Strike Up the Band


2h 1940
Strike Up the Band

Brief Synopsis

A high-school band sets out to win a national radio contest.

Film Details

Also Known As
Babes on Broadway
Genre
Comedy
Musical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 27, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

High school band drummer Jimmy Connors decides to inject some excitement into the Riverwood High School Band by converting it into a swing orchestra. After convincing Mary Holden to join the band as a vocalist, Jimmy asks Mr. Judd, the school principal, to allow the group to perform at the school dance. As the band rehearses for the dance, Mary becomes frustrated that Jimmy is more interested in her vocal abilities than their courtship. At the dance, the band is a hit, and Jimmy decides to enter Paul Whiteman's school band contest in Chicago. To raise their traveling expenses, the band stages a Gay Nineties melodrama for the Elks Club, but afterward they are still short fifty dollars for the trip. Jimmy's troubles multiply when Barbara Frances Morgan, a precocious blonde, enrolls in Riverwood and decides to pursue him. However, Jimmy's interest in Barbara grows when Mr. Morgan hires Paul Whiteman and his band to play at his daughter's birthday party. At the party, Jimmy and his band stage an impromptu performance, which attracts Whiteman's attention. Whiteman offers Jimmy a job playing drums, but Jimmy refuses, remaining loyal to his band. Whiteman then advances Jimmy the fifty dollars they need to go to Chicago, but on the day of their departure, Willie, one of the band members, falls gravely ill from an injury that he suffered during the Elks show and needs an operation in Chicago to save his life. When Jimmy selflessly offers the band's travel money to charter a plane to fly Willie to Chicago, a sympathetic Mr. Morgan sends the band to Chicago aboard one of his company's trains. At the big broadcast, Jimmy and his band are crowned the winners, thus Jimmy's dreams are realized.

Film Details

Also Known As
Babes on Broadway
Genre
Comedy
Musical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Sep 27, 1940
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Wins

Best Sound

1940

Award Nominations

Best Score

1940

Best Song

1940

Articles

Strike Up the Band


The huge success of the 1939 musical Babes in Arms directed by Busby Berkeley and starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland led MGM to quickly look for a follow up utilizing the same three talents. At first MGM seriously considered starring Rooney and Garland in the college musical Good News, but studio chief Louis B. Mayer changed his mind and chose Strike Up the Band (1940) as the team's next project for no other reason than it sounded 'patriotic.' The spirit of nationalism was running high with the stirrings of World War II abroad, and Strike Up the Band would showcase the optimism of America's youth at their apple pie best.

The title Strike Up the Band was taken from the hit Broadway show with music by George and Ira Gershwin. Other than the title and the rousing song of the same name, however, the film's story bore no resemblance to the original text. Writers Fred Finklehoffe and John Monks, Jr. came up with a new plot that better suited the youthful co-stars. In the new script, Rooney would play Jimmy Connors, a frustrated high school band drummer who dreams of leading his own modern jazz orchestra, and Garland would appear as Mary, a girl who sings with the band but can't get Jimmy to notice her as anything more than a friend. When Jimmy and his band get the chance to audition for the famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman in Chicago, they exceed their own expectations in raising money for the trip and the chance to live their dreams.

Strike Up the Band was really Mickey Rooney's film. He had earned his place as the top box office star of his day, a title previously held by Shirley Temple. The film showcased Rooney's many talents including acting, singing, dancing, drumming, and comedy. Though Judy Garland's role was mainly one of support, it was a nice featured part for her, and she got to sing several memorable songs including "Nobody," "La Conga" and a beautiful new number written especially for her called "Our Love Affair," which was nominated for an Academy Award. Judy turned 18 years old while making this picture and also met one of her future husbands, famed director Vincente Minnelli, though it would be another five years before they married. Minnelli was on the set one day at the request of the film's producer Arthur Freed who was having trouble with a particular scene in Strike Up the Band. "We need a big production number here," Freed told Minnelli. "Mickey and Judy are in the house, and he's telling her he wants to be a famous band leader like Paul Whiteman. Something big has to happen." Minnelli looked around and noticed a bowl of fruit on the table. "Why don't you take that bowl of fruit and have Mickey set each piece of fruit as if it were a musical instrument," responded Minnelli as he recounts in his 1974 autobiography I Remember it Well. 'Apples for fiddles, oranges for brass, bananas for woodwinds. Then have Mickey conduct with his hands. The pieces of fruit are now puppet characters of musicians.' Freed was thrilled with the idea and used it. The resulting highly imaginative number was one of the film's highlights, prompting Louis B. Mayer to forever call Minnelli "the genius who took a bowl of fruit and made a big production number out of it."

