Posted in Old Movies, WWII

My Top Five WWII Home-Front Movies

Some of my favorite WW II films are set in the United States or on the “home-front.” These helped inspire me to write stories set on the “home front” as well as overseas. On the “home-front” almost everyone contributed to the war effort so there are many, many stories to be told. Here are my top five favorites in reverse order.

5. Saboteur (1942)

This Alfred Hitchcock thriller is a wartime, “home-front” movie as well as a romance. In the film Robert Cummings tries to clear his name by chasing down an arsonist only to become entangled with a spy ring trying to blow up Hoover Dam. Priscilla Lane and her uncle help him, and she becomes caught up in the action. Cummings suspects Norman Lloyd as the German spy. In New York the German sympathizers attempt to destroy a new battleship and are foiled by Cummings and Lane. They chase the spies through Radio City Music Hall. The climactic scene at the top of the Statue of Liberty is incredible, especially considering the technology of the time. Of course, Cummings and Lane get together in the end.

4. The Clock (1945)

This movie is definitely a wartime love story. Judy Garland accidently trips over Robert Walker’s foot in Pennsylvania Station. He’s on 48 hours leave before he has to ship out. He asks her out that evening, and they agree to meet under the Clock at the Astor Hotel. After dinner they end up spending the night delivering milk then have breakfast with the milkman and his wife. Garland and Walker become separated in a crowded subway and desperately try to find each other without knowing last names. Back at the train station they reunite and Walker asks Garland to marry him. They spend his last day of leave fighting red tape to get married before he leaves. Then they must say good-bye until he returns from the war. (Tear-jerker time)

3. The Human Comedy (1943)

Mickey Rooney stars as a teenager in a small town who delivers telegrams for Western Union. The poignant drama depicts the human side of war as Mickey delivers the news of a loved one lost in battle, while his own brother is serving overseas. A romance between his boss and a local girl stalls when he joins the military and leaves for service. Over time the whole town feels the effects of the war. This is my favorite Mickey Rooney movie.

2. Since You Went Away (1944)

Claudette Colbert’s husband leaves wife and daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) to fight the war. Life quickly changes – from taking in a boarder to losing their cook to war work to Jones working in a hospital full of wounded soldiers to Jones falling for a soldier to Colbert learning to weld. The family evolves and grows and learns to cope with all the changes brought on by the war. I love the depiction of strong women on the “home-front” not only keeping life going but also contributing to the war effort.

1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Absolutely my favorite WWII movie. Three men, a soldier (Frederic March) a sailor (Harold Russell) and an airman (Dana Andrews) return home together and try to adjust to civilian life. There’s awkwardness between March, his wife (Myrna Loy), daughter (Teresa Wright) and teenage son and trouble returning to his banking job. Russell must adapt to life without his hands and decide whether to marry his long-time girl friend. Andrews struggles to find work while his war-time bride (Virginia Mayo) wants to party all the time. The film won several Oscars including Best Picture.

Some other “home-front” movies I recommend are: Miracle in the Rain, Tender Comrade and A League of Their Own.

Posted in History, Research, WWII

Swing Music In the Movies of WWII

Swing! That’s what they called it. And I fell in love with it. I even have Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” for the ringtone on my phone. That’s how much I love it.

Swing music was popular in the late thirties and forties and is often associated with the Second World War. This upbeat music provided a fun outlet for young people and a way to escape the world-wide political turmoil. Famous “Big Bands” performed live in venues around the country and on the radio. Some bands appeared regularly on radio broadcasts that reached regional and sometimes national audiences making it the most popular music of the day. Local bands, phonograph records and juke boxes brought the swing music to every city, small town and country village. The most popular “Big Bands” made it into the movies where we can see them today.SunValleySerenade[1]

My first exposure to “swing” music was watching those old movies and I was hooked. I’ve never been much of a fan of musicals, but the ones that featured big bands always caught my eye and my ear. I can remember trying to jitter-bug in our living room while one of those old musicals played on the TV.

