Sunday, January 8, 2012

Slacker Sunday

Today is Slacker Sunday. My Slacker Sundays involve anything that can be accomplished in at least a semi-horizontal position. Today, we’re talking about old movies. One old movie, actually. Reviews for new movies are available far and wide, so I want to take a different approach. In my opinion, the old black and whites offer the most bang for the buck, especially when they are available streaming at whatever the low-low Netflix price happens to be at any given moment. Without further ado, I give you: 

Stage Door Canteen (United Artists, 1943)
Plus 6 Name Bands!
Many years ago, I watched Stage Door Canteen on AMC. It aired at some point between wrestling my boys into their matching Mario Brothers pajamas and serving up Fruit Loops the next morning. Afterward, it seemed as though the great movie just disappeared into thin air. I researched, but couldn’t find any shred of evidence that it existed. I had almost decided I dreamed the whole thing until one lazy Sunday afternoon, many years later, it aired again. 

Ha! I’m not crazy after all! Well, not entirely. 
Stage Door Canteen’s cast seems like the origination of “A Cast of Thousands.” The list of stars goes on forever. This is only a brief highlight.
Tallulah Bankhead
Edgar Bergen
Charlie McCarthy
Ray Bolger
Katharine Hepburn
Gypsy Rose Lee
Ethel Waters
Count Basie
Benny Goodman
It goes on and on and on!  
The short of it is boy meets girl at New York’s Stage Door Canteen before he heads off to war, then hilarity, romance and bittersweet stolen moments ensue. 
Canteens were a place where our brave men in the armed forces could relax, have a warm slice of Americana Pie and feel a little bit normal before heading overseas. The lovely, fresh-faced girls-next-door working in the canteen were strictly forbidden from dating the boys, but they were encouraged to spend wholesome one-on-one time and make them feel special. I’ve always wondered how well that worked in real life, as Manhattan’s Stage Door Canteen, and another on the west coast, were quite real, indeed. Because dating is a no-no, boy (Dakota) and girl (Eileen) get themselves into a bit of a mess.
The first time I watched Stage Door Canteen, I remember being in awe of the music and the war-time melodrama. I’ve always wondered whether I lived one lifetime during WWII, since I love the fashion and music. 
Sadly, I would never be able to keep my seams straight.

Years later, I realize that Stage Door Canteen is one of the best US WWII flag-waving films ever. It’s good, clean fun that you can watch with the whole family. 

Gypsy Rose Lee gets my vote for the best scene in the entire movie. Her performance, which is a very mild, yet incredibly entertaining strip-tease-light, is funny, clever and... well, it’s easy to see why all the boys loved her back then. She barely (and almost agonizingly slowly) reveals part of her shoulders and  legs in her famous "Psychology of a Stripteaser" act, yet it’s clear why she was a top-rate entertainer. I love her monologue. And her vaguely Bryn Mawr accent. And her costume. And her wit. And her gams.

That's all there is; there isn't any more!

No wars were won with Stage Door Canteen. No philosophical theories were indulged, and there are no major explosions (which is why Mr. Vagabond has never seen it). However, it encapsulates the ideal 1940s America that Hollywood wanted needed our brave men and women to see. In the long ago that was WWII, those who fought, and those who toiled, prayed, worried and waited back home, needed something to believe in. Some semblance of normalcy that still existed somewhere. Something to hope for. Something to come back home to. Stage Door Canteen helped deliver that on a shiny Hollywood platter. 

This is one movie that I can watch over and over. If you have the opportunity, I hope you give it a shot and let me know what you think.

With that, I am off to listen to Benny Goodman and his swingin' clarinet! 

Sing, Sing, Sing, baby!


  1. Love it! Unfortunately our Sunday is a little more high gear, but maybe after the birthday lunch, maybe after the tree *ahem* finally gets taken down (??), maybe then we can settle back and watch this one. I adore WWII era fashion/jewelry as well as the old time flicks, so this should be fun! ;)

  2. I watch it every time I get the chance. It's just plain fun :-)

    And the only reason I am a step ahead of you with the Christmas tree is that I didn't even put ours up this year!

  3. I have an 'Ultimate Collection' of Benny Goodman. Love the guy. :)

    (And Sing, Sing, Sing is my favourite.)

    And you say the film has no colour? Weird! :P


  4. LOL! Yep -- it' a black and white treasure. You should watch it. Soon.