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Strike Up the Band

Strike Up the Band(1940)

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teaser Strike Up the Band (1940)

The huge success of the 1939 musical Babes in Arms directed by Busby Berkeley and starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland led MGM to quickly look for a follow up utilizing the same three talents. At first MGM seriously considered starring Rooney and Garland in the college musical Good News, but studio chief Louis B. Mayer changed his mind and chose Strike Up the Band (1940) as the team's next project for no other reason than it sounded 'patriotic.' The spirit of nationalism was running high with the stirrings of World War II abroad, and Strike Up the Band would showcase the optimism of America's youth at their apple pie best.

The title Strike Up the Band was taken from the hit Broadway show with music by George and Ira Gershwin. Other than the title and the rousing song of the same name, however, the film's story bore no resemblance to the original text. Writers Fred Finklehoffe and John Monks, Jr. came up with a new plot that better suited the youthful co-stars. In the new script, Rooney would play Jimmy Connors, a frustrated high school band drummer who dreams of leading his own modern jazz orchestra, and Garland would appear as Mary, a girl who sings with the band but can't get Jimmy to notice her as anything more than a friend. When Jimmy and his band get the chance to audition for the famous orchestra leader Paul Whiteman in Chicago, they exceed their own expectations in raising money for the trip and the chance to live their dreams.

Strike Up the Band was really Mickey Rooney's film. He had earned his place as the top box office star of his day, a title previously held by Shirley Temple. The film showcased Rooney's many talents including acting, singing, dancing, drumming, and comedy. Though Judy Garland's role was mainly one of support, it was a nice featured part for her, and she got to sing several memorable songs including "Nobody," "La Conga" and a beautiful new number written especially for her called "Our Love Affair," which was nominated for an Academy Award. Judy turned 18 years old while making this picture and also met one of her future husbands, famed director Vincente Minnelli, though it would be another five years before they married. Minnelli was on the set one day at the request of the film's producer Arthur Freed who was having trouble with a particular scene in Strike Up the Band. "We need a big production number here," Freed told Minnelli. "Mickey and Judy are in the house, and he's telling her he wants to be a famous band leader like Paul Whiteman. Something big has to happen." Minnelli looked around and noticed a bowl of fruit on the table. "Why don't you take that bowl of fruit and have Mickey set each piece of fruit as if it were a musical instrument," responded Minnelli as he recounts in his 1974 autobiography I Remember it Well. 'Apples for fiddles, oranges for brass, bananas for woodwinds. Then have Mickey conduct with his hands. The pieces of fruit are now puppet characters of musicians.' Freed was thrilled with the idea and used it. The resulting highly imaginative number was one of the film's highlights, prompting Louis B. Mayer to forever call Minnelli "the genius who took a bowl of fruit and made a big production number out of it."

The combination of Busby Berkeley, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland proved to be box office magic for the second time on Strike Up the Band. The trio worked successfully together again on Babes on Broadway in 1941. On their fourth film together Girl Crazy (1943), however, Berkeley was replaced as director by Norman Taurog though he retained credit as a choreographer. Strike Up the Band remains a fine example of Busby Berkeley's unique style and creative integration of camera work with music and dance and the phenomenal talents of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Fred F. Finklehoffe, John Monks, Jr.
Art Direction: John S. Detlie, Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Ray June
Editing: Ben Lewis
Music: Roger Edens, George Stoll
Cast: Mickey Rooney (Jimmy Connors), Judy Garland (Mary Holden), Paul Whiteman (Paul Whiteman), June Preisser (Barbara Frances Morgan), William Tracy (Phillip Turner).
BW-121m. Closed captioning

by Andrea Passafiume

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