"Stage Door Canteen" comes up with a wartime romance to showcase the talented stars who served food to the troops and provided entertainment at the Stage Door Canteen. There are about five dozen stars in this film, from Judith Anderson to Ed Wynn, with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Helen Hayes and Gypsy Rose Lee, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, Harpo Marx and Johnny Weissmuller in between. At one point Katharine Cornell does the balcony scene with young Lon McCallister while standing in the serving line. For some reason most of the songs are written by Al Dubin and James Monaco, including "She's a Bombshell from Brooklyn," We Musn't Say Goodbye," and "Sleep Baby Sleep (in Your Jeep)." There is also the Rodgers & Hart song, "The Girl I Love To Leave Behind," a rather appropriate title given the situation.
The romantic plot of the film has Eileen (Cheryl Walker), a junior hostess at the New York City Canteen, meeting Private Ed "Dakota" Smith (William Terry). Despite her best intentions, she falls in love with Dakota, even though this means loses her pass at the Canteen because she has broken the rule about dating service men. Katharine Hepburn, serving as the Officer of the Day, allows Eileen to wait inside for her fiance, but then word comes that the boys sailed that morning and Dakota is already gone. Hepburn then consoles Eileen and gives an inspirational speech on the importance of the Canteen's work. It is certainly interesting to have this dramatic moment pop up at the end of this film, but the cause was certainly worthwhile.
Eighty percent of the profits from this 1943 film directed by Frank Borzage went to the Canteens operated by the American Theater Wing across the country. "Stage Door Canteen" is a fun little film to watch, especially if you remember who Xavier Cugat and Paul Muni were way back when. Be sure that you get the 132-minute version of the film and not the shorter 93-minute version that cuts out a lot of the performances. If you are looking for a double bill, then the obvious choice is "Hollywood Canteen," which is basically the same deal but set in Los Angeles rather than New York and offers the Andrews Sisters, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Roy Rogers and Trigger, Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra and much, much more.