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During World War II, Hollywood supported the war effort in a variety of ways. Some stars joined the armed forces; others joined the U.S.O. to entertain the troops around the world. Those who stayed home helped out at the Hollywood Canteen, where lonely servicemen passing through Los Angeles on their way to the war in the Pacific could enjoy top-notch entertainment, dance with a movie star and be served a meal by famous celebrities. Studios made all-star films like MGM's Thousands Cheer (1943) and Warner Bros.' Hollywood Canteen (1944), which were shown first to the troops before being released to the public.
Warner Bros' all-star extravaganza Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) not only served as a morale booster for the troops, it also succeeded as a charity effort, with stars donating their $50,000 salaries to the Hollywood Canteen. The musical numbers in the film hang on a flimsy plot about an unknown songwriter and an unknown singer (played by Joan Leslie and Dennis Morgan) who end up appearing in a wartime benefit show. Eddie Cantor plays a dual role, both as an over-the-top, egomaniacal version of himself, and as a sweet-natured tour bus driver who can't get a job as an actor because he looks too much like Eddie Cantor. The entertainer's self-parodying performance, along with those of beloved character actors S.Z. ("Cuddles") Sakall and Edward Everett Horton, are engaging. But the real fun of Thank Your Lucky Stars is seeing Warner Bros.'s top stars kick up their heels in song-and-dance numbers.
Dramatic divas Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland chewed gum through a jazzy vaudeville number. De Havilland claimed the gum was her idea to disguise the fact that she was lip-synching her vocals, which were dubbed by Lynn Martin. Errol Flynn plays a boastful cockney sailor, lampooning his war hero image in the jaunty musical number, "That's What You Jolly Well Get." Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best have fun with a novelty number, Ann Sheridan sings a torch song, and Alexis Smith shows off the dancing skills that would win her acclaim decades later in Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, Follies (1971).
Appropriately, two of the biggest hits in Thank Your Lucky Stars were performed by the founders of the Hollywood Canteen, John Garfield and Bette Davis. Garfield made fun of his screen image, singing a tough-guy version of "Blues in the Night." And Davis wrapped her distinctive voice around a new song by Frank Loesser and Arthur Schwartz, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old." In the song, Davis complains that her man is off to war, and that the only available men who aren't drafted are geezers or pups. The elegantly dressed Davis enters a club looking for a dance partner, and ends up with young Conrad Wiedell (actually a real dance contest winner), who proceeds to fling her around in a wild jitterbug. Davis recalled in her memoirs that Wiedell was terrified that he'd hurt her. Davis told him, "forget about who I am...let your instincts come to the fore, and just do it!" Wiedell did just that, and the number was a sensation. The song was Loesser's first big hit (he would go on to write the songs for Guys and Dolls) and was nominated for an Academy Award, losing to "You'll Never Know" by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon (from the film, Hello Frisco, Hello). Kitty Kallen and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra had a hit with "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," and the song made it to number one on the radio program, The Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Davis would sing it many times over the years.
The real musicians featured in Thank Your Lucky Stars didn't fare so badly either. This was Dinah Shore's film debut, and the reviews took note of her talents. The Variety critic called her "a standout" in her three musical numbers, and added, "she photographs well, can wear clothes that are keyed strictly to eye-appeal....from here on, this songstress is a natural for films." Although Shore never had a big film career, she was very successful in radio and television. Critics also liked the antics of comic musician Spike Jones, and the singing of Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie. In fact, the New York Times' Bosley Crowther noted, Thank Your Lucky Stars was too much of a good thing: "Too many people sing....It is also too much (two hours) of a show. But in straight omnibus entertainment, that's what you have to expect."
Director: David Butler
Producer: Mark Hellinger, Jack L. Warner
Screenplay: Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, James V. Kern, based on a story by Everett Freeman & Arthur Schwartz
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Irene Morra
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Anton Grot, Leo K. Kuter
Music: Arthur Schwartz, Frank Loesser
Principal Cast: Eddie Cantor (Joe Simpson/Himself), Joan Leslie (Pat Dixon), Dennis Morgan (Tommy Randolph), S.Z. Sakall (Dr. Schlenna), Edward Everett Horton (Farnsworth), Ruth Donnelly (Nurse Hamilton), Joyce Reynolds (Girl With Book), Richard Lane (Barney Johnson).
BW-128m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri