TCM Greatest Classic Legends: Wartime Musicals
Among TCM's latest batch of DVD collections is one dedicated to morale-boosting film musicals produced during WWII. Most were all-star revues, allowing servicemen and the general public to view their favorite stars working for the war effort. Bringing the era more vividly to life, each of the films is accompanied by a huge packet of special features, including "Warner Night at the Movies," which replicated the program one might have seen at movie palaces of the period. Extras include newsreels, war-related, comedy, and musical shorts, and cartoons.
The "TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Wartime Musicals" opens with "Yankee Doodle Dandy," the beautifully crafted screen biography of Broadway legend George M. Cohan. It features one of James Cagney's most memorable screen performances, as well as an expert supporting cast, and seamless direction by Michael Curtiz. Born on the Fourth of July, Cohan was the perfect sentimental favorite to be spotlighted as our country was just entering WWII.
In the featherweight plot of the 1943 "Thank Your Lucky Stars," Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie attempt to break into show-biz, abetted by popular vaudevillian Eddie Cantor. Ingénue Dinah Shore is given several numbers. The culminating, variety program boasts Warners' A-list stars: Bogie gets a comic bit, Errol Flynn, a pub song, and Alexis Smith, a sultry, Latin dance. Generations of female impersonators have gotten endless mileage out of Bette Davis' musical number, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." And all the quirky, Davis mannerisms are already well in place.
"Hollywood Canteen" looks sensational on Warner's commercial DVD. Recovered from battle injuries, two star-struck GIs visit the canteen and dunk donuts with the cream of Warner's acting stable. The enjoyable musical routines feature everyone from the Andrews Sisters to classical, violin virtuoso Joseph Szigeti. Among the wonderful extras on the disc are actual footage of a canteen, as well as an extravagant Busby Berkeley musical short featuring a bevy of blonde beauties enacting every manner of choreographic formation.
A patriotic extravaganza, the Technicolor "This is the Army" was the top-grossing film of 1943, raising millions for the Army Relief Fund. Future politicians George Murphy and Ronald Reagan play father and son servicemen who direct fellow soldiers in musical revues during both World Wars. Based on Irving Berlin's hit musical, the film contains nearly 20 tunes by the master. Highlights include some wonderfully, campy drag numbers from the all-male, Army cast, and the singing of Berlin himself. Yet nothing can rival the gargantuan Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America."
The films in TCM's new collection of 40's musicals are hardly masterpieces. A visual time-capsule, the set does afford a fascinating glimpse into popular culture during the Second World War.
TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Wartime Musicals