The combination of Busby Berkeley, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland proved to be box office magic for the second time on Strike Up the Band. The trio worked successfully together again on Babes on Broadway in 1941. On their fourth film together Girl Crazy (1943), however, Berkeley was replaced as director by Norman Taurog though he retained credit as a choreographer. Strike Up the Band remains a fine example of Busby Berkeley's unique style and creative integration of camera work with music and dance and the phenomenal talents of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Fred F. Finklehoffe, John Monks, Jr.
Art Direction: John S. Detlie, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Ray June
Editing: Ben Lewis
Music: Roger Edens, George Stoll
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Jimmy Connors), Judy Garland (Mary Holden), Paul Whiteman (Paul Whiteman), June Preisser (Barbara Frances Morgan), William Tracy (Phillip Turner).
BW-121m. Closed captioning

by Andrea Passafiume
Strike Up The Band

Strike Up the Band

The huge success of the 1939 musical Babes in Arms directed by Busby Berkeley and starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland led MGM to quickly look for a follow up utilizing the same three talents. At first MGM seriously considered starring Rooney and Garland in the college musical Good News, but studio chief Louis B. Mayer changed his mind and chose Strike Up the Band (1940) as the team's next project for no other reason than it sounded 'patriotic.' The spirit of nationalism was running high with the stirrings of World War II abroad, and Strike Up the Band would showcase the optimism of America's youth at their apple pie best. The title Strike Up the Band was taken from the hit Broadway show with music by George and Ira Gershwin. Other than the title and the rousing song of the same name, however, the film's story bore no resemblance to the original text. Writers Fred Finklehoffe and John Monks, Jr. came up with a new plot that better suited the youthful co-stars. In the new script, Rooney would play Jimmy Connors, a frustrated high school band drummer who dreams of leading his own modern jazz orchestra, and Garland would appear as Mary, a girl who sings with the band but can't get Jimmy to notice her as anything more than a friend. When Jimmy and his band get the chance to audition for the famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman in Chicago, they exceed their own expectations in raising money for the trip and the chance to live their dreams. Strike Up the Band was really Mickey Rooney's film. He had earned his place as the top box office star of his day, a title previously held by Shirley Temple. The film showcased Rooney's many talents including acting, singing, dancing, drumming, and comedy. Though Judy Garland's role was mainly one of support, it was a nice featured part for her, and she got to sing several memorable songs including "Nobody," "La Conga" and a beautiful new number written especially for her called "Our Love Affair," which was nominated for an Academy Award. Judy turned 18 years old while making this picture and also met one of her future husbands, famed director Vincente Minnelli, though it would be another five years before they married. Minnelli was on the set one day at the request of the film's producer Arthur Freed who was having trouble with a particular scene in Strike Up the Band. "We need a big production number here," Freed told Minnelli. "Mickey and Judy are in the house, and he's telling her he wants to be a famous band leader like Paul Whiteman. Something big has to happen." Minnelli looked around and noticed a bowl of fruit on the table. "Why don't you take that bowl of fruit and have Mickey set each piece of fruit as if it were a musical instrument," responded Minnelli as he recounts in his 1974 autobiography I Remember it Well. 'Apples for fiddles, oranges for brass, bananas for woodwinds. Then have Mickey conduct with his hands. The pieces of fruit are now puppet characters of musicians.' Freed was thrilled with the idea and used it. The resulting highly imaginative number was one of the film's highlights, prompting Louis B. Mayer to forever call Minnelli "the genius who took a bowl of fruit and made a big production number out of it." The combination of Busby Berkeley, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland proved to be box office magic for the second time on Strike Up the Band. The trio worked successfully together again on Babes on Broadway in 1941. On their fourth film together Girl Crazy (1943), however, Berkeley was replaced as director by Norman Taurog though he retained credit as a choreographer. Strike Up the Band remains a fine example of Busby Berkeley's unique style and creative integration of camera work with music and dance and the phenomenal talents of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Producer: Arthur Freed Director: Busby Berkeley Screenplay: Fred F. Finklehoffe, John Monks, Jr. Art Direction: John S. Detlie, Cedric Gibbons Cinematography: Ray June Editing: Ben Lewis Music: Roger Edens, George Stoll Cast: Mickey Rooney (Jimmy Connors), Judy Garland (Mary Holden), Paul Whiteman (Paul Whiteman), June Preisser (Barbara Frances Morgan), William Tracy (Phillip Turner). BW-121m. Closed captioning by Andrea Passafiume

Strike Up the Band - Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in STRIKE UP THE BAND on DVD


Strike Up the Band represents Louis B. Mayer at the height of his powers at MGM and epitomizes his vision of family entertainment. Mayer's enormously popular Andy Hardy series of films made Mickey Rooney one of the biggest stars of the era. It seemed natural for Freed to pair Rooney with Judy Garland, and they became the unbeatable screen team of 1940. Repeating the fantasy formula of Babes in Arms, Busby Berkeley's Strike Up the Band shows small town America intersecting with big time show biz.