Glenn MillerGlenn_miller_story[1]

My favorite of the swing era is Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Miller not only led the band but, like most of the big band leaders, he also wrote and arranged music for the band. And like most band leaders he played an instrument which in Miller’s case was trombone.  The bio-pic “The Glenn Miller Story,” starring James Stewart and June Allyson, features many Miller favorites like “Tuxedo Junction,” “String of Pearls,” “In the Mood,” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” Made in 1954 the movie tells of Miller’s rise to fame, his Army service and his tragic death in 1944. My favorite film featuring Glenn Miller and his orchestra is “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941) where a magnificent performance of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” is captured on film, dance routine and all. There’s also a performance of one of my favorite Glenn Miller songs “In the Mood.” Another good movie featuring Miller and his orchestra is “Orchestra Wives” (1942) with Jackie Gleason, George Montgomery, and Cesar Romero as band members. The music includes “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” and “Moonlight Serenade,” Miller’s theme-song.

Benny GoodmanStage_Door_Canteen_poster[1]

We can’t talk about swing music without talking about  Benny Goodman. His “hot” clarinet brought jazz out of the night clubs and juke joints and into Carnegie Hall. To learn more about “The King of Swing” watch “The Benny Goodman Story,” a 1955 movie starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed, with Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. A favorite film of mine featuring Benny Goodman is “Stage Door Canteen.” Made in 1943 it depicts the real canteen in New York City and features cameo appearances by numerous movie stars of the time, as well as lots of fun music and dancing.  Other WWII films featuring Goodman are “Syncopation” (1942), “The Powers Girl” (1942), “The Gangs All Here” (1943) and “Sweet and Low Down” (1944).

Harry James

Talk about a trumpet player! Harry James played the swingingest trumpet of the era. He and his band, the Music Makers, were also featured in Hollywood musicals during the 1940’s. Watch “Springtime in the Rockies” from 1942 which starred Harry’s future wife, Betty Grable. Harry James also appears in “Private Buckaroo” (1942) and “Best Foot Forward” (1943). Experience his “Concerto for Trumpet” in “Private Buckaroo.”Springtimeintherockies[1]

The Dorsey Brothers – Tommy and Jimmy

Brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey organized a band in the 1920’s, playing and recording together until 1935 when the two musically talented siblings split and formed their own bands. Tommy, the trombone player, hired Frank Sinatra away from Harry James in 1940. Sinatra’s appearances and recordings with Tommy’s orchestra between 1940 and 1942 garnered Frank’s first big successes. You can catch an early Frank Sinatra performance with Tommy’s Dorsey’s band in the movie “Ships Ahoy” (1942).

Brother Jimmy played clarinet and saxophone as the leader of his own orchestra. The 1942 film “The Fleet’s In” showcased Jimmy’s band performing the famous “Tangerine” and “I Remember You.” If you are a fan of Abbott and Costello you can catch Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra in their film “Lost in a Harem” (1944). Another fun film featuring Jimmy’s orchestra is “Four Jills in a Jeep” from 1944. Stars Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair play themselves on a USO tour of Europe and North Africa in a non-sensical movie with no real plot and meant only to entertain.

Other Swing Performances

The harmonizing Andrews Sisters perform “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” in the 1941 Abbott and Costello comedy “Buck Privates.” The upbeat “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” is sung by Bing Crosby in “Here Come the Waves” (1944).

Numerous movies made during World War II utilized swing music as part of their soundtracks. Most of these films showed the big bands as themselves playing in night clubs or in front of audiences.  I especially enjoy watching the musicians perform. Nothing like struggling to play an instrument in a high school band to give you an appreciation for the immense talent of the musicians. Watching the dancers is fun, too.

The young people of that era were our parents and grandparents. And, yes, they were young once. Swing music was their music. Thanks to the preservation of the old films as well as the recordings from that time we can enjoy this same music. And we can imagine what life was like back then. Check out some of the many video clips on Youtube.

Note that the low-resolution poster images in this post qualify as “fair use” under the copyright laws. My intent is only to illustrate the discussion of the films depicted in the posters.