Sunday, February 3, 2013


The other day I was flipping through all of the channels we have - most of which has nothing worthwhile to see, but I stumbled upon a channel called Retro. I guess they screen old movies sometimes as well. I started watching This Is The Army, a patriotic movie at its most patriotic. I haven't seen this film in years. Unfortunately, the copy they showed on this channel looked like a fifth generation copy from an old Beta video recorder, but the movie was still watchable. (A couple of days later TCM showed the movie with a much better quality print.)

This Is the Army is a 1943 American wartime motion picture produced by Hal B. Wallis and Jack L. Warner, and directed by Michael Curtiz, and a wartime musical designed to boost morale in the U.S. during World War II, directed by Sgt. Ezra Stone. The screenplay by Casey Robinson and Claude Binyon was based on the 1942 Broadway musical by Irving Berlin, who also composed the film's 19 songs and broke screen protocol by singing one of them. The movie features a large ensemble cast, including George Murphy, Joan Leslie, Alan Hale, Sr., Rosemary DeCamp, and Lt. Ronald Reagan, while both the stage play and film included soldiers of the U.S. Army who were actors and performers in civilian life.

The title of the movie is from the well-known Berlin song that is featured in the movie, which is also the title of the musical-within-a-movie staged by the younger Jones. The movie features star appearances by Irving Berlin, Kate Smith, Frances Langford and Joe Louis as themselves. If Washington, D.C. officials did not like the idea of a musical/revue about the Army, playwright Irving Berlin was ready to call it This Is the Navy, or This Is the Air Corps. Smith's full-length rendition of Berlin's "God Bless America" is arguably the most famous cinematic rendition of the piece. Louis appears in a revue piece called "What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear", with James Cross (lead singer and dancer), William Wycoff (dancer in drag), Marion Brown (heavyset dancer), and a chorus of perhaps a dozen, the only spoken/sung scene that includes African-Americans. Louis also appears in two other scenes, one in a boxing match, and the second being the stage door canteen number (he did not speak in either scene).

One of the film's highlights is Irving Berlin himself singing his song "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning." Berlin's natural singing voice was so soft that the recording volume had to be increased significantly in order to record acceptably.

The celebrity impersonation "hamburger" sequence includes accurate spoofs of Broadway stars Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt and Ethel Barrymore, and film stars Charles Boyer and Herbert Marshall. The revue pieces also include acrobat routines, several comedy pieces, including one with Hale in drag, a minstrel show sketch (oftentimes removed from consumer videos and television broadcasts), and tributes to the Navy and the Air Corps.

Although the core of the movie consists of the musical numbers, the movie also contains a veneer of a plot involving the wartime love interests of both the father and the son. I have to laugh at the Hollywood casting for the father and son. George Murphy, born in 1902, played the father - and Ronald Reagan, born in 1911, played his son! Nine years separated the actors, but at the time Reagan looked so youthful, and George Murphy always looked older than his years. The two would be lifelong friends, and each would get involved in politics later in their careers. Reagan would warmly and jokingly refer to Murphy, who preceded him into politics by a couple of years, as "my John the Baptist."

The film is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, and it pales in comparison to Irving Berlin's other cinematic efforts. However, it was what it was for its time - a great piece of celluloid patriotism that the country and the world needed at the time. The musical numbers are worth seeing in the movie - Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" is worth it alone. Like the Broadway version, Irving Berlin donated every penny he made off of the film. That alone makes it a great film for 1943...



  1. I find this war propaganda films (even with a plot) fascinating to watch.

  2. arl Laemmle, head of Universal, had been deeply dissatisfied with the 1929 film, and had long wanted to make an all-sound version of the hit musical. It was originally scheduled to be made in 1934,

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