Thursday, April 24, 2008
Retro Movie Review: Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Stage Door Canteen (1943) is patriotic propaganda from an age when that was the glorious norm. Watching this today makes one long for days of innocence, when even warfare could seem noble and positive. Since I hate warfare and the fact that our country seems so good at getting embroiled in so many wars, it’s an odd feeling to long for such a thing—but there it is. The entertainment is a who’s who of the WW II era. I wished Harpo's appearance included some harp playing--he was run off too soon. Loved seeing an extended segment with Edgar Bergen / Charlie McCarthy / Mortimer Snerd! Edgar Bergen was soooo young and quite the brilliant comedian/ performer. Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, also provides a wonderful moment of tap dancing and army-themed comedy. The music is amazing, and the romance stories are engaging and at times bittersweet. Really what you get here is an entertainment variety show with a loose framing narrative, giving you the feel of a few evenings in a USO canteen. The movie also reminds us of our positive attitudes toward Russians and Chinese allies at this point in our history.
For more on Stage Door Canteen, I have stolen the following text for your reading pleasure:
Stage Door Canteen (1943), directed by Frank Borzage (A Farewell to Arms) in support of the war effort, prefigures Anchors Aweigh and On the Town in depicting the lives of servicemen on leave in the big city. Countless British and American celebrities put in an appearance--everyone from Dame Judith Anderson to Katharine Hepburn, Count Basie to Benny Goodman. The story concerns three soldiers and the female volunteers they fall for at the canteen of the title--a real-life Manhattan nightspot--before shipping out for points unknown. While the largely unknown principals (Cheryl Walker, William Terry, etc.) handle the drama and romance, bigger stars like Harpo Marx and Tallulah Bankhead take care of the comedy and scene-stealing supporting bits. This historical document was most commonly shown in an edited-for-TV 93-minute version but is now available again in its original--more entertaining--132-minute length. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Director: Frank Borzage
Running Time: 135 min.
Release Date: Jan 01, 1943
Cast: Edgar Bergen, Ethel Edgar Bergen, Ethel Merman, George Jessel, Gracie Fields, Gypsy Rose Lee, Harpo Marx, Helen Hayes, Hugh Herbert, Ina Claire, Jean Hersholt, Judith Anderson, Katharine Hepburn, Kenny Baker, Lynn Fontanne, Ralph Bellamy, Ray Bolger, Tallulah Bankhead