Saturday, May 02, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Tanks a Million (1941) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

This evening I watched TANKS A MILLION (1941), the first movie in a new set from ClassicFlix, The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners Collection, Volume 1: The Tracy & Sawyer Military Comedies.

This six-film set is the latest in the ClassicFlix Silver Series, which strives to make "lesser-known titles...available in affordable DVD editions."

TANKS A MILLION was my introduction to producer Hal Roach's "Streamliners," a line of nearly two dozen films made during the '40s which were longer than shorts yet shorter than a typical feature film. TANKS A MILLION, for example, was 50 minutes long, and some of the later films in the set are even shorter; one clocks in at just 43 minutes.

I had no idea what to expect, going into this series without much prior knowledge, and I'm pleased to say I found TANKS A MILLION a pleasant surprise. The movie was filled with a cast of real pros, including character actors like James Gleason, Douglas Fowley, Joe Sawyer, and Frank Faylen, along with young leads William Tracy, Elsye Knox, and Noah Beery Jr. The comedy was creative and engaging, fitting a number of well-plotted situations into the short running time, and a couple particularly good scenes were "laugh out loud" funny.

Tracy plays Dorian "Dodo" Doubleday, who's blessed with a photographic memory. When he shows up at boot camp his exhaustive knowledge of Army rules and regulations impresses the brass, so he's sent off to officer training school. He returns almost immediately, having quickly been made a sergeant, to the exasperation of the older Sergeant Ames (Sawyer).

As the head of his first unit, Dodo experiences a variety of situations which initially look as though they'll get him in trouble, yet somehow he always comes out with his commanding officers even more impressed. A sequence with his men (including Beery and Faylen) marching barefoot was particularly amusing, as was Dodo giving a speech on behalf of microphone-shy Colonel "Spitfire" Barkley (Gleason).

Elyse Knox plays the girl in Tracy and Beery's life; she doesn't have a lot to do -- in fact, I had a sense an explanatory scene with her character might have been left on the cutting-room floor -- but she's charming. Incidentally, watching this I very much noticed how much Knox's son, Mark Harmon, looks like her.

The movie was released in September 1941, not long before Pearl Harbor, so it captures our country gearing up for possible war while still having a certain lighthearted innocence about it. The next film in the series, HAY FOOT (1942), was released less than a month after Pearl Harbor, in early January 1942. Based on the quality of this film, I'm looking forward to checking it out, and I plan to review that title and the other films in the set as I watch them.

TANKS A MILLION was directed by Fred Guiol and filmed by Robert Pittack. A trio of writers contributed to the nicely done screenplay, Paul Gerard Smith, Warren Wilson, and Edward E. Seabrook.

The TANKS A MILLION ClassicFlix print was faded in some scenes, but all in all quite acceptable, with no distracting jumps or major damage. The sound quality was pleasingly strong. This welcome release is a good exemplar of the Silver Series, making an underseen film available to new audiences.

Potential buyers may wish to know that initial Silver Series discs are pressed, but when those supplies run low they may instead be released MOD (manufactured on demand).

More Streamliners sets are on the way from ClassicFlix in the next few months: Volume 2: Westerns and Volume 3: Taxi Comedies are coming in June, followed by Volume 4: Musicals in August.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this DVD.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, I'm so glad that ClassicFlix is putting these streamliners out there for us to enjoy. Hal Roach Studios gave us a lot of entertainment over the years.

What a top notch ensemble of character actors, who were so talented.

6:55 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I have always liked William Tracy a lot.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Walter, I'm glad as well! Really looking forward to the other films in this set as well as future releases.

Barrylane, I was trying to figure out why William Tracy seemed familiar and it suddenly dawned on me he was the delivery boy in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)! Perusing his credits, I've seen him in some small roles in other films, but this was my first time to see him in the lead.

Best wishes,

1:08 PM  

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