Nov 23, 2008

Thousands Cheer

Over Veterans Day TCM showed movies, usually from the WW II period, about the military. Three of them, Hollywood Canteen, Stage Door Canteen, and Thousands Cheer focused on the home front.

Hollywood Canteen was shown first. The plot, a soldier visits the Hollywood Canteen and falls in love with a movie star. The plot serves mainly as an excuse for a number of cameos by actors and actresses who helped out at the canteen.

Stage Door Canteen was shown next. The plot is similar to Hollywood Canteen, soldier falls in love with girl at canteen. There were also the requisite cameos, including the sole film appearance of Katherine Cornell, who plays a scene from Romeo and Juliet with a soldier. There’s a bit more piety including musical renditions of The Lord’s Prayer and Schubert’s Ave Maria, as well as a brief speech in which Katherine Hepburn urges the girl to pray for her soldier. (Hepburn in private life was, if Wikipedia is to be believed, an atheist.)

Thousands Cheer has a plot that actually generates most of the action. This involves Katherine Grayson as a colonel’s daughter, and Gene Kelly as a soldier. The two meet, fall in love, encounter difficulties (his bad attitude towards discipline, her mother), and eventually everything is resolved in time for him to ship out. Grayson’s role serves as the catalyst for a show for the troops before they embark. Stars involved include Eleanor Powell, shown above, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Jack Benny, and others.

What’s interesting is that these films were actually patriotic. They actually supported the troops. Can you imagine Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, or Leonardo DiCaprio getting into their cars, driving down to Cahuenga Blvd. to wait on tables for GIs and other personnel? Yet Bogart, Bacall, and Cagney did that, and some of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen (Dorothy Dandridge, Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, and Jennifer Jones, among others) did just that.

The two Canteen pictures were from Warners, which had a bit of a left wing reputation, and it got in a bit of for Mission to Moscow. The pictures from the studio during the thirties were gritty and realistic, something that contributes to its being perceived as left wing. The pictures from Warners, beginning with Confessions of a Nazi Spy, were pro-war. (The release date is May 6, 1939, so that predates the start of the war in Europe by almost 4 months.) Warners maintained a pretty consistent position from 1939 to 1945.

WW II was an acceptable war to the Hollywood and New York elite. The Korean war was less acceptable, and the war in Vietnam was completely unacceptable by Hollywood standards. Outside of John Wayne’s The Green Berets I can think of no film that is pro-war for Vietnam.

It is now totally unthinkable for Hollywood to produce a film that supports the current war.