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THIS IS THE ARMY (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: Casey Robinson/Capt. Claude Binyon/based on the stage presentation of Irving Berlin’s “This Is the Army”; cinematographers: Bert Glennon/Sol Polito; editor: George Amy; music: Irving Berlin/Ray Heindorf; cast: George Murphy (Jerry Jones), Ronald Reagan (Johnny Jones), Joan Leslie (Eileen Dibble), George Tobias (Maxie Twardofsky), Alan Hale (Sgt. McGee), Charles Butterworth (Eddie Dibble), Dolores Costello (Mrs. Davidson), Una Merkel (Rose Dibble), Stanley Ridges (Maj. John B. Davidson), Rosemary DeCamp (Ethel), Ruth Donnelly (Mrs. O’Brien), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Nelson), Frances Langford (herself), Kate Smith (herself), Joe Louis (himself); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack L. Warner/ Hal B. Wallis for Army Emergency Relief; Warner Brothers; 1943)
“As American as apple pie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A glorious rousing adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Broadway musical revue directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”/”The Mad Genius”/”Captain Blood”). This patriotic wartime tribute to the American troops was well-received by the WW II audience (the highest-grossing film of 1943). It was made by Warner Brothers by special arrangement with the War Department to serve as a morale booster, and as a way to raise money to help soldiers and their families. The cast consists largely of real servicemen and a few well-known Hollywood entertainers. When America entered World War II, Irving Berlin introduced This is the Army. It was an updated version of the World War I stage hit Yip Yip Yaphank, which was also an all-soldier revue to boost public morale. This Is the Army began as a 1942 Broadway musical and comes with a thin plot and seventeen Irving Berlin songs. It’s filmed as a variety show featuring besides the songs, dance numbers, marches, a minstrel show in blackface, a chorus of men soldiers in drag, a comedy routine, and gymnastics. Kate Smith is a treat as she sings “God Bless America,” Berlin sings his own song “Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning,” Frances Langford sings “What Does He Look Like?”. Some of the other standout songs include: “Poor Little Me, I’m on K. P.,” “We’re on Our Way to France,” “I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep,” “This Is the Army Mr. Jones,” “I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen,” “Well-Dressed Man in Harlem,” “How About a Cheer for the Navy,” and the rousing finale sung by all the soldiers in chorus “This Time Is the Last Time.”

The plot has World War I vet, a hoofer named Jerry Jones (George Murphy, the future Republican senator from California), show his GI son Johnny (Ronald Reagan, the future Republican President of the United States) how to put on a USO show for World War II. Pop was the stage manager who put on the World War I Yip Yip Yaphank, and after the war became a producer partner with his son because a wartime leg injury in France prevented him from dancing. Joan Leslie is Reagan’s love interest.

The musical flagwaver is corny but effective, and as American as apple pie. Berlin’s spirited treasured songs seamlessly links both world wars and the older and younger generations together, as it views in a positive light the war efforts by America to bring a lasting peace to the world and a willingness of the young to fight for democracy in the same way their parents did. I saw the colorized version (three-strip Technicolor), which is the one to see to catch the full impact of the colorful costumes and arty set designs.

REVIEWED ON 11/12/2008 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”