you. Paramount stuffed almost everyone on the lot into this film, even people like Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, and Susan Hayward who usually specialized in non-musical drama. Its also an invaluable glimpse at real-life directors Preston Sturges (whose career as a comedy king peaked in the early-mid 40's) and Cecil B. Demille (whose big hit Reap the Wild Wind is mentioned several times) and the Paramount lot in 1942.

Favorite Number: Two numbers here were among the biggest hit songs of the war years. Mary Martin, Dick Powell, and a quartet of singing dining car waiters sing "Hit the Road to Dreamland" in a sequence supposedly filmed for a movie in production. Johnny Johnston sings "That Old Black Magic" in the background as ballerina Vera Zorina dances in a romantic snow-covered landscape, only to appear briefly at the barracks in the end as part of his dream.

Paulette Goddard, Dorothy Lamour, and Veronica Lake spoof their images in "A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peekaboo Bang"...and then Arthur Treacher, Sterling Holloway, and Walter Catlett come on in drag to maximize the laughs. Marjorie Reynolds of Holiday Inn joins Betty Jane Rhodes and Dona Drake to salute what happens "On the Swing Shift." Eddie "Rochester" Anderson and ballet troupe owner Katherine Dunham show why he's "Sharp as a Tack" in a nice dance routine. Bing Crosby, Paramount's top star at the time, finishes off with the ultra-patriotic salute to the flag, "Old Glory."

Trivia: This was the first film appearance of Bing Crosby's son Gary Crosby.

What I Don't Like: The thin story is just a lame excuse to throw everyone at the studio together for skits and songs. While most of the numbers still go over pretty well, the skits are dated and annoying, especially the one about how (men think) women play cards. This is also a movie of its time. There's tons of references to other Paramount movies and stars of the early 40's. If you don't know anything about the war years, you may be more lost than amused.

The Big Finale: Worth seeing for the numbers alone if you love 40's musicals or the stars or films of the war years.

Home Media: Easily found as part of the made-to-order Universal Vault series and on two Bob Hope DVD collections.

DVD - Universal Vault
DVD - My Favorite Blonde/Star Spangled Rhythm
DVD - Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection

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