Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
When music prodigy Peter Crane's private music conservatory closes for the duration of the war, Peter attends Clinton High School, the same school his friends, Jimmy and Claire Emerson, attend. In Miss Forbes' music class, Jimmy appears to make enemies when he reprimands Claire for her sloppy accompaniment to Gerra, a brilliant singer. When Peter gets home, he finds his mother crying over a telegram notifying them of his father's death in combat. In his grief, Peter takes a long walk and falls asleep in a barn. He is awakened by the estate's caretaker, Maglodian, who knew his father and offers him consolation by playing a record of his father's favorite classical music. Peter continues to mourn his father, but Claire helps him to find a new motivation in life by inviting him to conduct her all-girl "jive" band. When Claire's mother asks them to find a rehearsal hall other than her house, Peter proposes to Maglodian that they use the barn for a junior canteen to do their part by entertaining servicemen. In exchange for the barn, the high school students promise to help Maglodian maintain the farm and orange orchards. After much work, the students open the barn as the "Jive Junction" canteen. Claire's uncle, a sergeant, brings his troops to the opening night, and the high school boys are dismayed when all the girls end up dancing with the servicemen. The boys pin the blame on Peter and beat him up, but when Peter sees one of the servicemen snub one of the high school girls in order to flirt with Jean, a music store saleswoman, he invites Jean and her friends to the canteen. Soon the servicemen are dancing with women their own ages, but the high school girls continue to snub the boys. All the music students then enter the National Musical Elimination Contest, for which the winning band will play its own composition on a national morale tour at Army camps. The Clinton High School Band wins each section of the contest, but when they return home to rehearse for the national, and final, championship, they learn that the owner of Maglodian's farm has died, and the sheriff locks up the barn containing their instruments. With no instruments available, the kids are about to give up when Peter gets two tickets to attend a Hollywood Bowl concert conducted by his former professer, Feher. With only half an hour before they are scheduled to compete, Peter and the kids rush to the Hollywood Bowl. After the concert is over, Peter begs Feher to allow him to use the orchestra's instruments. Feher is at first reluctant to allow students to use professional equipment, but when he hears that the ultimate end will help the war effort, he relents, and the students rush to the radio station, where they broadcast their entry. The students arrive just in time to go on the air perform Peter's own composition, and win the contest.
Edgar G. Ulmer
June L. Stillman
F. J. Tableporter
Ulmer turned to those remaining companies comprising the New York film industry, and he helmed a string of Yiddish-language features over the next few years. The mid-40s lead him to labor for the low-end production house known as Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC). There, Ulmer turned out a string of programmers whose stylish look belied their modest budgets and stood out as unique genre efforts for their era, such as Bluebeard (1944) and Detour (1945). As he came to be regarded as their genius-in-residence, PRC had Ulmer try his hand at every imaginable type of script. When his approach genuinely meshed with the material, it resulted in minor masterpieces like Strange Illusion (1945), a film noir variation on Shakespeare's Hamlet; when it didn't, it resulted in interesting curiosities like the wartime musical Jive Junction (1943).
The script (co-written by a young Irving Wallace) concerned a teenage musical prodigy named Peter Crane (Dickie Moore) who is making an awkward transfer from his conservatory training to a more traditional high school existence. His arrogant attitude in music class does little to endear him to his new schoolmates, and the jocks snigger at his refusal to fight for fear of damaging his hands. These problems get trivialized, however, when he comes home to find his mother weeping at the news that his officer father had been killed overseas.
Hoping to bring Peter out of his funk, classmate Claire Emerson (Tina Thayer) shares her ambition to form a student girls' band providing swing music for servicemen, and states that it could really fly if Peter agreed to conduct. At first uneasy with the notion of swapping Bach for boogie-woogie, Peter warms to the idea. Before long, he's bargaining with Maglodian (William Halligan), a caretaker crony of his father, to convert an unused estate's barn into the hopping G.I. canteen of the film's title.
If you can envision Ulmer's somber stylization applied to a peppy, tune-filled, flag-waving wartime musical, you'll have a good sense of how Jive Junction turned out. While the film's tone overall is far too foreboding, Ulmer had a lifelong appreciation for classical music, and it's evident in the film's "longhair" moments. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for Ulmer to utilize a baton when putting actors through their paces. "He would direct the actors the way you direct music," recalled Helen Beverly, the lead in Ulmer's The Light Ahead (1939). "The timing, you know, he would lead you and you would know when it was to be slow and when the other actor was to wait and not to jump in, he would give them the cue when to speak. That was amazing to me."
Moore, the familiar juvenile of the '30s and '40s who was just a year removed from giving Shirley Temple her first screen kiss in Miss Annie Rooney (1942), did a serviceable job as the young protagonist. The film's musical numbers were set up to showcase a juvenile soprano named Gerra Young, and while her efforts aren't unpleasant, Jive Junction didn't advance her screen career (this remains her only film credit). During the final act's battle of the bands, Peter's aged conductor mentor comes to the kids' rescue. The role is played by Friedrich Feher, who had portrayed the narrator of the German impressionistic classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
Producer: Leon Fromkess
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Walter Doniger, Malvin Wald, Irving Wallace
Cinematography: Ira H. Morgan
Film Editing: Robert Crandall
Art Direction: Frank Sylos
Music: Leo Erdody, Lew Porter
Cast: Dickie Moore (Peter Crane), Tina Thayer (Claire), Gerra Young (Gerra Young), John Michaels (Jimmy), Jack Wagner (Grant Saunders), Jan Wiley (Miss Forbes).
by Jay Steinberg
Hollywood Reporter news items reveal the following about the production: This film was originally to have been produced by Peter R. Van Duinen's Atlantis Pictures Corp. After Atlantis split from PRC's distribution company in 1943, however, PRC formed its own production company, and purchased the Fine Arts Studios. Jive Junction was the first release of PRC Pictures, Inc. A Los Angeles Times news item indicates that Bob Crosby was initially slated to appear in the film. Jack George, Betty Alden, Joe Oakie, Myrna Dell, Tom Quinn, Bess Flowers, Venice Grove and Harry Strang are included in the cast in a Hollywood Reporter production chart, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. The film marked Gerra Young's feature film debut. According to the Hollywood Reporter review, Young was PRC's first contract player, and director Edgar G. Ulmer was PRC's first contract director.