10 April 2010 | MartinHafer
A treat for any fan of Hollywood's golden age.
In the 1930s and 40s, most of the major studios made films that featured a variety show, of sorts, with the contract stars. MGM struck gold with this in the early sound film "The Hollywood Review of 1929" and this film set the stage for quite a few followup films. This sort of film became especially popular during WWII, as these films were often sent overseas to entertain the troops--such as "Hollywood Canteen" and "Star Spangled Rhythm". "Star Spangled Rhythm" is a tad different in that there is more plot than many of these films. In other words, it's not just a variety show and this really doesn't begin until the film is at the half-way point.
The film begins as a sailor (Eddie Bracken) convinces a group of his friends on shore leave to come with him to Paramount Studios, as his father is head of production! However, his dad (Victor Moore) is NOT the boss but a lowly security guard on the lot. Now wanting to get caught, Moore and Betty Hutton (who plays Bracken's VERY energetic girlfriend) work together to convince the sailors (and a Marine they picked up along the way) that Moore indeed is the big kahuna! For me, this is the best part of the film, as the plot is pretty cute and gets funny when the real head of production walks into the middle of this--and thinks he's been replaced! Unfortunately for Moore, the boss finally does realize what's been happening and it looks as if the plan is about to fall apart. However, through some further finagling, Moore and Hutton are able to arrange a show for the servicemen to convince the fellas that nothing is up....that Moore IS a big-shot.
As far as the variety show goes, there are no major surprises but it's nice to see the actors and actresses play themselves in a series of nice cameos. What I actually struck me most about this was how incredibly short Dorothy Lamour, Veronica Lake (I did know she was 'diminutive') and Paulette Goddard were, as they were towered over by the other actresses in the first scene of the variety show. Not surprisingly, the three later sang a number together. In addition to these women, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, Franchot Tone, Fred MacMurray and many others were on hand for the show.
In addition to the show, you also get to see some stars walking around the studio lot. A few of these cameos are bizarre--and wonderful for cinephiles like myself. You get a rare role for Cecil B. DeMille and Preston Sturgis as themselves. Plus, in addition to seeing Bing Crosby walking about the lot, his son Gary is with him. I liked this very contrived "behind the scenes" look of the film. Sure, you know this is all for a fictional film, but it's pretty cool if you're into old films like me.
Overall, while not all the variety acts work well, many do. Plus the story that ties them all together is very good. The film may bore some (especially those who know nothing of the classic era in Hollywood), but is a treat for any 1940s film buff.
By the way, although the show is supposed to be done on stage live in front of the sailors, it's very, very obvious many of the acts were performed on a sound stage--with sound stage sets. Just suspend your sense of disbelief at these moments or they might just make your brain hurt! After all, the shower scene is obviously NOT done in front of the men but it is quite funny!