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STRIKE UP THE BAND (director: Busby Berkeley; screenwriters: Herbert Fields/ John Monks Jr/Fred Finklehoffe; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Arthur Freed/Roger Edens/George Gershwin; cast: Mickey Rooney (Jimmy Connors), Judy Garland (Mary Holden), June Preisser (Barbara Frances Morgan), Virginia Sale (Music Teacher), Francis Pierlot (Principal, Mr. Judd), William Tracy (Phillip Turner), Paul Whiteman (Himself), Phil Silvers (Pitchman), George Lessey (Mr. Morgan), Larry Nunn ((Willie Brewster), Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Holden), Ann Shoemaker (Mrs. Connor); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; Warner Home Video; 1940)
Despite the tiresome plot, it’s highly entertaining because of the snappy young duo and their big band music.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Despite the tiresome plot, it’s highly entertaining because of the snappy young duo and their big band music. Busby Berkeley(“Babes in Arms”/”For Me and My Gal”/”The Gang’s All Here”) big band teen musical, shot in b/w, is his second successful teen teaming of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in a musical. The slight story is written by Herbert Fields, John Monks Jr and Fred Finklehoffe. The lively songs are by Arthur Freed, Roger Edens and George Gershwin. George Pal contributes a fresh segment featuring a symphony performed by animated pieces of fruit, which was an idea from a visitor to the set named Vincente Minnelli. Two years later a renamed Vincent Minnelli became a director and five years later married Judy Garland.

Riverwood High school band drummer Jimmy Connors (Mickey Rooney) converts the school band into a swing orchestra and talks classmate Mary Holden (Judy Garland) into being the band vocalist. After receiving permission from the principal (Francis Pierlot) to perform at the school dance, the band is a hit as it performs the lively Do The La Conga number–choreographed by Berkeley. This encourages the dynamic Jimmy to enter the school band in Paul Whiteman’s band contest in Chicago, but the school refuses to pay for the $200 train fare. The band thereby stages a fund raising Gay Nineties melodrama for the Elks Club, but still fall short fifty dollars for the trip. To add more challenges to the skimpy plot, the attractive blonde Barbara Frances Morgan (June Preisser) enrolls in Riverwood and to the dismay of Mary goes after her romantic interest Jimmy. Barbara becomes serious competition for Mary when her dad (George Lessey) hires the Paul Whiteman band to play at his daughter’s birthday party, and this drives Jimmy crazy with excitement. It also prompts the ambitious Jimmy to get his band to stage an impromptu performance at the party. The radio band leader is impressed and offers Jimmy a job as a drummer, but the loyal Jimmy refuses to abandon the school band. The avuncular Whiteman then loans Jimmy $50 needed to reach Chicago for the contest. But when band member Willie (Larry Nunn) needs an operation, the money raised for Chicago is given instead for Willie to fly to Chicago for an emergency life saving operation. When Mr. Morgan hears of Jimmy’s selfless gesture for Willie, not to be outdone by Whiteman’s generosity, the wealthy businessman sends the band to Chicago aboard one of his company’s trains. I bet you can guess the winner of the contest at the Paul Whiteman broadcast in Chicago.

The 18-year-old Judy sings several peppy songs including “Nobody,” “La Conga” and “Our Love Affair,” but this is Rooney’s pic and he steals every scene with his energy and enthusiasm. The title song was lifted from the Broadway musical as composed byGeorge and Ira Gershwin, while the play’s plot was junked in favor of the more youthful plot for the popular movie stars. The result was box office magic.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”