Briefly issued individually,Warners has brought together three war time classic musicals and put them into one set called "Warner Brothers and the Homefront Collection";"This is The Army","Thank Your Lucky Stars" and "Hollywood Canteen".And you can thank your lucky stars too,as these movies belong in everyone's collections.
"This is the Army",my favourite among the three,raised more than nine million dollars for the Army Emergency relief fund in its' day,while its' stage counterpart of the previous year raised around a cool two million.One heck of a take and with good reason.Irving Berlin's original shows "Yip,Yip Yaphank" back in WW1 and "This is the Army" for WW2 were extraordinarily successful because they struck a chord not only with servicemen but for the families of servicemen also.Both sides of the "fence" so to speak, could relate to the material being performed before their appreciative eyes.Thus the movie,an amalgam of both Berlin show's, brings that same spirit to the screen and audiences ate every patriotic moment of it up,showing their appreciation at the box office in spades.The story revolves around George Murphy,a dancer by profession, who puts on "Yip,Yip Yaphank" during WW1.When the show ends for the cast the troupe all march off to war.Murphy comes home with an injured leg and is unable to dance again.When WW2 rears its ugly head Murphy gets the idea of putting on another show for the boys but with an updated theme.By this time his son,played by Ronald Reagan,is also in the service and agrees to help his father out.Ron has a girl but refuses to marry her saying that he wants to get the war out of the way first.It's a back and forth tug until eventually Ronald relents later in the film.In the meantime the show goes on with a special number inserted for the original cast members of "Yip,Yip Yaphank",but the members blind side George who is watching from the audience.During the number,which is a close army"drill",he is called by name and rank to go onstage and take over.It's a tender moment for Murphy's character and for us.Near the end of the show legendary Irving Berlin takes to the stage himself to sing"How I hate to get up in the Morning".It's an unforgettable moment in motion picture history.
Through the entire picture we are entertained by some of the best Warner Brothers/First National could muster like Kate Smith doing her penultimate song"God Bless America",Alan Hale(real life father of Alan Hale Jr.,skipper from Gilligan's Island),George Tobias,Joan Leslie,Charles Butterworth,Sgt.Joe Louis(now enlisted boxing champion)and many more all backed by over 300 actual GIs.As I say it is my favourite of the three and it still stirs the soul whenever I watch it.The DVD includes "Warner at War",a new documentary narrated by Steven Spielberg,added commentary by Joan Leslie and Dr Drew Casper,a (deleted from American prints)scene for British audiences,the original overture and exit music re-inserted,a vintage newsreel,cartoon,a musical short and trailers.
"Thank Your Lucky Stars" involves the story of two producers SZ Sakall(one of my favourite all time character actors) and the incomparable Edward Everett Horton wanting to put on a Hollywood Cavalcade show.A concurrent plot involves a wanna be actor Joe Simpson played by legendary Eddie Cantor who befriends Joan Leslie,an aspiring song writer and Dennis Morgan,an aspiring singer.Now Joe just"happens" to look like Eddie Cantor and Eddie(Cantor plays himself also) holds the contract for Dinah Shore whom Sakall and Horton want for their show.Through alot of plot twists and funny turns,the show goes on successfully.Cantor is absolutely wonderful in this film playing a believable dual role.Musical numbers abound of course in this film as the likes of Spike Jones(Hotcha Corn-ya),Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best doing a duet "Ice Cold Katie"(watch for Best at the end getting a mouthful of confetti!),Betty Davis singing"They're always too Young or too Old",Errol Flynn talking/singing "That's what they Jolly well Get",Dinah Shore in numerous lovely numbers,Anne Sheridan,Jack Carson and Alan Hale in an hilarious "Goin' North" routine,Dennis Morgan and Eddie Cantor, sing and strut their stuff in grand style.There is a fantasy number sung by Dennis Morgan called "Good Night,Good Neighbour" which features Alexis Smith in it.Dennis is seeing home and serenading a latin American beauty.This a nod,firstly,to the "good neighbour policy",specifically to our neighbours in South America.Secondly as you watch you are immediately struck by the fact that though well executed,the ideal person for the number should have been Carmen Miranda.But unfortunately Carmen was very busy lady over at 20th Century Fox.
This film is also famous for Sakall out-bullying Humphrey Bogart;it IS a funny moment with Bogart hoping his "...fans don't hear about this".The DVD includes a vintage newsreel,two musical shorts,a patriotic short,a vintage Bugs cartoon,trailers and the radio broadcast recreation of the show with much of the original cast.
"Hollywood Canteen" also has an amazing list of Warner stars being trotted out to entertain us and entertain they do.The story is about a wounded GI Slim Green(fresh faced Robert Hutton) and Sgt Nowland(Dane Clark) who come back on medical leave to Hollywood.Slim wanders Hollywood alone looking at the sights until he ends up at the Hollywood Canteen,the famous service club for GIs.Eventually his sergeant joins him and Slim finds himself in love with actress Joan Leslie(it is mutual) and his sergeant with a studio guide.One night Slim returns and finds he is the 1,000,000th serviceman to enter the Canteen and is feted by one all and picks Leslie as his escort until he has to return to active duty at the end of the weekend.When his train is about to pull out for his return Joan,who ran out of gas,just makes it and frantically looks and finds her man and both end up kissing as the train pulls out(an all too familiar real war time scene).The plot is as transparent as Saran Wrap but it nonetheless is effective in relaying an undercurrent of sentiment and slight realism throughout.Hutton plays a reticent and shy GI to a tee and his performance really makes the picture work as well as it does.You can bet any real GI watching that film would have empathized fully with Slim.As co-founders of the real Hollywood Canteen,Bette Davis and John Garfield are in the movie throughout.The laughs and musicals kicks come from stars like Jack Benny,Joe E Brown,Peter Lorre,Sydney Greenstreet,Barbara Stanwyck,Joan Crawford,Joan McCracken,Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers,Carmen Cavalarro,Jimmy Dorsey,The Andrew Sisters and so many more.The DVD includes a vintage newsreel,three patriotic shorts,three vintage cartoons and trailers.
Technically each film of this set has been newly transferred with great care and some elements even restored."This is the Army" fell into the public domain sometime in the 70s and has been seen for years in a terrible,incomplete and washed out state.This print,fully restored,is simply magnificent.I don't think it looked any better in 1943!The other two films are in black and white and are likewise simply beautiful to behold.Warners is to be given top marks for their efforts here;they have gone the extra mile and it certainly shows.
In conclusion, I just cannot say enough about these films for their entertainment value and just how wonderful they all look.You will certainly find your favourites among these three gems but I warn you it will be tough deciding which.Each is packed with some of Warner Brothers/First Nationals' best stars of that era and are showcased in their best light.At the same time they provide us with as great an entertainment value now as they did over 65 years ago.Besides their obvious value as musicals they are now also historically important pieces.This set therefore is a definite must have;get yours now.