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Hollywood Canteen (1944)
The West Coast's answer to Broadway's Stage Door Canteen, the Hollywood Canteen was created as a GI morale-booster by film stars Bette Davis and John Garfield. The Canteen was established so that Our Boys on leave in Tinseltown could have a good time with good food and good dancing -- and, as a bonus, rub shoulders with their favorite movie personalities, who functioned as waiters, chefs, busboys and dancing partners. Since the 1944 all-star flick Hollywood Canteen was produced by Warner Bros., it was only to be expected that the celebrities seen herein would consist mostly of Warner Bros. contract players. The frail plot concerns a soldier on medical leave (played by Robert Hutton) who falls in love with lovely leading lady Joan Leslie (played by Joan Leslie) while visiting the Canteen. Bette Davis and John Garfield are on hand to emcee the Canteen's variety acts, and to act as cupids for the Hutton/Leslie romance. The "supporting cast" includes the likes of The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Sidney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Dennis Morgan, Roy Rogers, S.Z. Sakall, Barbara Stanwyck, and the Jimmy Dorsey and Carmen Cavallaro musical aggregations. Virtually everyone involved donated their salaries to the Canteen fund--even Jack Benny. As with most of these patriotic wartime star rallies, the results are a mixed bag: the best sequences include Benny's violin "duel" with Joseph Szigeti and Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers introducing Cole Porter's Don't Fence Me In. Hollywood Canteen won three Oscar nominations, more for its good intentions than its inherent excellence.

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
Practically everybody on the Warner Bros. lot shows up in the wartime morale-boosting musical extravaganza Thank Your Lucky Stars. Believe it or not, this one has a wisp of a plot. A pair of enterprising producers, played by S.Z. Sakall and Edward Everett Horton, want to hire singer Dinah Shore for their upcoming Cavalcade of Stars. Unfortunately, this means they must deal with Shore's boss, radio comedian Eddie Cantor. The egotistical Cantor insists upon joining the show himself, driving everyone crazy with his take-charge attitude. Meanwhile, singer Dennis Morgan, hoodwinked by a crooked agent into thinking he's signed a contract with Cantor, shows up backstage at Sakall and Horton's rehearsal, only to be given the boot. While all this is going on, aspiring actress Joan Leslie has befriended a bus driver named Joe Simpson--who happens to be a dead ringer for Eddie Cantor (and why not? Ol' "Banjo Eyes" plays both parts). Turns out that Joe is another showbiz wannabe, but he has been denied a break because he looks too much like Cantor. You see what's comin' now, right, folks? Morgan and Leslie will get their big breaks when Joe Simpson impersonates Eddie Cantor, who's been kidnapped by Indians (bet you didn't see that one coming!) All of this expository nonsense is merely an excuse to show off Warners' talent roster in a series of engaging specialty numbers: John Garfield talk-sings Blues in the Night, Jack Carson and Alan Hale do a buck-and-wing, a jitterbug number is performed by Ida Lupino, Olivia de Havilland and George Tobias, Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best strut their stuff in Ice Cold Katie, and so on. Highlights include Errol Flynn's That's What You Jolly Well Get, an English music hall-style sendup of Flynn's movie heroics, and Bette Davis' peerless (and endearingly off-key) rendition of They're Either too Young or Too Old. As a bonus, Humphrey Bogart shows up long enough to be browbeaten and intimidated by S.Z. Sakall ("Gee, I hope none of my movie fans see this!" moans Bogart as the soundtrack plays a mocking rendition of Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?) Subtle and sophisticated it isn't, but Thank Your Lucky Stars is so entertaining that you'll forget all about its multitude of flaws.

This is the Army (1943)
The splashy, star-studded This is the Army is based on the Irving Berlin Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was a reworking of Berlin's WW1 "barracks musical" Yip Yip Yaphank. In both instances, the cast was largely comprised of genuine servicemen, many of them either recently returned from fighting or on the verge of heading off to war. The Hollywood-imposed storyline concerns Jerry Jones (George Murphy), a member of the original 1918 Yip Yip Yaphank cast. His showbiz career curtailed by a leg injury, Jerry becomes a producer during the postwar era. When the US enters WW2, Jerry gathers together several other cast members from the 1918 Berlin musical to help him stage a new all-serviceman show, titled (what else?) This is the Army. The show-within-a-show framework is able to accommodate a romantic subplot, involving Jerry's son Johnny (Ronald Reagan, later a political comrade-in-arms of George Murphy) and Eileen Dibble (Joan Leslie), the daughter of Yip Yip Yaphank alumnus Eddie Dibble (Charles Butterworth). Some of the best moments in This is the Army are from the Broadway production itself, though the lengthy Alfred Lunt-Lynn Fontanne imitation and incessant "gay" jokes may have been too smart for the room in 1943. Guest stars include boxer Joe Louis, Kate Smith (singing "God Bless America", naturally) and Irving Berlin himself, who steals the show with his plaintive rendition of "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning".

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WA27308 Warner Bros. & The Homefront DVD (Hollywood Canteen/Thank Your Lucky Stars/This is the Army) $39.92 $35.99