Wednesday, September 30, 2015
RECENTLY VIEWED: HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN
Two soldiers on leave spend three nights at the Hollywood Canteen before returning to active duty in the South Pacific. Slim Green (Robert Hutton) is the millionth G.I. to enjoy the Canteen, and consequently wins a date with Joan Leslie. The other G.I., Sergeant Nolan (Dane Clark) gets to dance with Joan Crawford. Canteen founders Bette Davis and John Garfield give talks on the history of the Canteen. The soldiers enjoy a variety of musical numbers performed by a host of Hollywood stars, and also comedians, such as Jack Benny and his violin.
The film's setting is the Hollywood Canteen, a free entertainment club open to servicemen. The Canteen was created as a G. I. morale-booster by movie stars Bette Davis and John Garfield during World War II. Many of the stars that provided cameos in the film had previously volunteered to work there or provide entertainment. They include: The Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, Jack Carson, Joan Crawford, Faye Emerson, Sydney Greenstreet, Alan Hale, Sr., Paul Henreid, Joan Leslie, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Dorothy Malone, Dennis Morgan, Janis Paige, Eleanor Parker, Roy Rogers (with Trigger), S.Z. Sakall, Zachary Scott, Alexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Dorsey and The Golden Gate Quartet.
The movie's plot is utterly preposterous, but that makes no difference. The chemistry between stars Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton is wonderful. Joan's role was originally to have been played by Ann Sheridan, but she turned it down because she, too, thought the idea of a soldier on leave falling in love with a movie star at the Canteen and actually getting a chance to spend some with her was ridiculous.
In my opinion, Joan turned out to be absolutely perfect. She was quite young when the movie was made (only 18 or 19), but one of Warner Brothers' most popular actresses of the early 1940s.
Formal reviews of Hollywood Canteen at the time it was released tended to pan the movie, even though it was a commercial success. But for today's audiences it's two hours of great fun. There are terrific song and dance numbers by some of Hollywood's best.
The great irony of this movie has to do with what happened to John Garfield. Declared 4-F because of a heart condition, Garfield repeatedly tried to enlist but was turned down. He gave tirelessly of himself, entertaining troops in USO shows stateside and in Europe. Even Bette Davis acknowledged that he was the driving force behind the Canteen. So it is inconceivable to me that someone who gave so much of himself to the war effort could have been blacklisted as a communist sympathizer. His career and his life were ruined, and he died suddenly in May, 1952.
If you want to remember "The Greatest Generation" and to remember what great entertainment was and should be, then this gem of a 1944 movie is for you...
MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10