Monday, November 17, 2008

THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (Warner Bros. 1943) Warner Home Video

Warner publicity of its time described David Butler’s Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) as “a million shows in one and one show in a million.” Unhappy chance, that for posterity the finished film is more a compendium of outtakes and experiments than one cohesive ‘hey kids, let’s put on a show!’

The studio has lumped together a satchel full of its top notch talent, most of them utterly wasted in sound bytes and by a turgid screenplay from Norman Panama, Melvin Frank and James V. Kern that treads the tired lament of an unknown singer, desperate to make good and become famous.

The plot, such as it is, begins during a radio broadcast, where Eddie Cantor has to fend off a half serious/half punchy John Garfield lampooning one of his film noir tough guy characterizations. Afterward, Dinah Shore sings the film’s title track. In the audience, observing the program are theatrical producer, Farnsworth (Edward Everett Horton) and musical conductor Dr. Schlenna (S.Z. Sakall), who concur that Shore would be ideal for the debut of their ‘Cavalcade of Stars’ live show.

One problem; to get to Shore, the duo has to first engage Cantor who has her under an exclusive five year contract. Convincing Cantor to loan Dinah isn’t the problem. Convincing Cantor to butt out is. Soon, the bombastic Cantor is commanding the rehearsals and making impossible demands of the cast and crew, making changes and exacerbating the patience of both Farnsworth and Schlenna.

Meanwhile, in another part of Hollywood make-believe land, unknown song writer Pat Dixon (Joan Leslie) is desperately trying to pitch her new tune, ‘Moon Dust’ to unknown singer, Tommy Randolph (Dennis Morgan) and Joe, the tour bus driver (Cantor, again). She’s unsuccessful, but quickly relegates her own dreams of fame to embrace Tommy’s chances to perform in Cavalcade of Stars. Together, this trio concocts a plan to kidnap Cantor and replace him with Joe – a dead ringer. The ploy works and Tommy is a big hit in the show.

What is particularly distressing about that show – the film’s grand finale, as it were - is that it is supposed to be about seeing the stars doing what America loves to see them do best. Yet, the resulting compendium of moments showcases stars that, for the most part, are out of character and out of their element for that matter instead. Errol Flynn is the most successful of these experiments, singing ‘That’s What You Jolly Well Get’ as an obnoxious, booze hound cockney. Not only is Flynn in good voice, he also displays great fluidity in his dance. It’s a pity Warner Bros. never bothered to capitalize on these talents by offering him a big budget musical of his own as they did with tough guy James Cagney.

Tragically, a slew of the studio’s best known and most beloved contract players are simply not up to snuff on this outing. Bette Davis flounders in her rendition of ‘They’re Either Too Young or Too Old’ – a war time lament about the unavailability of attractive suitors. So too does Ann Sheridan flop while attempting something of a bad Mae West imitation with ‘Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made.’

Olivia DeHavilland and Ida Lupino, flanked by George Tobias, drown in a mercilessly bad jive routine. Jack Carson and Alan Hale are brutally corny in ‘Goin’ North.’ And then there’s Hattie McDaniel – shrieking ‘Ice Cold Katy’; a jive routine about a frosty Miss who refuses to marry a G.I. on leave.

Humphrey Bogart – top billed – has but six lines in the entire movie; appearing unshaven and suggestively down on his luck. He accosts Schlenna back stage and is quickly – and quite humorously – demolished by the portly impresario before turning to the camera to say “Gee, I hope my fans don’t find out about this”; a rather telling sentiment. For the last act of this bombastic claptrap features everyone sailing around on their bottoms, clinging to either planets or stars.

Not everything is terrible. Dennis Morgan has two memorable moments; the first, crooning ‘I’m Ridin’ For A Fall’ with Leslie; the second as part of a grand production number, singing ‘Good Night, Good Neighbor’ as Alexis Smith is frenetically tossed about the landscape by a pair of Latin lotharios. Morgan is in fine voice and makes a winning leading man. But he is hampered by Joan Leslie – too plucky and trying too hard to find reasons to want to see him succeed.

Eddie Cantor manages to insert every wise crack and low brow pithy retort in his repertoire; most of them holding up quite nicely. Dinah Shore’s stand out moment comes as a southern belle, twittering the melodic ‘How Sweet You Are’ –a grand production number that oozes the appropriate amount of stardust and romantic charm.

And then, of course, there is S.Z. Sakall – one of filmdom’s unique and endearing treasures. He’s marvelous as the harried conductor. After an uncooperative elephant turns his back to Schlenna and Farnsworth, the latter angrily declares, “This is the end!” to which the nonchalant Sakall glibly replies, “Yes, I can see that.”

In the final analysis, I suppose we should all ‘thank our lucky stars’ that this sort of thrown together entertainment is a thing of the past. The talent is there, but the material to make the most of the opportunity is quite simply not!

Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is very solid. The B&W picture elements have been nicely cleaned up and restored. Contrast levels are superbly balanced. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are bright, though never blooming. The image is razor sharp, without the detriments of edge enhancement or pixelization to intrude. The audio is nicely balanced. Extras include the usual litany of short subjects and trailers to choose from.

*Please note: currently this disc has only been made available as part of the Warner Home Front Collection: a three disc set that also includes Hollywood Canteen and Irving Berlin’s This Is The Army.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



1 comment:

David M. said...

You're right about this movie, but what a great box set.