Working my way through more of the Mill Creek 50 Musicals box set, I decided to have a triple feature of three tiny musicals, clocking in at about an hour each. This Mill Creek set is shaping up to be a pleasant surprise, with all three of these films displayed with picture and sound quality that is more than watchable. The following are abbreviated reviews for Up in the Air (1940), Private Buckaroo (1942) and Career Girl (1944)!
Up in the Air (1940) is a delightful musical mystery which follows a wannabe comedic dream team as they solve a string of murders connected to a Hollywood radio station.
Radio singer Rita Wilson (Lorna Gray) is murdered while singing on-air for a radio show. You’d think it’d be pretty easy to find the killer in a small radio studio full of the show’s crew, but the lights were cut and very few clues can be found after the crime.
Best buds Frankie (Frankie Darro) and Jeff (Mantan Moreland), the station’s respective page boy and porter, set off to solve the mystery of who killed the less-than-popular singer, but a few more folks may be killed before they’re able to solve the mystery.
Howard Bretherton (1933’s Ladies They Talk About) directs this film, which was written by Edmond Kelso.
This is a musical that keeps the viewer guessing. The mystery element of the plot is great, though the film could have focused on it a bit more — subplots get in the way of the suspense.
Mantan Moreland is the wonderful standout of the film. (Lorna Gray may have given him a run for his money if her character hadn’t been killed off so quickly.) His performance is a bit reminiscent of Willie Best as Clarence in comedic mystery The Smiling Ghost, though not quite so obviously fearful.
The film does have its problems, but is generally very exciting to watch. It’s part comedy, part romance, part mystery and part industry drama – all genres which are carried off fairly successfully considering the film’s short running time.
The score: 3.5/5
Private Buckaroo (1942) is a bit of Army enlistment propaganda brought to you by Universal, starring The Andrews Sisters, who are always absolutely delightful to listen to.
Harry James (as himself) gets drafted for the Army, and lead vocalist Lon Prentice (Dick Foran) is headed to war as well, convinced that the military’s regulations have nothing on his fame until he gets rejected for having a flat foot. Determined to make his way into the forces, Lon gets his foot fixed and is eventually accepted for enlistment… at which point he becomes convinced that the training procedures are useless. The very thin story follows them through basic training, also showcasing The Andrews Sisters as they attend fun USO dances, ride in jeeps with soldiers and generally having a blast.
Edward F. Cline (1922’s Cops) directs this wartime musical, based on a story by Paul Girard Smith and co-written for the screen by Edmond Kelso and Edward James.
Of course, the film’s best performances come from The Andrews Sisters, who are as charming and magnetic as ever.
This film packs many funny moments, and the plot also manages to be decently engrossing despite its thinness. It’s patriotic fluff, but fun to watch and the songs are extremely catchy. The quality of the print in the Mill Creek set is quite good. The picture isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have too much grain and the sound is much clearer than expected.
The score: 3.5/5
Career Girl (1944) stars Frances Langford as Joan Terry, a girl from Kansas City who dreams of becoming a big Broadway star. She encounters a number of obstacles along the way (including an obnoxious bumpkin of a man who thinks that her career is to stay home and be his wife), but she remains determined to make it on the stage.
Her persistence immediately makes the audience root for Joan, even when the struggles push her near the edge of giving up. Langford does well in the role, and the audience is truly endeared to her character. In fact, the whole cast is quite capable in their roles. There isn’t a flat or unbelievable performance in the bunch.
The film features sweet songs, sung by sweet voices. It’s pleasant and cute, but nowhere near spectacular. Overall, it’s a decent watch, especially for viewers who like to discover near-forgotten or lesser-known musicals of the 1940s, which was a great decade for the genre.
The score: 3/5