Synopsis: Sick of drumming for the boring school orchestra, senior Jimmy Connors (Mickey Rooney) begs permission to form his own modern dance band. With Mary Holden (Judy Garland) singing, the band is the hit of a school party. But Jimmy's ambition to compete in a 'battle of the bands' promotion sponsored by big time bandleader Paul Whiteman (himself) is stalled by the lack of train fare to Chicago. One possible source of revenue is new girl Barbara Frances Morgan (June Preisser), whose father is hiring a band for a big party. Mary doesn't appreciate Jimmy's sudden attentions to Barbara. Mary is sure that she and Jimmy are a natural couple, but Jimmy doesn't seem to have gotten the message.

Strike Up the Band is the second of Arthur Freed's big 'teen musicals', with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland playing Louis B. Mayer's ideal kids next door. Both Jimmy Connors and Mary Holden are enormous talents eager to spring up from the grass roots of America. The simple formula worked at least three times without much variation: ambitious Jimmy wants to be a big success and his girlfriend Mary supports him all the way. The high school hopefuls are consummate performers and carry themselves like seasoned professionals. During practice sessions Jimmy's 'kid' orchestra can barely keep time, but when the show goes on they become polished crowd pleasers complete with elaborate choreographed stage business. Jimmy's drum solos have as much pizzazz as Gene Krupa's, and a brace of harmonizing backup singers materializes to support Mary's killer song deliveries.

Former Warner Bros. musical number specialist Busby Berkeley keeps his camera moving around the hyperactive Rooney and slows down to appreciate Judy Garland's doe-eyed romantic confusion. The musical numbers are integrated smoothly into the story line, beginning with an impromptu piano duet, Our Love Affair. An encore is 'performed' by stop-motion animated fruit on Mary Holden's dining room table. Jimmy and Mary are as adept at putting across a slick big band presentation, as they are at staging Nell of New Rochelle, a Broadway-quality spoof of quaint morality plays.

What there is of a plot fills in the gaps between musical sequences. Only one scene takes place in a classroom, where new girl Barbara catches Jimmy's eye. Pining for romantic overtures from Jimmy, Mary contains her frustration and gently deflects a juvenile declaration of love from little Willie Brewster (Larry Nunn). Other 'fun' kids Phil Turner (William Tracy of The Shop Around the Corner) and Annie (Margaret Early) mostly cheerlead the heroes.

Sheer 'let's put on a show' enthusiasm is the key to the Mayer-MGM-Berkeley musicals. Jimmy's personal energy overcomes all obstacles and practical limitations. The dance band suddenly appears in matching outfits for the high school show. 'Old clothes from the attic' turn into a fully costumed period show with expensive scenery. A giant working buzz saw appears for the damsel-in-distress scene. Somebody tells Rooney that he has 45 minutes to get his orchestra on a Chicago train, and the film dissolves to a sendoff complete with a large crowd, customized banners and the town band. Jimmy Connors' organizing talent is wasted in music; he should have been put in charge of U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor.

Hometown dreams of show biz fame are a key American fantasy, and Strike Up the Band doesn't get bogged down with the problems of reality. To make his dear mother happy, Jimmy Connors tells her that he'll give up his showbiz ambitions and become a doctor like his dead father. Of course, after hearing Jimmy's self-serving baloney about band-leading being as humanitarian an ideal as healing people, Mother relents and gives him her blessing to follow his dream. This fits in with the Louis B. Mayer fantasy that MGM movies are the heart and soul of America; like Louis himself, Jimmy Connors has no interest in personal fame or fortune, and wants only to make people happy!

Jimmy proves that he has 'good guy' credentials by generously using his hard-earned Chicago money to save little Willie's arm. Nobody points out that Willie was injured performing for free in a risky stunt in Jimmy's Temperance musical. As it turns out, being 'nice' to the flirtatious Barbara was a very good idea -- her rich daddy has both the needed cash and the personal connection to Paul Whiteman to make Jimmy's band a shoo-in to win the big competition. Jimmy Connors isn't a 'user', he's an all-around swell guy who deserves to be a star!

