Sunday, February 5, 2012


Nothing is better on a Sunday when I have nothing to do or feel like doing than to watch an old movie. This past weekend TCM had on the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney classic Strike Up The Band. I am not the biggest Garland fan, but when Judy was younger there was no one more talented. Even my two year old got into the act and was dancing up a storm during the "La Conga" number - which in my opinion was one of the best numbers Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney ever made.

The original taglines for the film were: "THEIR SUNNIEST, FUNNIEST, DOWN-TO-MIRTHIEST HIT!, IT BEATS THE BAND!, Melodious with WHITEMAN'S BAND and The merriest pair on the screen in a great new musical show!

After the success of Babes In Arms for MGM, Arthur Freed became the hottest producer on the lot and was granted his own famous Freed Unit to produce the best of the MGM musicals for the next 20 years almost. According to Hugh Fordin's book on Arthur Freed the next scheduled property was Good News, but that got shelved for several years when Louis B. Mayer decided that a patriotic type theme was in order and after all MGM had bought the screen rights to the Gershwin musical Strike Up The Band. Freed agreed, but in the Hollywood tradition only the title and the title song were retained for the screen.

That was enough because the Mickey and Judy formula was by now established with Babes In Arms. Here the two are a pair of talented musical kids and Mickey is the drummer in his high school band. But he's got other things on his mind besides doing John Philip Sousa. Even Sousa did more than Sousa when he was leading a band. Mickey is filled with the new jive rhythms of the day and he'd like to use the other kids in the school orchestra to form a real band. He's got Garland in mind for the vocals and the object is to get an audition from Paul Whiteman.

Whiteman in his day may have appropriated for himself the title of King Of Jazz, but certainly no one did more to popularize the new American art form among white audiences. His orchestra was the training ground for many of later big band leaders. Leaders like Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Glenn Miller all who were sidemen with Whiteman.

In keeping with MGM's practice of the time, the film soundtrack was recorded in stereophonic sound but released with conventional monaural sound. At least some of the original stereo recording has survived and been included in some home video releases, including the Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland Collection.

The puppet orchestra made of fruit that comes to life playing instruments for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland on a kitchen table, was the work of animator George Pal. He had just arrived in Hollywood from Europe via New York and this was among his first projects. Pal's work was relatively unknown by American audiences, thus he was uncredited. The idea for the sequence was that of another New York-to-Hollywood transfer: Vincente Minnelli.

The original camera negative was destroyed in May 1978 during a nitrate film fire in the George Eastman House archives. The fire also destroyed 328 other films' original camera negatives.

A tearjerker dating back to 1913, "The Curse of an Aching Heart" (music by Al Piantadosi, lyrics by Henry Fink), intended for Judy Garland in the "Nell of New Rochelle" sequence, was cut from the release print. Miss Garland's prerecording is featured on "Mickey & Judy," a CD box set from Rhino.

The 1930 Broadway production of "Strike Up the Band", with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, had no relation to the story of this film. That was a political satire that had trouble getting to Broadway, and when it did, it had only a short run of 191 performances. However, the title song became very popular and is included in this film.

I really listened to Mickey Rooney's vocalizing on "Our Love Affair", and I was amazed and surprised by his range and depth on this ballad. I have never thought of Rooney much as a singer. Filmed a year after The Wizard Of Oz, Judy looked bright and healthy in this film, but whenever I see her young in the movie, I am haunted by what was to happen to her only a few decades later. Strike Up The Band is not the best Garland-Rooney movie, but it's a great movie with great stars and excellent musical numbers that you just don't see anymore. My two year old gave it his thumb of approval...

my rating: 10 out of 10


  1. Not my favorite film of the duo, but it is mildly entertaining.

  2. I haven't seen this one in ages. The energy and talent of the young stars is awe inspiring. Your two year old is on the right track! I fully subscribe to better parenting through classic movies.

  3. I would have to say my favorite movie of the duo was Babes On Broadway.