Warner Bros. stars Bette Davis & John Garfield were the driving force behind the Hollywood Canteen, the WWII nightclub where actors ‘bussed table’ for enlisted men. But the film HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN/’44 probably isn’t the patriotic All-Star Warner Bros. revue you vaguely recall, it’s this one. Here, Garfield sings ‘Blues in the Night,’ a bit flat, but recorded live, not synch’d; and Davis sings ‘They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,’ equally flat but who cares. Most of the speciality numbers from Arthur Schwartz (music) & Frank Loesser (lyrics) are dandy (Hattie McDaniel, Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Jack Carson & Alan Hale; all standouts) and carry you thru the needlessly tiresome plot with Eddie Cantor, Dinah Shore, Joan Leslie & Dennis Morgan. Cantor gets a double role; and that’s a lot of Cantor! A shame since he shines in a solo spot and, in a panicky hospital scene, still shows the immaculate vaudeville technique of his palmy Ziegfeld Follies days.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Hattie McDaniel really tears the place apart in ICE COLD KATIE. Wonder if they snipped it out down South the way M-G-M did when a Lena Horne number threw off too much heat? Or did McDaniel’s heft make black sexiness (or is it sexy blackness?) safe below the Mason-Dixon line?
DOUBLE-BILL: Rather than HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN or the East Coast STAGE DOOR CANTEEN/’43, take a step up to the Restored Edition of Irving Berlin’s THIS IS THE ARMY/’43 out on Warners. Even with the addition of a cornpone story, it remains a whopping good show. But beware of any leftover Public Domain issues. They may be cheap, but they’re no bargain.