Irving Berlin's THIS IS THE ARMY on DVD

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Dennis Nicholls, Jan 11, 2003.

  1. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    There are three kinds of DVD reviews. There are reviews for films like Star Wars where everyone knows all about the film and DVD already. There are reviews for less well-known films or where the DVD quality is questionable, such as those published by DOC. Then there are the reviews for films that nobody knows about or probably cares if they do. This is a review of that last kind.

    THIS IS THE ARMY is a fund-raising film made in 1943 based upon songs written by Irving Berlin, who also was an uncredited screenwriter and sings one of the songs. No expense was spared: the film was directed by Michael “Casablanca” Curtiz and jointly produced by Hal Wallis and Jack Warner. Many musical stars of the time run through songs or cameo roles. The film won the Oscar® for best score. The plot is a thin excuse to sing and dance these songs, being one of those “hey kids let’s make a show” films normally associated with Mickey Rooney. Basically Lt. Ronald Reagan is put in charge of a bunch of amazingly talented soldiers, and puts on a Broadway show “for Army relief”. There is a flashback to a previous show put on by Ronnie’s dad, played by George Murphy, in WWI. And there is a subplot about Ronnie and his girlfriend, where he doesn’t want to get married and leave her a widow, whereas she wants to get married and have at least a baby to remember him by.

    This film is a guilty pleasure with lots of camp and politically incorrect scenes. I’m not even sure where to start with the latter. There are two “soldiers in drag” numbers, and having them staged by Ronnie is a hoot. In the “Ladies of the Chorus” number, Ronnie orders a grizzled old sergeant to put on a dress and join the show. There’s also a drag element in “Mandy”, but this element is overshadowed by the minstrel show element. THIS IS THE ARMY is about as racially insensitive as GONE WITH THE WIND. The “Mandy” number, which is an Irving Berlin attempt to sound like Stephen Foster, has white soldiers in blackface for both the male and female roles. This is especially odd in that there is a later number with black actors called "That's What The Well-Dressed Man In Harlem Will Wear". This is a jazz/bebop number with break dancing, and is actually quite well done. It’s about how guys who previously were “dudes” are exchanging fancy dress for various Army uniforms. THIS IS THE ARMY was made at the cusp of changing race relations in the US and shows it. The two stars who share top billing and the biggest font are Lt. Ronald Reagan and Sgt. Joe Louis. But when the soldiers are shown on the parade ground, the black soldiers stand on one side and the white soldiers on the other. It’s an interesting relic of those times.

    Priceless scenes in the film include Ronnie looking up from reading Variety magazine when Kate Smith sings “God Bless America”, and Ronnie onstage looking up at an actor playing FDR and saying “wow, the President”.

    The DVD is made by Delta Entertainment, and claims DVD authoring and compression by Sony. This was a real budget job. The cast list was taken verbatim from IMDB, even having Kate Smith being listed as “Kate Smith (I)”. There are no extras at all, merely 16 scene breaks. Although this was an Oscar® winning film shot in Technicolor, an incredibly dirty print was used. There is lots of dirt and the colors have faded. However, this is still much better than any of the other public-domain videos of this film I have seen. The actual transfer is pretty good, without compression artifacts or other DVD authoring faults. The video probably ranks overall a D+/C-. The audio is thankfully better, on par with the audio from MGM’s DVD of Casablanca. I give the audio a C+. Once again the phrase “this film has never looked so good on video” comes to mind. I doubt there is much interest in restoring the prints. It is unclear if the original 3 strip Technicolor negatives survive, but if they did merely striking a new print would go a long ways towards improving this disk.
    At $6 a disk you won’t waste much money if you get this disk, currently bundled with another Delta cheapie of THE SANTA FE TRAIL. The disk is serviceable but not more.

    "It's Your Country and My Country" Sung by Gertude Niesen
    "My Sweetie" Sung and danced by George Murphy
    "Poor Little Me, I'm on KP" Sung by George Tobias
    "We're On Our Way to France” Sung by George Murphy, Chorus
    "God Bless America" Sung by Kate Smith, Chorus
    "What Does He Look Like" Sung by Francis Langford
    "This Is The Army, Mr Jones" Sung by Robin, Roerich, Jones and Chorus
    "I'm Getting Tired So I Can Sleep” Sung by Burell, Chorus
    "Mandy" Sung by Magelssen, Chorus
    "The Army 's Made a Man out of Me” Sung by Stone, Oshins, Truex, Chorus
    "Ladies of the Chorus" Sung by Alan Hale, Chorus
    "That's What The Well-Dressed Man In Harlem Will Wear" Sung by Cross, Chorus
    "How About a Cheer for the Navy" Sung by Chorus
    "I Left My Heart at Stagedoor Canteen" Sung by Oxford
    "With My Head in the Clouds" Sung by Shanley, Chorus
    "American Eagles" Sung by Shanley, Chorus
    "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning" Sung by Irving Berlin, George Murphy, Geore Tobias, Charles Butterworth
    "This Time We Will All Make Certain" Sung by Shanley, Chorus
     
  2. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    No interest? [​IMG]
     
  3. Patrick McCart

    Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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    Faded color for a 3-strip Technicolor movie? [​IMG]
    I think I'll wait until WHV puts it on DVD (even if it takes a while), just so it can be seen in REAL Technicolor rather than Eastmancolor.
     
  4. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    The film itself is of interest but not in a budget release like this. I hope that WHV actually releases this at some point, from the original source material.
    Broadway buffs are sure to want this one.
    It is a great transcription of the Broadway show, even if they did add the thin plot to what was just songs and skits in the stage version.
    DECCA BROADWAY is said to be preparing to rerelease the original cast recording on CD.
     

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