Hollywood Canteen (1944) Review

Hwoodcanteen44

It’s a song and dance show. A musical, but not in the traditional sense. This isn’t Oklahoma. It’s a movie with a story, broken up by performances from some of the leading acts of its day. Fiction in a non-fiction setting with real people. Sort of. Add in it’s a bit of a propaganda film. The year is 1944, the guns of World War II are still firing. This isn’t a war movie, but there are soldiers in every scene. We’re at the Hollywood Canteen, and it’s a love story.

Yeah, I know. Christ, a love story. No, I haven’t lost my mind. I was trying to be a good husband and watch a movie with my wife she loves. Believe me, I’ve had to sit through worse. Was it that bad? No. Sure the story dragged on at certain points for me. There were great performances. One scene that made the movie for me, and the DVD special features were a bonus. Besides, I like old movies. Turner Classic fans unite.

Bette Davis and John Garfield founded the Hollywood Canteen (10.3.1942-11.22.1945). It was a club for allied service men and women, most of whom were going overseas. Their service uniform was the price of admission, and everything inside was free. The guilds and unions of Hollywood worked to get the Canteen up and running. The staff were volunteers, including the brightest of Hollywood stars. They did it all; entertained, cooked, waited, washed dishes. The female celebrities danced with the servicemen.

I don’t write about DVD special features. This time the special features are important. They add to the presentation of the film for their historical value. There’s three Warner Brothers cartoons from the early 1940s. One is a spoof of the movie using dogs instead of people. The others starred Bugs Bunny. One with Elmer Fudd, and one with Herman Goring. The Goring one had an apology before the cartoon for its portal of Germans. This one I’ve never seen, so it must be on the list of banned cartoons. A fine piece of animation propaganda with Goring in the Elmer Fudd role. Bugs even does a Hitler impersonation. There’s also three “Patriotic shorts”.  Newsreel footage, women in the marines, and another about serving the country. By today’s standards the marine women short shows sexual harassment in the work place.

Now for your featured presentation. The performances are wonderful. The big names were there. The Andrews Sisters. Jack Benny. Roy Rogers and Trigger. Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Alan Hale Sr. have cameos as do other Hollywood notables of the era. The scene with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet was my favorite. Did I mention Peter Lorre is excellent in everything?

The real stars are two army buddies, the main characters of the actual saga. Slim Green, the Romeo of this love story. His friend, Sergeant Brooklyn is the comedy relief. The plot is a basic guy trying to get girl love story. It’s worth watching at least once. If you can’t get into the story, enjoy the performances. And Peter Lorre.

            Copyright © Drew Martin 2015

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