From immigrant lad to All-American success story, Irving Berlin showed his abiding love for his adopted country with, among other cultural accomplishments, decades of Broadway hits, the unofficial national anthem God Bless America and the World War II spirit-lifter This Is the Army.
On stage it featured 350 real-life GIs, giving their singing-and- dancing all to raise nearly $2 million (then an astronomical sum) for Army Emergency Relief.
This lively screen adaptation features the same GI's plus George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Joan Leslie and guest stars Joe Louis, Kate Smith, Berlin himself and others in a tale of a father and son who put on one heckuva show before the son marches off to war.
Held together by a flimsy plot, this is 2 hours of sheer enjoyment, with a variety of entertainment, from show-stopping tap dance numbers, comedy skits, an acrobatic number, and even magic tricks, and the film also includes of course, two actors that were to become political figures, our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, and U.S. Senator from California (1965-71) George Murphy.
Reagan looks fantastic in this film where he plays stage manager Johnny Jones. His presence and stature, lean and broad-shouldered, is amazing, as is his warmth and charm. This, as well as "Kings Row", are my two favorite Reagan films that I've seen so far. Lt. Reagan only made his military pay for this film ($ 250.00 a month) while Murphy earned $ 28,000.00...and Irving Berlin, whose terrific score earned him an Oscar, donated his proceeds to the Army Emergency Relief Fund.
Expertly directed by Michel Curtiz, Irving Berlin's music is a delight (we get to hear him sing "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning"), and the choreography by LeRoy Prinz and Robert Sidney is outstanding.
The film, which has the feel of a revue, starts out with Berlin's WWI show, "Yip ! Yip ! Yaphank", and segues into the WWII section, with the next generation performing the show (Reagan plays Murphy's son). Based on the Broadway show that toured the nation and the world as a morale booster for the military, "This is the Army" is an unpretentious and jolly gem, and though some of the numbers are "politically incorrect" for this day and age, those same numbers are also the best in the show, like "Mandy", which is done in blackface, "That's What the Well-Dressed Man in Harlem Will Wear" (brilliantly danced by an man who is uncredited, and also featuring boxing champ Joe Louis), and a choice sequence, the humorous "Stage Door Canteen", with the burliest of the men in drag, and marvelous impersonations of actors, the best being "Herbert Marshall" speaking on the qualities of a hamburger.