"War is pretty grim business," an officer states in This is the Army
, one of three (literally) star-spangled World War II-era musicals included in this rousing set. "Sometimes a song or a smile is just as vital to an army as food." It was also essential to those on the homefront, and Warner Bros. obliged with these proudly patriotic extravaganzas in which the studios' A-list talents sing, dance, poke fun at themselves, and most important, offer their heartfelt support of the soldiers fighting overseas. Boy, as the ads for That's Entertainment
once proclaimed, do we need it now. "Wherever you go, our hearts go with you," Bette Davis movingly states at the end of Hollywood Canteen
(1944), a salute to the famed club she co-founded where soldiers mingle with the movies' best and brightest, who entertain and serve as the wait staff. Robert Hutton stars as a wide-eyed soldier with a mad crush on Joan Leslie. At the club, a "Reaganized" Jane Wyman shows him the ropes, Barbara Stanwyck serves him food, and Paul Henreid dispenses romantic advice to his lovelorn buddy, while onstage the likes of Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Roy Rogers and Trigger, and others perform. Cantor gets the good sport medal for Thank Your Lucky Stars
(1943), in which he portrays himself as an egomaniacal ham as well as an aspiring entertainer whose resemblance to the real Cantor has stymied his career. The heart of the film is a benefit show. If you've always wanted to see Bette Davis or Errol Flynn sing and dance, then "That's What You Jolly Well Get" (just one of the showstopping numbers). Great comic character actors abound, including Edward Everett Horton and chubby cheeked S.Z. Sakall, who, in one cute bit, intimidates tough guy Humphrey Bogart. Michael Curtiz's This is the Army
, the top-grossing film of 1943, is a class act all the way, with an Oscar-winning score and great Irving Berlin tunes, including Kate Smith's defining performance of "God Bless America" (Berlin himself makes a rare screen appearance to sing, "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning"). George Murphy and Ronald Reagan front the cast as father and son soldiers, who, in World Wars I and II, respectively, mount morale-building stage shows. Each disc replicates an old fashioned night at the movies, complete with coming attraction, newsreel, vintage short subjects, and classic cartoons. The This is the Army
disc contains a 45-min. documentary about Warner Bros.' war effort narrated by Steven Spielberg, and delightful, all-too-brief commentary by Joan Leslie, who is in all three films (the bulk of the detailed and incisive commentary is by U.S.C. professor Dr. Drew Casper). Whether as tribute to "the Greatest Generation" or as nostalgia for vintage movie buffs, this collection is a (Yankee doodle) dandy! --Donald Liebenson
Three Disc collection features a trio of films that captured the spirit of America during World War II: "HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN" was a club for GIs where Joan Crawford might over-easy you some eggs and John Garfield might scrub out the frying pan. The movie Hollywood Canteen is a snappy, starry salute to that World War II landmark. "THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS" Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Dinah Shore come out to play in this breezy, behind-the-Hollywood-scenes story about young talents hoping for a big break. "THIS IS THE ARMY" From immigrant lad to All-American success story, Irving Berlin showed his abiding love for his adopted country with, among other cultural accomplishments, decades of Broadway hits, the unofficial national anthem God Bless America and the World War II spirit-lifter This Is the Army. On stage it featured 350 real-life GIs, giving their singing-and- dancing all to raise nearly $2 million (then an astronomical sum) for Army Emergency Relief.