Babes in Arms Reviews
1939 certainly was a landmark career for Garland as she starred in not only this one, but also the timeless classic, the Wizard of Oz. She splits her screen time here with Rooney, but still has many entertaining music numbers that show off her girlish charm and terrific singing voice (as she also did in the Wizard of Oz). Rooney could not be any more appealing as his boyish charm and energy paint a clear portrait for his role as Mickey Moran, an underprivileged young man who dreams of putting on a great production to save his family and friends during hard times.
Some critics frowned upon this one as its numbers and motives seem cheap and deserve less recognition than other films of the period. This may be somewhat true, but the young leads are so appealing and the production value so entertaining, few will argue that there are worse ways for one to spend a few hours of their life.
This one also started off a series of musicals aimed at a young audience, most of which also starred Judy Garland and made the two stars good friends in reality. One should greatly admire the mature performances all around and the productions with musical quality they produce. It is somewhat exaggerated at times but is so entertaining, one should have no problem getting into it. The final production at the filmâ??s finale is for sure the filmâ??s biggest highlight.
The problem, as always, with topical humour is that it rapidly becomes dated humour. A restored sequence in this movie, which had been trimmed after Roosevelt's death, features him solving the world's problems . . . through dance! Which is, to the modern eye, a little disconcerting on several levels, not least being that, by the time the film was released in the US, Germany had invaded Poland. Also, you know, FDR by that point not so much about the dancing. Before 1921, possibly. But even leaving that aside, which was easy for audiences to do for a long time, Mickey Rooney does three impersonations over the course of the film. Clark Gable, well, yes; Clark Gable was in one of the best-known films of the year. But who these days (other than me) knows Lionel Barrymore as anything more than old Mr. Potter, nemesis of George Bailey? And who knows Eddie Cantor at all? And, of course, there is blackface. Lots and lots of blackface.
Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney, taking a break from playing Andy Hardy) and Patsy Barton (Judy Garland, done with being Dorothy Gale) are showbiz kids. They were born and raised in vaudeville, that old-time starter of so many later radio and film careers. Only these kids are coming of age at the death of vaudeville, as the film really takes off in 1927, at the origin of talkies. The kids' parents go off to do a revival, and the threat is held over the kids that they're all going to end up in the system on a workfarm of some sort. Margaret Hamilton, also a refugee from Oz, is going to send them there. Mickey has sold a song to some Broadway bigshot for a hundred bucks, and he has the idea to save the family fortune by putting on a show in the barn. He recruits, and borrows over $200 from, former child movie star "Baby" Rosalie Essex (June Preisser). Her crush on Mickey threatens to come between him and his true love, Patsy.
Honestly, though, Margaret Hamilton kind of has a point. After all, there's a reason child performers are required to have on-set tutors now. Mickey Moran has dropped out of school, and no one much seems to have a problem with it. Except, again, Margaret Hamilton. Judge John Black (Guy Kibbee) seems to think show people are just the most adorable thing, even actually saying that they're like children, and only Margaret Hamilton is willing to stand up for the idea that the children's needs aren't being met. After all, the parents take off to Schenectady, from what I can tell leaving just the older kids in charge. Yes, all right, Mickey Rooney was nineteen at this point, but Judy Garland was seventeen, still a minor. And even taking into account Molly Moran (Betty Jaynes) and Don Brice (Douglas McPhail), there are an awful lot of kids just kind of running loose at that farm. They're said to skip school half the time, and they're pretty determined to follow their parents into show business even though it's quite plain that things aren't going so hot in the family trade. They really do need someone to look out for them, and while maybe Margaret Hamilton's solution isn't the best, it does seem like a better shot at a decent life than what they have.
It's funny, if you think about it, that one of the people looked down upon by the film is the child star--clearly based on Shirley Temple, who was roughly the same age as these kids--despite the fact that Mickey Rooney's first role was in 1926, Judy Garland's was in 1936, and Shirley Temple's was in 1932. It seems obvious to me that Baby Rosalie's parents were skimming from her salary, not an unknown practice, though it's supposed to be harder now. (I don't know how Dyllan's acting money is managed; I don't ask, because it's none of my business. I just assume he won't have trouble paying for film school next year.) Indeed, her father (Joseph Crehan) throws a fit because he thinks Mickey is taking advantage of her, though she sees it as staging the comeback Mickey Rooney so desperately wanted for all those years.
None of my friends seemed to have any idea what I was talking about when I referred to this as being the first movie wherein Mickey Rooney paired up with Judy Garland to put on a show in the barn. (And it is an honest-to-goodness barn, here, too, though they seem more to be using the barn as a backdrop, given events.) It's a genre dear to my heart as a concept, though I'm not sure how many movies I've ever actually seen in it. I don't even know how many there are to see. If the assumption that the first is the best is a reasonable one--given [i]Summer Stock[/i], with Gene Kelly instead of Mickey Rooney, I don't think it is, but anyway--the rest must be truly terrible. This one is a cute, harmless piece of fluff, especially placed in a context of its era, where it was okay to have a singing, dancing, Franklin and Eleanor. It hasn't aged well, but a lot of movies classic to their era don't. It's funny, though--for audiences of its era, better to cut the Roosevelts than the blackface. How times change!
It's billed as a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland flick...but really - it's Mickey's show most of the way. He plays Mickey Moran here, the young son of a once popular vaudeville team of Joe and Florrie Moran. Talking pictures have now replaced vaudeville as the primary entertainment venue for the general public. More and more former vaudeville stars find themselves out of work. Apparently there is a fear that the children of these former stars will all of a sudden band together in gangs - driven to lawlessness by the degraded economic standards of their lives. How corny is that?
But Mickey Moran is no quitter. With the help of his girlfriend Patsy (Judy Garland) - he plans on producing a successful musical and dig themselves out of their economic woes - and to also prove that vaudeville is not yet dead. It just needs to be infused with some youthful enthusiasm...!
The songs in this are all over the map. They range from great: Mickey and Judy singing "GOOD MORNING".......to cringe worthy: the minstrel number done in "blackface"!
Actually, Judy looks kinda fetching done up in a tanned makeup and a short frilly dress - but that blackface getup on Mickey is just downright frightful...brrrrrrrrrr. Luckily, the minstrel number is aptly interrupted by an "act of god" - which is actually pure brilliance now that I think about it!
Mickey Rooney also does a swell impersonation of Clark Gable and an even better one of Lionel Barrymore in a scene where he coaches a couple of young actors - another highlight of the film for me.
I'll see if this film will grow on me upon re-watches.
For now I rate it an interesting 7.5