Cast & Crew
Irrepressible entertainer Mike Donnelly headlines a successful act at Ciro's nightclub in Hollywood and is always eager to expand his routine. Late one evening after his show, Mike and his manager, Joey Kirby, and their showgirl dates are dining at a restaurant when newspaper columnist Barney Fisher makes a bet with the waiter that Mike will be unable to resist staging an impromptu performance. Eager to display a new gag to Joey, Mike indeed practices on patron Sgt. Crockett, who is not amused. The following day, Mike angrily reads Fisher's unflattering commentary about his late night shenanigans, while Joey opens the mail and discovers with horror Mike's draft notice. The Army board refuses to reconsider Mike's call-up because of his profession and within days Mike is at his new Army camp home with a fresh group of trainees. Left in temporary charge of the men, Mike immediately goes into one of his sketches, until he spots attractive nurse Lt. Colleen Rafferty, looking out the window of a nearby barracks. Mike immediately plays to Colleen until he is interrupted by his drill sergeant, Crockett, who is pleased to see him again. Later, during the routine medical examinations, Mike faints when given a shot and after awakening in the infirmary, flirts with Colleen to no avail. Over the next six weeks, Mike stumbles through training, refusing to take any of the exercises seriously and continually turning everything into a gag. One day, frustrated by the exhausting drills, Mike destroys a practice dummy in a rage and is sent to commanding officer Capt. Fred Karger. Karger gives Mike a pep talk and encourages him to accept Army life. Later, the men are given a forty-eight hour pass and Mike hurries to the infirmary to ask Colleen out, but she tells him she has promised to spend the weekend with her mother in Glendale. Colleen is driven home by Maj. Paul Whiteside, where her mother delightedly informs her that an old friend is waiting to see her. Colleen is taken aback to find Mike in her mother's kitchen. Mike talks Mrs. Rafferty into letting him stay in the guest room, where he uneasily watches Colleen bid farewell to Paul. That evening Mike talks Colleen into sitting on the porch with him and laments about not being taken seriously outside the stage. Colleen promises to spend the next day with Mike and the following evening, Mike takes her to Ciro's with Joey. When recognized by the club emcee, Mike renders one of his famous songs. Returning to his table, Mike is embarrassed when one of his former showgirl dates stops to talk, but excitedly accepts her invitation to a party, despite Colleen's clear lack of enthusiasm. When Fisher stops at Mike's table and criticizes him for still being a foolish, hammy performer, Mike grows angry and knocks the columnist down. In the confusion, Colleen departs. Back at the camp days later, Colleen refuses to accept Mike's apology, telling him he is too self-centered and can never forget he is an actor. In frustration, Mike tells off Crockett, who is forced to cancel Mike's next twenty-four hour pass. Desperate to see Colleen, who is returning to Glendale on her pass, Mike buys his buddy Tony's pass for $100 and slips off base. Meanwhile Crockett has taken his concerns about Mike to Karger, who requests to see Mike. Upon discovering Mike's absence, Crockett takes an MP to Colleen's home, where Mike has gone in search of Colleen, who has gone to the park with Paul. After Mike becomes embroiled in a boat mishap in the park involving Colleen, Paul, Crockett and the MP, he is returned to camp and placed in the guard house, where he reads another diatribe against him by Fisher. When Joey visits Mike, he is delighted to hear that Mike may be court-martialed and released from service, but a sober Mike finally admits he must take responsibity for his behavior. Upon leaving, Joey sees Colleen and reveals his belief that Mike may have turned the corner in accepting his position in the Army. Colleen hurries to Paul to ask for help in Mike's case. Mike is brought before Karger, who admits he was ready to court-martial Mike until Paul's intervention. Mike is placed on probation and given thirty days of hard labor. At the end of the grueling period, Mike has endured every challenge successfully and without complaint. When brought before Karger again, Mike learns he has been ordered overseas as part of an entertainment troop. Mike happily accepts his orders and is seen off by Joey and a happy Colleen, who promises to wait for his return.