Director Berkeley pulls out the stops for the big musical scenes. Do the La Conga lets Rooney and Garland go over the top on a big Latin American number. The syncopated line dancing looks great even if the spoofy interpretation is exaggerated: Garland shakes her frilly dress in a weirdly antiseptic manner. June Preisser's contortionist acrobatics are allowed a few seconds' exposure, but the supporting players are pushed into the background in the rush to favor the stars. The finale song Strike Up the Band is yet another wave-the-flag patriotic extravaganza. Tunneling through long lines of marching brass musicians, Berkeley's camera emerges to elevate Jimmy and Mary to mythical heights. "This is American youth", the movie insists, "and it can do anything."

Warner DVD's Strike Up the Band is a beautifully transferred and polished restoration of this old favorite. It's one film in the 5-disc Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection with Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway and Girl Crazy, all directed by Busby Berkeley. This particular title includes an introduction by Mickey Rooney, a Pete Smith comedy and the cartoon Romeo Rhythm, plus a stereo remix of the Do the La Conga number. Although not recorded in stereo, MGM musical numbers were often recorded with multiple microphones. When the original tracks were retained, modern audio techniques can manufacture a stereo mix from the different audio perspectives. Besides a trailer, the disc also contains three radio promos and shows, two of them with Rooney and Garland.

A fourth disc in the set has a full 1996 TCM interview show with Mickey Rooney and Robert Osborne, a trailer gallery of Mickey and Judy films and an extensive "Judy Garland Songbook" that collects 21 full musical numbers from 1936 to 1954.

For more information about Strike Up the Band, visit Warner Video. To order Strike Up the Band (which is included in the Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection), go to TCM Shopping.



by Glenn Erickson

Strike Up the Band - Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in STRIKE UP THE BAND on DVD

