Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Strike Up the Band (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland star in STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940), newly released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

STRIKE UP THE BAND was the second of Mickey and Judy's four "Let's put on a show!" musicals, which began with BABES IN ARMS (1939) and continued after this film with BABES ON BROADWAY (1941) and GIRL CRAZY (1943). The duo also appeared together in a trio of films in the Andy Hardy series between 1938 and 1941.

Mickey plays Jimmy Connors, a high school drummer and band leader with aspirations of a career as a musician...if he can work up the courage first to tell his widowed mother (Ann Shoemaker) that he doesn't want to follow in his late father's footsteps as a doctor.

Jimmy's sometime girlfriend is Mary Holden (Garland), although she has competition when rich Barbara Morgan (June Preisser) moves to town.

Mickey's band has a successful performance at a school dance, and their next goal is to raise the money for train fare to Chicago to audition for band leader Paul Whiteman. The kids put on a musical melodrama and successfully earn the money, but when one of the boys (Larry Nunn) needs emergency orthopedic surgery in Chicago, they donate the funds to him instead. But that good deed might mean that things end up working out after all...

I hadn't seen this movie for many years and greatly enjoyed revisiting it.  Mickey and Judy's effervescent energy remains quite winning decades after I first made this film's acquaintance.  (I also smiled recognizing all the "Let's put on a show!" lines which were used in a memorable montage in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!)

The band's late rehearsal hours worry Mickey's mother and the school principal (Francis Pierlot), but that's about the only flaw to be found among this group of hardworking students. The young people repeatedly prove that they're good kids, and as part of that, Mickey plays some emotional scenes with his mother to the hilt.

Garland also has the time to convey a nicely nuanced performance, longing for Jimmy to notice her while deftly declining a different admirer. The self-confidence and polish of both Garland and Rooney as performers is something else, especially considering they were only about 18 and 19 when this was filmed.

My only real criticism is that the fundraising musical sequence halfway through the film goes on way too long. I would have trimmed it way down and aimed for a movie that was closer to 105 minutes instead of the actual 120.

The other numbers are really good, with my favorite being "Do the La Conga." The big "Strike Up the Band" finale is great too; I have no idea where high schoolers would have gotten several harpists, not to mention a quartet of pianists on grand pianos, but the movie was directed by Busby Berkeley, so what else could we expect? Best just to enjoy the creative staging and not ask too many questions.

There's even a number with animated fruit, created by George Pal. Truly, this film is entertainment!

The supporting cast includes William Tracy, recently reviewed in the "Streamliners" TANKS A MILLION (1941) and HAY FOOT (1942), and Margaret Early as the girl of his dreams. Last month, coincidentally, I visited Early's final resting place at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar.

Parents and teachers were played by Virginia Brissac, Milton Kibbee, George Lessey, Enid Bennett, Helen Jerome Eddy, Sarah Edwards, and Virginia Sale.

The movie was shot in black and white by Ray June.

The restored Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. The disc includes the same plentiful extras which were part of the film's original DVD release, including a Lux Radio Theater program and other radio recordings, a Pete Smith Specialty short, a cartoon, a newsreel, the trailer, and an introduction by Mickey Rooney.

The Warner Archive has also released GIRL CRAZY this month, and I'm looking forward to reviewing that here at a future date.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

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