Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, Strike Up the Band

Film Events at the Walter Reade Theatre
Judy Garland: All Singin’, All Dancin’, All Judy!
July 28 & 29, 2011 [festival runs July 26-August 9, 2011]
165 West 65th Street
event web site:

Three of the four Garland-Rooney “put on a show” musicals that firmly established, along with The Little Rascals (Our Gang) comedies and possibly other movies, the cinematic idea of kids collectively developing barn-based group entertainments for a cause, are on my agenda back-to-back over two days.  Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway and Strike Up the Band involve groups of kids, a kind of romance between Judy and Mickey’s characters, middle class living and high school adventures.  A fourth movie Girl Crazy sometimes discussed as part of this “put on a show” grouping I’ll see next week — and for me differs on a number of significant dimensions from the other three: the players are a bit older, the setting is a college rather than a high school, and Judy is the gorgeous young woman now being pursued. All these movies are familiar to me.  These viewings are my first of these films on the big screen.

Wednesday July 28: Babes in Arms (1939)

Patsy Barton (Judy) instructing Mickey Moran (Mickey) how “Where or When” should be sung.

Second generation vaudeville performers Patsy Barton (Judy) and Mickey Moran (Mickey) live with their parents and other vaudeville kids on Long Island in this nostalgic performance piece.  In the 1930s the great vaudeville days of 40 weeks on the road and summers off in the country are fading in light of other forms of entertainment and the vaudeville families are struggling.  Mickey is a bandleader and songwriter who has whipped off “Good Morning” just before the movie opens and we meet Patsy and Mickey performing and selling it to a music publishers in one of the movie’s opening scenes.  Bit parts entertain — look for Margaret Hamilton as Martha Steele, the woman from the social welfare board who wants to put the kids in a work home, and her nephew Jeff played by Rand Brooks, also known this movie year as Scarlett O’Hara’s first husband. Patsy sings up a storm, Mickey clowns and plays grown up, the kids band together, pearls of wisdom are conveyed by parents and accepted by children.

Favorite dialogue lines that land with me and the audience at my screening with equal pow:

  • Patsy: “I figure you have to know what you’re singing about before you can get the idea over to other people.”
  • Patsy (in “I Cried For You” patter): “I know I’m no glamour girl, like Baby … like HER.  But maybe someday you’ll realize that glamour isn’t the only thing in this world.  If your show’s a flop you’ll find that you can’t eat glamour for breakfast.” The sequence ends with the delightful “as I speed through the dark night into the abyss of oblivion I can only say thanks, thanks for the memory.“
  • Mickey to Judge on question of being sent to trade school: “Being in show business you can’t teach us a trade … we’ve already got one.”

Wednesday July 28: Babes on Broadway (1941)

Director Busby Berkeley, Mickey, Judy on set. “How About You”

New York City, settlement houses, young talented kids coming to town to make good.  Introduced by Alexander Woollcott as himself (quite familiar to me as a long time Algonquin Round Table fan) and his radio show “The Town Crier” in the movie’s opening moments bring us into this world.  Tommy Williams (Mickey) and his buddies have been in town for a while tapping in a restaurant, trolling for their big break.  Penny Morris (Judy) is a New York local, daughter of a music teacher and conductor, also trying to break into the business.  They meet cute (she’s crying in the drug store and he tells her she “cries awfully pretty”), and the story begins.  While Babes in Arms is a story about coming through with your obligations to family (and family equals show business), Babes on Broadway is a story of balancing personal ambition with community responsibilities: take an individual opportunity in a show or help raise money for the settlement kids to have a few weeks in the country.  And throw in some sympathetic pre-Pearl Harbor “bundles for Britain” patriotic fervor, and you have this movie in a nutshell.  And you’ll never think of New York in the month of June quite the same way again.

Favorite dialogue lines:

  • Tommy to Penny: “I have a feeling you’re going to be that unknown quality in my life.”
  • “Every theatre is a haunted house — ghosts with grease paint.”

Thursday July 29: Strike Up the Band (1940)

Librarian Mary Holden ponders her future in the song “Nobody”

Mickey is Jimmy Connors the Little Drummer boy in this show, with brief dialogue explaining that he has graduated but is still hanging around at the high school attempting to get up a jazz band.  Mary Holden (Judy) is still in school, working at the library, sings with the band.  Will the kids be able to get the money together to audition in Chicago for big band leader Paul Whiteman (who plays himself in the movie)?  Will Jimmy convince his widowed mother that his dreams of being a band leader are just as viable and respectable as becoming a doctor like his deceased father? Will you ever see fruit the same way after spending some time with the Vincente Minnelli-directed animated fruit orchestra scene on the Holden dinner table?  Will Jimmy pay attention to Mary as something other than a pal?  Can you guess?

Favorite dialogue lines:

  • Mary to Jimmy: “Just because you have a pair of long pants on, you think you know everything.”
  • Mary (to a pal about Jimmy’s obliviousness): “It does something to a girl’s spirit to keep fighting a losing battle to a snare drum.”

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 31, 2011)

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