11 November 2008 | bkoganbing
Bette Is Truly Divine
For The Boys is a film that's about two performers and their almost 50 year association of one kind or another through some tumultuous times in America. The filmed earned Bette Midler a nomination for Best Actress in what might be her best screen role. At least it's the favorite of mine.
Dixie Leonard where Midler gets to show all her talents is a young club singer who gets a break to accompany famous entertainer Eddie Sparks as played by James Caan on a USO tour in World War II. Midler's husband is an army photographer who's killed in action, but she still has his son who is played at various times in his life by Brandon Call and Christopher Rydell, director Mark Rydell's son. George Segal who is Caan's gag writer also is Midler's uncle and he acts as cupid in this show business marriage. All of Midler and Caan's lives are played out against the background of America in World War II, the Korean War, the McCarthy Era and Vietnam.
Caan's character of Eddie Sparks is said to be based on Bob Hope and God only knows what Hope must have thought of this film at the time it was out. By that point his stature as an American icon was secure. Hope was known to have liaisons with a few female performers, most discreetly however. The best known that kind of bubbled to the surface was with Marilyn Maxwell who Midler's character might have been based on. The character of Eddie Sparks however had three daughters and America's most well known father of girls was Eddie Cantor in most of this era. And Cantor's most well known extra-marital affair involved Joan Davis.
By the way actress Shannon Wilcox has a brief but really telling part as Caan's ice princess of a wife. Her few scenes tell you exactly why Caan's out roaming.
Caan got a lot of criticism for his part and I'm mystified as to why. Eddie Sparks is a complex part and Caan mastered all the subtleties even though he's not my idea of a song and dance man. He's the kind of man who will stop at nothing to climb the ladder of success, but he's also not a totally bad man. Knowing full well that George Segal's pungent political comments in front of gossip columnist Rosemary Murphy, another ice princess, will get him in trouble, he tries in one scene to tell him to just cool it. In that other classic, The Way We Were, Caan is adhering to Robert Redford's philosophy where in ten years time right wing producers will be hiring left wing writers and the blacklist will be forgotten, it's just something to be ridden out if one keeps a cool head. I don't think Caan was totally wrong there, he didn't want to lose his friend and a good writer.
What finally breaks Midler and Caan apart is the death of her son, like his father in combat in Vietnam. Caan and the boy bonded genuinely and the young man, probably more to honor his father chose a military career, graduating from the Citadel. Caan has a flip attitude towards education which is something the kid picks up on. But people who have a flip attitude towards education, albeit with a military bent, don't last at the Citadel.
Midler sees Caan as a warmonger who built his career on the publicity surrounding the entertainment of troops like Bob Hope. Caan argues quite rightly that he doesn't make policy, he doesn't send kids to war, he's a song and dance man.
A good mixture of songs from the various eras make up the score for For The Boys. One song, Bill-A-Dick by Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster was an unpublished number at the time it was written and makes its debut here. It's sung by Midler along with Melissa Manchester and Pattie Darcy as an Andrews Sisters like trio. Remember Midler did revive the Andrews Sisters's Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
The film is an absolute gem, Midler is divine and don't listen to the criticisms that were given to James Caan.