Third of the four wildly popular Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland let’s-put-on-a-show musicals has an even more idiotic storyline then second entry STRIKE UP THE BAND/’40, but offers compensation in a striking bump in production values and an equally striking change in Garland’s advance from girlhood to womanhood. This time, the kids (and many talented pals) are struggling actors waiting for their big break. But first, they’ll have to help a bunch of British war refugee kids & local settlement house tots with a fund-raising Block Party before cleaning up a dusty old theater for their semi-professional show. Good deeds that land them in a big-time B’way revue featuring a huge cast in a BlackFace Minstrel routine. Yep, we're back to the original sin of American ShowBiz, the BlackFace Minstrel Show. And this time, it's not just appalling, even worse, it’s uncomfortably superb. You cringe, you applaud, you feel unclean. (Give it our highest BLACKFACE WARNING.) Director Busby Berkeley, never entirely at ease in this adolescent series, really delivers in all the big production stuff, and he's truly on fire in the physically stunning Minstrel show. So too Garland, ‘corked up’ for Harold Rome’s ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones.’ (Ironic in a way it never was pre-Obama.) Confounded by all this demeaning glorification?; try star-spotting cameos from Donna Reed, Margaret O’Brien, and (a real toughie especially for IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE fans) a quick glance at Robert J. Anderson, the great kid who played the teenage James Stewart. Not listed on IMDb, he shows up right after the British refuges gift Rooney with a thank-you watch.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Vincente Minnelli designed (and filmed?) the theater ghost ‘Numbo’ that finds Judy & Mickey dreaming themselves into famous actors of the past. The fluid staging & camera technique is more Minnelli than Berkeley as Mickey hams Mansfield’s Cyrano; George M. Cohan & Harry Lauder. Judy lets her costumes do the impressions on a couple of singers and then a recitation (in French) as Sarah Bernhardt that sounds weirdly like Liza Minnelli.
DOUBLE-BILL/LINK: The Rudolf Ising cartoon on the DVD (DANCE OF THE WEED), is a nice looking gloss on FANTASIA/’40 (excellent background work, less effective flower ballerinas). But the gagsters at Warners did this even better with A CORNY CONCERTO/’43.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Why a Family Friendly label on a BLACKFACE WARNING film? Hiding ugly things doesn’t make them go away. How else to understand where we are and how we got here.