Mary Lou Geer
Boyd Red Morgan
Ellis W. Carter
Willie Lee Duckworth
Richard Quine, Rooney's old friend, roommate, and fellow former MGM contractee, had just recently established himself as a director at Columbia. Quine worked on low-budget musicals for the studio; his first two features as solo director were Sunny Side of the Street (1951) starring current chart-topper Frankie Laine, and Purple Heart Diary (1951), a showcase for 1940s favorite Francis Langford. His next assignment was to work with Rooney, who had just been signed to a three-picture deal at Columbia for $75,000 a film. As Rooney wrote in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, "...it wasn't the money that attracted me. It was the presence at Columbia of Dick Quine, who was being given one of his first chances to direct. And he was going to direct me, his old buddy."
Aside from his work on a pair of unlikely Westerns starring Rod Cameron for Allied Artists, Sound Off was the first important screenplay assignment for another former actor: Blake Edwards, the future writer/director of such films as Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), The Pink Panther (1963), 10 (1979), and Victor Victoria (1982). Edwards co-wrote the script for Sound Off with Quine; the two would continue as partners on several films at Columbia.
The Edwards and Quine script for Sound Off quickly establishes that Los Angeles nightclub entertainer Mike Donnelly (Rooney) is an irrepressible (and sometimes obnoxious) force to be reckoned with. Donnelly has a popular stage show at Ciro's, which he is constantly seeking to improve, especially if he can turn the spotlight away from the supporting cast and back onto himself. He and his manager Joey Kirby (Sammy White) meet up with some girls at a local restaurant, and Donnelly makes a scene by trying out a new bit by dumping a salad on innocent patron Sgt. Crockett (Gordon Jones). Columnist Barney Fisher (Arthur Space) was present at the unseemly display and writes up "Mighty Mouse" in his column the next day. Donnelly explodes, but has little time to vent because Joey shows him an induction notice from the Army. In a moment of self-recognition, Donnelly ponders how he will fit in and asks, "How are they gonna take me?" At Boot Camp, Sgt. Crockett predictably appears as the drill instructor, and Donnelly quickly discovers a pretty nurse (Anne James) to occupy his attentions.
Mickey Rooney must have felt at home with several elements of the plot of Sound Off; in the first few years of his freelance career after leaving MGM, he had worked up a successful nightclub act which he performed in many high-profile clubs as well as on the Las Vegas strip. One also gets the feeling that Rooney willfully put his own perfectionist (and sometimes abrasive) personality into the Donnelly character. The fictional character could swing wildly from obnoxious to appealing; after striking out with several bad jokes during his induction exams, Donnelly eventually ingratiates himself with his fellow inductees by breaking into impromptu musical interludes. One of the sprightliest songs on the soundtrack, "Blow Your Own Horn," is a Mickey Rooney original.
The title Sound Off originated with a popular tune of the day. The tune began as a genuine military cadence or marching chant, credited to a Private Willie Duckworth and written while the soldier was in training at Fort Slocum in New York during WWII. "Duckworth's Chant" was issued as a V-Disc to servicemen around the world in 1944, so it became widely recognized in the closing months of the war. "Sound Off," as it was more widely known after the war, began to be heard on radio and film (most memorably in the MGM war picture Battleground ) and was covered by several popular bands. Probably the biggest-selling recording was by Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra on a 1951 release on RCA Victor Records; this record would have been fresh in the public's mind when the Columbia film was released just the following year. Columbia played up the musical appeal of Sound Off over the service comedy angle. The posters showed a tuxedo-clad Rooney wooing a chorus girl in a dance pose, with a tagline calling it "A musical maneuver in SuperCineColor."
The other two films produced under Rooney's contract with Columbia, and created by the Quine and Edwards team, were All Ashore (1953), another service comedy-musical, followed by a change-of-pace, Drive a Crooked Road (1954), a fine crime thriller. The Rooney-Quine-Edwards team worked together again on a TV series, a sitcom called The Mickey Rooney Show (aka Hey Mulligan 1954-1955), which aired for one season (33 episodes) on NBC. A few years later Rooney turned in a memorable supporting role in yet another Quine-Edwards service comedy for Columbia, the rollicking Operation Mad Ball (1957), which starred Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.
Producer: Jonie Taps
Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Richard Quine
Cinematography: Ellis W. Carter
Art Direction: Carl Anderson
Film Editing: Charles Nelson
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Mike Donnelly), Anne James (Lt. Coleen Rafferty), Sammy White (Joey Kirby), John Archer (Maj. Paul Whiteside), Gordon Jones (Sgt. Crockett), Wally Cassell (Tony Baccigalupi)
By John M. Miller
Released in United States Spring May 1952
Released in United States Spring May 1952