This lavish early Technicolor provided great escapism entertainment in the midst of WWII. To me, it clearly provides the best roles for Alice Faye and Jack Oakie, two of Fox's most popular performers, in a musical. June Havoc, as Oakie's low class Irish girlfriend and vaudeville performer partner, is also good, as are various choruses and specialty acts. Loads of tunes, nearly all performed on stage. On the other hand, the association of self-made status seeking burlesque kingpin Johnny Cornell(John Payne) and snobbish cynical Knob Hill society matron Bernice Croft(Lynn Bari) casts a markedly contrasting negative aspect to the film.I'm sure there are and have been such people in the world, but their personality types, taken to the extreme in this film, greatly distracts from the otherwise feel good tone of the film. The marriage of convenience between these two obnoxious characters clearly is sick, as is the continuing emotional attachment of Faye's character to Cornell, despite his repeated rebuffs and double crosses. But that's part of the standard formula for Fox musicals:create some romantic and professional melodrama to fill in between musical scenes. Just, in this film, it's overdone in the extreme. Probably Payne's most likable versions of his standard role in his numerous Fox musicals were those in "Weekend in Havana", where he again costars with Faye, and again ultimately dumps his stuffy socialite fiancée for the earthy Faye, and "It Happened in Sun Valley", where Bari again plays his ultimately dumped fiancée. Despite the same outcome, Bari's character is much more positive in that film, as is Payne's and doesn't leave the audience turned off.
The raucous Barbary coast district of San Francisco, where most of the action takes place, was a popular set for several films in the '30s and '40s, including "Barbary Coast"('35), "San Francisco"('36), and "King of Burlesque"('36), all in B&W. The present film is actually a remake of the latter, with Faye and Oakie playing their same roles. Bari was in it too, but as an uncredited chorus dancer.Ironically, the actress who played Bari's part in that film was Mona Barrie:spelled differently, but pronounced the same! These films also have some obvious similarities to the popular MGM semi-musical "San Francisco", in which Clark Gable plays a Barbary coast kingpin very similar to Johnny Cornell, though more sympathetic,and Jeanette MacDonald plays a role very similar to that of Faye, as the one performer who gives an air of class respectability to the kingpin's entertainment empire. Again, the plot involves tensions between the kingpin and Knob hill society, and a love-hate relationship between the stars. Even the theme song from that film was included in the present film as background for a chorus number. But, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, composed the signature song for this film: "You'll Never Know", which is generally regarded as Faye's most memorable film song(Actually, I prefer Ella Fitzgerald's rendition).
Not surprisingly, exuberant veteran vaudeville-styled Jack Oakie tends to steal the show, both on stage and between the scenes. His warm comic persona was essential to this film to counter the increasingly dark characterizations of Johhny Cornell and Bernice Croft, and to help cheer up Faye after one of her double crosses by Cornell. Payne,Oakie and Faye had a basically similar relationship in the prior musical "Tin Pan Alley"... June Havoc was a talented, but second tier, Fox performer during this period. She is easily confused in name with June Haver, also starring or costarring in several Fox musicals of this period, including "The Dolly Sisters", with Betty Grable...Laird Cregar has a small role as Cornell's burley confident, notoriously leading him astray as to the source of money to finance Cornell's business comeback.I haven't seen Cregar's more sinister roles in his brief Hollywood career, but his first significant Hollywood role, as Pierre Radisson's jovial sidekick, in "Hudson's Bay", showed his potential as an actor. Unfortunately, he instituted an extreme crash diet in an effort to shake his type casting as an overstuffed ogre, and apparently wrecked his GI, necessitating surgery, from which he soon died.