All-Singing, All-Dancing Soldiers
One of the side effects of this project is that I tend to be about the only person on Rotten Tomatoes to have seen some of the movies. (Yes, this is library, not Netflix--it appears in their catalog as [i]Irving Berlin's This Is the Army[/i].) Sometimes, this is not necessarily a bad thing. This movie was not terrible, though it's World War II propaganda at its finest. With a little residual World War I propaganda thrown in for variety's sake. It also features some wildly dated material--and the worst bit of it even has someone saying that it isn't dated and is always in good fun. Times were different then, of course, but there's a reason there's a disclaimer at the beginning of the film about how certain of the bits of the movie are perhaps not in the best taste, for all they're a thing that happened then.
First, it is World War I. In order to improve morale, a bunch of guys are allowed to put on a show, which they take on tour. And then, they're pretty much marched offstage and onto ships to take them overseas. Some of them die, and the lead of the show, Jerry Jones (George Murphy), gets seriously wounded and ends up with a gimpy leg. Obviously, he has to give up his career as a hoofer, but he becomes a show promoter instead. So that's all right. But then World War II rolls around, and we start by pretending we cared that the Germans invaded Poland. And the sons of the men who were in the first show go off and join the military and end up in a second show. Jerry's son Johnny (Ronald Reagan!) is one of them. He's also refusing to marry his childhood sweetheart (I didn't catch her name), because he doesn't think it will do her any good. Because he's stupid.
That whole subplot really bothered me. He was himself a war baby. His mother was a war bride. Theoretically, his parents should be able to tell him that there are, actually, substantive benefits to getting married before the man goes away to war. Heck, I considered it myself, though the benefits would go away when he came back, so we didn't do that. However, we have special circumstances. We don't count. Ronald Reagan's stance here doesn't make any sense, and I really wanted someone other than the girl to tell him so. She could be seen to be biased. His dad or his sergeant or his dad's sergeant could have set him straight on that, but it doesn't seem as though anyone even tried.
So that offensive stuff? Yeah, blackface. And that was bad enough. What's even worse is that some of the men in blackface are also in drag. Indeed, there's an awful lot of drag in the movie. It's kind of alarming. They kind of use it as a punishment for one of the characters at one point, but that doesn't seem to be the case for the other twenty or so people. If I remember correctly, it's all in the World War II show, too. It's not as though there aren't women in auxiliary capacities in the military by that point. Heck, Ronald Reagan's girlfriend, there, shows up in a uniform toward the end of the picture. Yeah, okay, Red Cross uniform. But still. And hell, there are actual black people in the show, including Sergeant Joe Louis. Sure, the sergeant, there, is stiff as hell, but doubtless there were other black soldiers who wouldn't be. Ditto actual women. I guess people thought this was funnier.
I've seen some good World War II propaganda. This isn't the worst of it, but it certainly isn't the best. Reagan is, as always, a bit on the stiff side, which is odd, given his later fame as--let's be honest with ourselves--a public performer. (Great Communicator my eye--great speech reader.) The odd thing is that the characters and so forth do not seem to have learned a lesson from the War to End All Wars. Once again, these men are being marched off the stage and onto transports, or at any rate back to their units. This should be familiar to everyone. The really heartbreaking part is that the finale is them singing about how they're going to go off to Europe and do it right this time. So it won't ever happen again.