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  • After "Hollywood Canteen" and "Stage Door Canteen" had been released as flag-wavers intended to raise money for the named USO operations, Columbia got into the act with this effort. As with the earlier two, it was an all-star operation, but in this case it was cowboy stars, with a strong emphasis on singing cowboys, an occasional ventriloquist (in the person of Max Terhune) and the ladies in the show drawn from the Columbia shorts department.

    It's a lighthearted effort and a considerable pleasure to see so many of the leading cowboy actors of the era in one spot and an excellent chance to play spot the stars. It's also a fine survey of western music at the time -- at this point, western swing was biggest genre of music in terms of sales -- including swing, ballads, traditional (from Tex Ritter) as well as major talents such as Roy Acuff and the Mills Brothers. As a snapshot of the era, as a musical anthology and as a chance to see more vanished stars than there are in heaven, it's a must-see movie for the real movie fan.
  • Two cowboy heroes Charles 'The Durango Kid' Starrett and Tex Ritter who is among the acts as well vie for the affections of Jane Frazee in Cowboy Canteen. There's very little western in this western other than cowboy clothes. All this is film's story does is allow for a dozen or so performers to do their shtick.

    Frazee and Barbara Jo Allen better known as Vera Vague of the Bob Hope Show are part of a theatrical troupe that is taking over the ranch of Starrett while he and his foreman Guinn Williams go to war.

    Besides doing the male ranch jobs, Frazee and Allen decide to keep their entertainment skills honed by turning the barn into a theater and putting on a show for the men in uniform. I think you see where this is going.

    Nothing special, but the acts are good and Frazee winds up with one of them.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    One of the better low-budget musicals during the era of World War II, just shows three entertainers moving to the country for war work while the mail members of the family that runs the farm go off for service. Of course, owner Charles Starrett isn't amused when he finds out that two of the arrivals are women (singer Jane Frazee and comic Vera Vague) but during his last days on the farm, a romance erupts between him and Frazee. Romantic complications arise for both her and Vague who has a comical romance with Guinn "Big Boy" Williams which includes her self-effacing comedy.

    Along the way, Vague and Frazee put on a show to entertain the boys at Starret's nearby boot camp and Starrett is engaged to assist them. This leads to several great special team numbers including The Mills Brothers, a rather sardonic ventriloquist (featuring quips knocking Bergen and McCarthy), and a slew of country and pop songs that are truly delightful to listen to. Even for those of us who weren't around during the war, there is a feeling of nostalgia with these films, as the music stands the test of time, and they are all extremely good-natured.

    I became a huge fan of Vera Vague through the opportunity to see many of her shorts, and while her act may seem silly and she is obviously quite better-looking then her image suggest, she remains lovable and deliciously kookey, a funny girl who along with Fanny Brice helped influence many of today's great female comics. Frazee, charming and beautiful, hasn't been as well remembered as the very similar Frances Langford, but is well paired with the handsome Starrett, a western hero who occasionally broke out of that mold and proved him to be more versatile then the studio executives allowed him to be. This is a film that will leave you with a lot of smiles.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This picture offers a nice opportunity to catch a few of the leading cowboy stars of the era in a musical revue that captures some of the charm of the Old West. It's too bad some of the bigger names of the era weren't involved like Gene or Roy, but even so, Charles Starrett and Tex Ritter were pretty well known names and had their following. Second Billed Jane Frazee appeared in her own fair share of Western films, and I've seen quite a few of them, but never once have I seen her sing before. I thought she had a pretty fine voice doing a couple of numbers, which makes me wonder why she didn't get to do so more often.

    There's a background story going on as well as the Bradley Lazy B Ranch becomes the setting for the Cowboy Canteen of the title, while owner Steve Bradley (Starrett) and his buddy Spud Harrigan (Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams) prepare to enter the Army. Steve starts off on the wrong foot with Miss Connie (Frazee), but as things progress, he finds himself in a competition with ranch hand Tex (Ritter) over who gets to win her hand. I won't give it away but you can probably guess.

    Most of the musical numbers have Jimmy Wakely's Saddle Pals or Ray Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls performing, either alone or as backup to other players. It didn't seem like that many to me but the soundtrack credits page on this site lists fourteen songs, which gives you an idea how breezily they came and went. One surprise for this viewer was seeing the Mills Brothers performing their renditions of 'Up a Lazy River' and 'Paper Doll'. I'd seen them in plenty of TV variety shows as a kid but the Western setting was something different for them. As expected, they sounded pretty good.

    I guess it never occurred to the film makers, or if it was it was set aside for the story, but Starrett and Big Boy Williams were pretty well past military service age when they made the picture. Williams had a line about coming home with a 'yellow Jap' that might cause some squirm for modern viewers, but otherwise the story had a nicely patriotic flavor. Williams' gal pal Vera (Barbara Jo Allen) had a line that made me do a double take at one point - heading in from a trail ride with her friend Connie, she reacted to Steve Bradley's surprise that they could both ride a horse so well. Her response - "...I've been in the saddle every morning for years, but this is the first time I tried it on a horse". My reaction was a lot like Big Boy's!