Strike Up the Band represents Louis B. Mayer at the height of his powers at MGM and epitomizes his vision of family entertainment. Mayer's enormously popular Andy Hardy series of films made Mickey Rooney one of the biggest stars of the era. It seemed natural for Freed to pair Rooney with Judy Garland, and they became the unbeatable screen team of 1940. Repeating the fantasy formula of Babes in Arms, Busby Berkeley's Strike Up the Band shows small town America intersecting with big time show biz. Synopsis: Sick of drumming for the boring school orchestra, senior Jimmy Connors (Mickey Rooney) begs permission to form his own modern dance band. With Mary Holden (Judy Garland) singing, the band is the hit of a school party. But Jimmy's ambition to compete in a 'battle of the bands' promotion sponsored by big time bandleader Paul Whiteman (himself) is stalled by the lack of train fare to Chicago. One possible source of revenue is new girl Barbara Frances Morgan (June Preisser), whose father is hiring a band for a big party. Mary doesn't appreciate Jimmy's sudden attentions to Barbara. Mary is sure that she and Jimmy are a natural couple, but Jimmy doesn't seem to have gotten the message. Strike Up the Band is the second of Arthur Freed's big 'teen musicals', with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland playing Louis B. Mayer's ideal kids next door. Both Jimmy Connors and Mary Holden are enormous talents eager to spring up from the grass roots of America. The simple formula worked at least three times without much variation: ambitious Jimmy wants to be a big success and his girlfriend Mary supports him all the way. The high school hopefuls are consummate performers and carry themselves like seasoned professionals. During practice sessions Jimmy's 'kid' orchestra can barely keep time, but when the show goes on they become polished crowd pleasers complete with elaborate choreographed stage business. Jimmy's drum solos have as much pizzazz as Gene Krupa's, and a brace of harmonizing backup singers materializes to support Mary's killer song deliveries. Former Warner Bros. musical number specialist Busby Berkeley keeps his camera moving around the hyperactive Rooney and slows down to appreciate Judy Garland's doe-eyed romantic confusion. The musical numbers are integrated smoothly into the story line, beginning with an impromptu piano duet, Our Love Affair. An encore is 'performed' by stop-motion animated fruit on Mary Holden's dining room table. Jimmy and Mary are as adept at putting across a slick big band presentation, as they are at staging Nell of New Rochelle, a Broadway-quality spoof of quaint morality plays. What there is of a plot fills in the gaps between musical sequences. Only one scene takes place in a classroom, where new girl Barbara catches Jimmy's eye. Pining for romantic overtures from Jimmy, Mary contains her frustration and gently deflects a juvenile declaration of love from little Willie Brewster (Larry Nunn). Other 'fun' kids Phil Turner (William Tracy of The Shop Around the Corner) and Annie (Margaret Early) mostly cheerlead the heroes. Sheer 'let's put on a show' enthusiasm is the key to the Mayer-MGM-Berkeley musicals. Jimmy's personal energy overcomes all obstacles and practical limitations. The dance band suddenly appears in matching outfits for the high school show. 'Old clothes from the attic' turn into a fully costumed period show with expensive scenery. A giant working buzz saw appears for the damsel-in-distress scene. Somebody tells Rooney that he has 45 minutes to get his orchestra on a Chicago train, and the film dissolves to a sendoff complete with a large crowd, customized banners and the town band. Jimmy Connors' organizing talent is wasted in music; he should have been put in charge of U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor. Hometown dreams of show biz fame are a key American fantasy, and Strike Up the Band doesn't get bogged down with the problems of reality. To make his dear mother happy, Jimmy Connors tells her that he'll give up his showbiz ambitions and become a doctor like his dead father. Of course, after hearing Jimmy's self-serving baloney about band-leading being as humanitarian an ideal as healing people, Mother relents and gives him her blessing to follow his dream. This fits in with the Louis B. Mayer fantasy that MGM movies are the heart and soul of America; like Louis himself, Jimmy Connors has no interest in personal fame or fortune, and wants only to make people happy! Jimmy proves that he has 'good guy' credentials by generously using his hard-earned Chicago money to save little Willie's arm. Nobody points out that Willie was injured performing for free in a risky stunt in Jimmy's Temperance musical. As it turns out, being 'nice' to the flirtatious Barbara was a very good idea -- her rich daddy has both the needed cash and the personal connection to Paul Whiteman to make Jimmy's band a shoo-in to win the big competition. Jimmy Connors isn't a 'user', he's an all-around swell guy who deserves to be a star! Director Berkeley pulls out the stops for the big musical scenes. Do the La Conga lets Rooney and Garland go over the top on a big Latin American number. The syncopated line dancing looks great even if the spoofy interpretation is exaggerated: Garland shakes her frilly dress in a weirdly antiseptic manner. June Preisser's contortionist acrobatics are allowed a few seconds' exposure, but the supporting players are pushed into the background in the rush to favor the stars. The finale song Strike Up the Band is yet another wave-the-flag patriotic extravaganza. Tunneling through long lines of marching brass musicians, Berkeley's camera emerges to elevate Jimmy and Mary to mythical heights. "This is American youth", the movie insists, "and it can do anything." Warner DVD's Strike Up the Band is a beautifully transferred and polished restoration of this old favorite. It's one film in the 5-disc Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland Collection with Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway and Girl Crazy, all directed by Busby Berkeley. This particular title includes an introduction by Mickey Rooney, a Pete Smith comedy and the cartoon Romeo Rhythm, plus a stereo remix of the Do the La Conga number. Although not recorded in stereo, MGM musical numbers were often recorded with multiple microphones. When the original tracks were retained, modern audio techniques can manufacture a stereo mix from the different audio perspectives. Besides a trailer, the disc also contains three radio promos and shows, two of them with Rooney and Garland. A fourth disc in the set has a full 1996 TCM interview show with Mickey Rooney and Robert Osborne, a trailer gallery of Mickey and Judy films and an extensive "Judy Garland Songbook" that collects 21 full musical numbers from 1936 to 1954. For more information about Strike Up the Band, visit Warner Video. To order Strike Up the Band (which is included in the Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection), go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Take that boy on the street. Teach him to blow a horn and he'll never blow a safe.
- Paul Whiteman

Trivia

Notes

Although onscreen credits list Howard Hickman as the doctor, the Call Bureau Cast Service sheets credit Harlan Briggs with the role. The working title of this film was Babes on Broadway, which was later used as a title for the 1941 M-G-M film starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. It was a follow-up to M-G-M's 1939 picture, Babes in Arms which also starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and was directed by Busby Berkeley and produced by Arthur Freed. The story that Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman wrote for George and Ira Gershwin's musical hit Strike Up the Band (New York 14 January 1930) bears no resemblance to this film. A news item in Hollywood Reporter notes that Vincente Minnelli staged Garland's dance routines for this film. Modern sources add that Minnelli, whose experience was as a director of Broadway musicals, was invited to Hollywood by Arthur Freed. After studying film technique, he was eased into directing by staging isolated musical numbers in this film and in M-G-M's 1941 musical, Babes on Broadway. This film also marked Phil Silvers' film debut. The picture won an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. It was nominated for Best Score, and the song "Our Love Affair" was nominated for Best Song. Modern sources add the following song titles to the film: "My Wonderful One, Let's Dance," "The Gay Nineties" and "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl." In 1940, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the story.