Saturday, May 28, 2011

'This Is the Army': Patriotism on Display





I’m a total sucker for rousing music revues and time capsule pieces.

So it’s a double dose of guilty pleasures with “This Is the Army.” It’s a combination of Irving Berlin’s World War I musical “Yip Yip Yaphank” and “This Is the Army,” a popular World War II stage revue starring actual Army personnel that traveled all over to help boost morale and raise money for the Army Relief Fund. That’s why “Army” works as a time capsule piece, as much of the second hour of the movie is simply a filmed version of the revue, a collection of songs and skits colorfully rendered and expertly presented by director Michael Curtiz.

It was the most popular movie of 1943, and Warner Brothers donated most of the profits to the Army Relief Fund.

It also has the requisite all-star Warners cast, including George Murphy, Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, and a host of character actors, singers and even athletes, from Alan Hale to Kate Smith to Joe Louis. But the plot is really secondary to the revue in all its flag-waving glory.

The story begins during World War I story and the show that the Army presents. By the time World War II rolls around, it’s the children of the WWI vets who are now involved recruited to put on a show. There’s also a nominal romance between Reagan and Leslie (below), but what begins as typically corny turns out to be telling, as it deals with the issue of quick war-time marriages. He doesn’t want to marry because if he dies, she’s a widow – and perhaps raising a child alone if she conceives. Her point is that if he dies and they wait, they’ve lost a chance at something that they can pursue if married.





But most of what’s in “This Is the Army” is meant to boost morale and spread patriotism, everything from the Uncle Sam posters to the upbeat nature of the proceedings to the many American flags on display.

As for the skits, outside of some featured soloists – like Kate Smith singing what would be come her signature song, “God Bless America” – only men were in the show, so they played both male and female roles. There’s a number with the men dressed as chorus girls that’s a hoot. There’s also an unfortunate minstrel number with everyone in black face.

The movie also gives shout-outs to the Navy and the Air Force, recognizing the other armed forces hard at work during the war.

The stage musical was produced by the War Department with music by Irving Berlin. It premiered on Broadway on July 4, 1942, and was an immediate hit.

Warners brought the property later that year. While the stage musical was still going strong, director Michael Curtiz and producer Hal Wallis (think about their year: making this and “Casablanca”) fleshed out the plot as much as they could.

“This Is the Army” was the biggest of a number of musical revue movies made during World War II. Paramount had “Star Spangled Rhythm,” MGM did “Thousands Cheer,” United Artists released “Stage Door Canteen,” and Warners had “Army,” “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and “Hollywood Canteen.” These all-star musicals entertained both homefront audiences and the troops, as the musical was one of the period’s highest-grossing genres.




As for Berlin, he appears in the film singing his own “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” Urban legend has it that someone on the set, unaware of who Berlin was, cracked, “If the fellow who wrote this song could hear this guy sing it, he’d roll over in his grave.”

“This Is the Army” is still entertaining today if you put yourself in the right frame of mind and accept it simply for what it is – a patriotic ode made during a time when patriotism rallied people behind the war effort. It’s not the greatest musical ever made, but it’s big, colorful and fun – and a guilty pleasure.

7 comments:

  1. I absolutely love this movie. Joan Leslie looks beautiful (as always) in the color. Ronald Reagan is great. I always love to see George Murphy sing and dance. But man, seeing Irving Berlin sing is really a treat.

    I always enjoy a really nice patriotic musical revue. This certainly fulfills that.

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  2. It does indeed :) It also seemed appropriate for this Memorial Day weekend. Glad you stopped by and enjoy the holiday!

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  3. I like this one too, especially if you put yourself in a 1943 timeframe. The final number, where the chorus of soldiers sing

    This time we will all make certain
    That this time is the last time

    must have been overpowering to 1943 audiences, echoing what ever person on the homefront and the frontline were saying.

    The scene where the cast members of the show are being sent overseas and they march singing through the theater aisles to their ships is also used in the 1938 Fox musical "Alexander's Ragtime Band." I believe it was based on an actual occurrence during the run of "Yip Yip Yaphank."

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  4. CFB, I just saw this movie for the first time last year, and I fell in love. I too am a sucker for the music, the morale boosting and the depiction of an era. Irving Berlin was so wonderful in his rendition of his own song. I love when he sings "Someday I'm going to murder the bugler, someday they're going to find him dead...Then I'll get that other pup, the guy that wakes the bugler up, and spend the rest of my life in bed." Cracks me up every time!

    The novelty acts in the stage show are just wonderful, and of course dear Kate Smith -- we have a restaurant here in town, Acapulco Joe's, that stops everything at the stroke of noon and plays her recording of "God Bless America." It's great.

    Wonderful post about, for me anyway, a recent classic love!

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  5. Thanks Kevin. Great tidbit on "Alexander's Ragtime Band"! ClassicBecky, glad you enjoyed it as well.

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  6. I will keep an eye out for this film. “This Is the Army.” Your review has peeked my interest..

    Dawn

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  7. Hi Dawn, Absolutely check it out and let me know what you think.

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