Friday, June 16, 2017

Thousands Cheer vs. Star Spangled Rhythm: The Judy Garland Blogathon

In celebration of Judy Garland’s birthday and Crystal’s blogathon in tribute to her, I am comparing two early 1940’s films, Star Spangled Rhythm and Thousands Cheer. Both films were intended as World War II morale boosters and are packed with celebrities. I had never seen the entirety of either film and watched them back to back last weekend.

Thousands Cheer

Plot: Kathryn Grayson is a young soprano star who gives up her performances with the orchestra to follow her father (John Boles) to his army camp. Wanting to keep their spirits up, Kathryn socializes with all of the young soldiers. She doesn’t understand why her mother (Mary Astor) left her father and is sure she can get them back together if her mother feels Kathryn is in trouble. Eddie March is just the trouble Kathryn needs. Kathryn writes to her mother that she is in love with a soldier, knowing that Mary Astor will come immediately to intervene. Likewise, Eddie March, hating the army and desiring to move to the Air Corps, realizes that romancing the captain’s daughter may get him transferred. Of course, Kathryn and Eddie truly do fall in love in the process and Eddie’s opinion of the army changes.
Main story cast: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, John Boles, and Mary Astor
Special appearance cast: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Lena Horne, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt, Donna Reed, June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Virginia O’Brien.
Studio: MGM
Year: 1943
Judy’s scene: Judy is one of the star performances saved for the end of the film. She sings “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ Down at Carnegie Hall” as pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi accompanies her on piano. Judy is absolutely effervescent in her performance. With her hair worn loose and bouncy and dressed in a tan skirt, blouse, and crocheted vest, Judy looks stunning. She starts her performance behind the piano and quickly moves to the front, playing off Iturbi’s reactions as she sings. It’s a fun, light number and Judy completely owns it. You can watch it here:

Star Spangled Rhythm

Plot: Johnny (Eddie Bracken) uses time on leave from the Navy to show off his studio executive father (Victor Moore) to his sailor buddies. Johnny doesn’t realize that his father “Pop”, a former western star, has lied to him and is actually in the lowly position of studio gateman. When Johnny’s girl Polly (Betty Hutton) realizes the predicament, she helps Pop pull off the ruse of being head of the studio. They take over an office and Polly makes sure to distract the sailors with visits to the projection room and various sets. This leads to them watching Mary Martin and Dick Powell sing to one another on the screen and to the lot cameos of Preston Sturges and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. Johnny promises that his father will deliver a star-studded benefit on his base, and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, friends of Pop’s, make sure the event happens. This camp show is what leads to multiple skits and musical numbers by celebrities.
Main story cast: Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Victor Moore, Walter Abel
Special appearance cast: Cecil B. DeMille, Preston Sturges, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, Ray Milland, Lynne Overman, Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Dick Powell, Alan Ladd, Mary Martin, Susan Hayward.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 1942
Black and White
Franchot’s scene: Franchot teams up with Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, and Lynne Overman for a comedy skit. In “If Men Played Cards as Women Do," John (Franchot) invites his pals Joe (Ray), Frank (Fred), and Mark (Lynne) over for a card game. Mimicking how they feel women behave, Joe and John try on a hat, Frank bemoans a run in his sock and an aching body from all-day shopping, Joe criticizes the help, and they all inspect Lynne’s new suit (which they deem snug in the hips), and all gossip about Joe’s “mess” of a house. Once the card game starts, Frank distracts himself with grooming while they all get confused about how many cards to deal, what the cards are, and how much money to bet. In the end, a mouse appears and the four men, squealing, jump up into their chairs. It's quite a funny skit and the four actors work well together.

Here's how the two films measure up:

Thousands Cheer
-more vibrant and lively with Technicolor
-strong core cast of Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, and John Boles with a better standalone story than that of Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, and Victor Moore in Star Spangled Rhythm.
-production numbers are more lavish and for a lack of better adjective, M-G-Mish

Star Spangled Rhythm
-With more comedy and slapstick routines including but not limited to those of Bob Hope (the shower scene cracked me up!) and Bing Crosby, Star Spangled Rhythm was just plain funnier than Thousands Cheer. It seemed to take itself less seriously than Thousands Cheer and was more light-hearted about it all. There were some hilarious quips thrown in about studio execs, Veronica Lake’s hairstyle, and the film colony.
-Bob Hope serves as a much better emcee than Mickey Rooney does in Thousands Cheer.

I enjoyed both films and feel they are both excellent examples of the morale boosting G.I. films that were so popular during this era. If you prefer big production numbers, colorful costumes and set design, and big-name musical talent, you’ll want to watch Thousands Cheer. If you’re more into the Hope-Crosby comedies and want to see what well-known dramatic actors can do with playful skits, then Star Spangled Rhythm is for you.

This is an incredibly late post for Crystal's blogathon, but I hope you'll head over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for more great entries on the incomparable Judy Garland.

*Due to a busy professional schedule in June-August, this will be my last participation in blogathons for a few months. I'll still be posting on Mr. Tone regularly here, but am going to take a little break from blogathons until my schedule becomes more manageable. Thanks!*

1 comment:

  1. Great essay. I always enjoy a good compare and contrast. I loved Judy's expressions in the number with Iturbi. I haven't seen Star Spangled Rhythm, but I know that variety shows like that can be pretty uneven. I'm glad you said it is funnier. That improves the odds I will watch it.