Thank Your Lucky Stars is a wartime revue that
stays largely off the topic of war. It may be a best of many that included
MGM's Thousands Cheer, Paramount's Star-Spangled Rhythm, Universal's Follow The
Boys, and Warner Bros.' other contribution to the group, Hollywood Canteen. WB
was for me a preferred of these because their attitude toward talent and
themselves was most irreverent. A Looney Tune sensibility had seeped into live
action at Burbank.
Whereas Metro and Para did us favor of privileged
glimpse behind scenes, WB made theirs object of spoofery and personas going
surprise direction. Bogart and John Garfield the tough guys? Let one be cowed
and the other sing. Had Errol Flynn or Bette Davis sung/danced on screen before
(let alone had she jitterbugged)? They would now. Much that was unexpected to
1943 viewership happened here. They surely were delighted.
Such jamboree amounted to studio display of
trophy rooms. For a public eager to know stars in natural habitat, they were
Sunday rotogravure and fan magazines sprung to life.Favorites trying theunaccustomed
would, among other things, reveal employer estimation of artists' ability. Most
talent is seen to advantage in Thank Your Lucky Stars, but not all. Bogart the badman threat is unable to be so with S.Z. Sakall, who gives him a slapping. HB's the
slacker among Stars who sing/dance. Was he so inept for that, or unwilling to
pull a number together? Saharawas in
progress, so Bogart is unshaven. As "himself," there was no recourse
but the gangster, his Casablanca
transform to romantic lead man not fully cemented (Thank Your Lucky Stars was
in production from late 1942 into 1943, period in which Casablanca premiered
and then went into general release). But Bogart would always be condemned to
wear Duke Mantee's mask, his WWII camp sketches built around the actor seeking
a "mob" among servicemen to oppose Axis gangland. He'd even grow back
stubble and be Duke again ("Nails" Bogart) as Jack Benny's 1953 TV guest.
The Garfield spot
isn't as dogmatic, for at least he sings (Blues In The Night) and there's wit
in changed lyrics to accommodate him, but Garfield
too was mired in Warners' perception of him, intro as "The Bad Boy Of
Burbank" unbecoming to an actor who needed mature parts to get out of
casting rut. It was stars who surprised in Thank Your Lucky Stars that came off
best.Bette Davis was held till late in proceedings for her act being most
anticipated. She did They're Either Too Young Or Too Old, which became a
wartime standard. There is almost violent jitterbugging she engages, which
director David Butler recalled as injurious to the actress (multiple falls,
scarped and bleeding knees). Davis had advantage of being at career peak here,
enhancing a can-do-anything resume, and offered song-and-comic relief from high
dramatics the lot of her starring WB vehicles.
David Butler as director was invited to Warners
by friend and Lucky producer Mark Hellinger. Butler made it his business to get along with
everyone he worked with. There was jolly countenance about him, helped by
portly build and attitude that movies were just a job you did as best you
could. He was the ideal journeyman, but no slouch for good results (Sunny Side
Up, San Antonio,
It's A Great Feeling, Calamity Jane, several of better Bob Hopes, Shirley
lacked of inspiration was made up with affability. I wonder how Orson Welles'
career might have worked out given some of Butler's people skills. Thank Your Lucky
Stars took half a year to finish, with multiple units at play. Butler had to divide time
between "book" sections and the star specialties, a process not
unlike what had gone on with WB 30's musicals where narrative was isolated from
Busby Berkeley highlights virtually productions in themselves.
A largely unsung value of Thank Your Lucky Stars
is fact that it was a last stand in a big movie for Eddie Cantor, not too different from Goldwyn's
Eddie-All-The-Time formula that worked so well in early to mid-30's. For his
dominating book portions here, there are two Eddies, but who tabbed the already
comic legend to play himself as such an ego-driven louse? Warners tended to go
rough on stars doing themselves, as evidenced by the Bogart bit, but there was
nothing of Cantor's image to suggest so obnoxious a character as posited here.
The nebbish alter-ego isrelief from the Hyde that is "Eddie Cantor,"
and both make most of comic opportunity, but which among Thank Your Lucky Stars
writers had it in for Banjo Eyes, a mistreated former staffer from his radio
program perhaps? In whatever case, Cantor was lucky to have such a showcase in
light of his air series having dropped from the Top 20, and movies lately
giving him a go-by. And if not for Thank Your Lucky Stars, we'd not have
minted-for-a-new-war We're Staying Home Tonight, a neat tune done with the old
Thank Your Lucky Stars is about crashing
Hollywood gates rather than Axis barricades, unusual among wartime revues, all
the others charting narrative and much of song upon course to victory. Dennis
Morgan and Joan Leslie are star hopefuls; they want less to win a war than
appear on Eddie Cantor's broadcast. In fact, neither mention the conflict. Of
star production numbers, the one most foursquare to war interest is Errol
Flynn's That's What You Jolly Well Get, unusual for its combat "hero"
revealed as a liar and braggart, Flynn in Music Hall mode and Cockney
voice/garb. If Thank Your Lucky Stars was reveal of untapped talent, his may be
a most startling,there being nothing of Flynn's past to suggest
aptitude for song/ dance. The fact he's spoofing his own image, which would be
seriously tarnished by an extended trial on statutory charges, made the act
work on levels beyond surface pleasure. Thank Your Lucky Stars is available on
DVD and has streamed on Warner Instant inHD.