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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Note: This post is part of the John Garfield centennial blogathon hosted by Patti of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To 

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of Thank Your Lucky Stars, a spirit-lifting all-star musical from Warner Bros., featuring some of its top players in cameos, including  John Garfield. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of Mr. Garfield's birth (he was born March 4, 1913).

Olivia appears in the film too, in a short routine which I'll write about toward the end of this post.

All of the songs and dances are tied together in a plot involving two producers (Edward Everet Horton and SK Sakall) looking for stars to perform at their benefit concert.

The movie opens with Horton & Sakall in the audience of comedian Eddie Cantor's radio show in Hollywood, California. The show - one of the biggest variety shows on the air at the time - regularly featured singer Dinah Shore, and she appears in this film too, playing herself. After she performs, the producers are determined to recruit her for the benefit.

This was Ms Shore's first movie appearance, and she performs 3 songs in the film.  

Mr. Cantor has a duel role as himself and as a mild-mannered taxi driver, Joe.  Everyone mistakes Joe for the real Cantor, even Dinah at one point.

One of the funniest parts of the movie has Cantor trapped in a room with a bunch of dogs and maple syrup. There's no easy way to describe it; you just have to see it.

The other two actors driving the plot along - and adding a little romance to the movie - are Joan Leslie and Dennis Morgan playing aspiring showbiz performers. Joan shows off her comedic chops throughout the movie, and does a funny imitation of her Yankee Doodle Dandy co-star Jimmy Cagney (who's not in this picture).

John Garfield appears within the first 10 minutes and plays himself as a guest on the Cantor show. Paroding his tough guy image, he is seen "threatening" Cantor backstage before the two exchange some funny wisecracks on stage. He then performs a unique rendition of "Blues in the Night", which was first introduced in the 1941 Warner Bros. film of the same name and became a big hit. According to IMDb, Garfield was originally considered to play the lead in Blues in the Night, but for whatever reason he turned it down. Perhaps his singing the tune was a way to make amends.

John Garfield singing - one of the film's highlights 

And that's just the first star cameo. Many more are to come. Olivia de Havilland performs alongside Ida Lupino (her Devotion co-star) and George Tobias (her Strawberry Blond co-star) in a silly jitterbug dance. It's funny to see Olivia jive dancing and chewing bubblegum at the same time. This was a rare time Olivia ever sings in a film, although this is not entirely true because her voice was actually dubbed by another singer. Overall, the skit lasts only about 5 minutes; arguably, it's not one of the more memorable ones in the film. Sorry, Olivia.

Some other of my favorite bits in the film feature some of Olivia's best-known co-stars: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Hattie MacDaniel.

"You're Never Too Young Or Two Old" is performed by Bette Davis, the first and only time she sings a song on film. And it's her own voice, too! In the number she laments the lack of available men during the war. The catchy song was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song that year.

"That's What You Jolly Well Get" is set in an English pub, and  Errol Flynn is amusing as a jolly chap who performs the song with a strong cockney accent and beer in hand. It's funny to see him in his handlebar mustache. One of the signs in the barroom reads "Drink Wine in Winter for Cold and In Summer for Heat". 

"Ice Cold Katie" features Hattie MacDaniel (as "The Gossip") in an ensemble number about a girl who will not return the affection of a young soldier (Willie Best) waiting at her doorstep. Ms McDaniel and a chorus of singers and dancers urge Katie to "marry that soldier".

"Katie" is played by Rita Christiani; "The Justice" is played by Jess Lee Brooks
Adding to the fun with various other musical numbers include Spike Jones & the City Slickers, Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, and  Alan Hale & Jack Carson.  

Non-musical cameos by Don Wilson, Frank Faylan, and Mike Mazurki as Cantor's bodyguard.

Humphrey Bogart is the only big name in the picture who does not sing or dance.

All of the stars in the film donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen, where solders came for entertainment during WW2 (Mr Garfield and Ms Davis were co-founders).

Thank Your Lucky Stars is available on DVD.

If you see it, you'll thank your lucky stars that you did!

This post is featured in Patti's blogathon devoted to the films of John Garfield in celebration of Mr. Garfield's centennial year.


Patti said...

Awesome write-up Tom...and a terrific addition to the blogathon!

I really enjoy these "stars as themselves" films. They're always loads of fun. This one is delightful, and John Garfield's song and dance scene is a true highlight. Strangely, though, his biography states that "His song and dance in "Thank Your Lucky Stars" misfired, although it proved serviceable for troop entertainments." I didn't think it misfired at all. I think it's great.

Thanks for the bit of trivia about "Thank Your Lucky Stars" being Bette Davis's only on-film singing and in her own voice. I did not know that.

Thanks again for jumping on board and participating in the blogathon!

Judy said...

Tom, must admit I haven't seen the whole of this, but have seen John Garfield's 'blues in the Night' which I think is great, almost a mini film in itself - must agree with Patti that I was puzzled by the comment in his biography. Anyway, your review has whetted my appetite to see the whole of this movie and enjoy all the rest of the star appearances!

Tom said...

You're welcome Patti!

I think one of Bette's biographers said she did a bad job, too. But I liked her performance.

Unknown said...

I have only seen bits and pieces of this film. From what I have seen... the singing, comedy and even bad singing, is wonderful because you know.. This film is about caring.

Awesome review, Tom!!

FlickChick said...

Wow - Garfield's bit is a real treat! And I, too, think Bette did a fabulous job! These kinds of films were great fun!

Jeff Flugel said...

This film sounds like a lot of fun! Very good review, covering some of the highlights. Add me to the list of those who are glad that Bogie didn't sing or dance. I am, however, very curious to hear Bette and Errol's numbers. And thanks for the You Tube clip of Garfield doing his stuff.

By the way, I love the fact that there's a blog dedicated to Olivia and Joan - nice work!

Kimberly J.M. Wilson said...

This ensemble, war-morale films were always a delight to watch. Listening to Bette Davis sing was a hoot.

Judy said...

Re Jeff's comment above, Bogie does play the piano and sing a duet with Gene Tierney in one scene in 'The Left Hand of God' (accompanied by a choir of children!), but thankfully doesn't dance!


Garfield in a musical: something I could never imagine! THis sounds like a very funny and entertaining film, ideal to watch in a moment of relaxation.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

Artman2112 said...

this one i've seen a few times and it's always great fun! for me its Ann Sheridan's number that's the highlight! but i do adore Joan Leslie *sigh*

Tom said...

Thanks everyone for reading my piece and for all of your kind comments.

It was fun to be a part of this great blogathon.

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