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Monday, May 4, 2009

THIS IS THE ARMY (1943)


After languishing for decades in miserable Public Domain prints, Warners & the Irving Berlin Estate have finally restored this galumphing piece of military morale boosterism so that we can, at last, properly see (and hear) the biggest hit of 1943; a fascinating slice of the times & (viewed with 1943 blinders in place) tremendous entertainment. Recent revue pics (THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES /’38 and FANTASIA/’41) had tanked, so a simple but effective storyline was added to give some narrative momentum to Irving Berlin’s army revues from WWI & II. And Warners' top helmer Michael Curtiz does wonders in making it all feel meaningful & dynamic, really working the modest story elements into something with a surprising emotional kick. The politically prescient duo of George Murphy & Ronald Reagan are totally believable as father & son B’way stagers, but we’re all here to check out the encapsulated revue material. The comedy skits inevitably fall flat, but Berlin’s cascade of novelty songs, patriotic anthems & heart-on-sleeve romantic ballads are grand. Who knew the army had so many Irish tenors? And where else in Hollywood can the full contradictory nature of America’s war-time racial divide be so clearly seen? Perhaps because he insisted that his self-contained show unit be run as the one & only fully-integrated military outfit in WWII, Berlin is equally comfortable with his black-face minstrel numbo ('Mandy’ from THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES of 1919) and with his newly minted all-black showstopper ‘What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear.’ For Berlin, it was all showbiz.

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