Hollywood Canteen is a famously star-packed variety show with appearances by Jack Benny, the Andrews Sisters, Joe E. Brown, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Ida Lupino, and more!
When it isn’t busy offering up its plethora of star cameos, the film follows Slim Green (Robert Hutton) and his pal Sgt. Nolan (Dane Clark). The fellas are on leave for three nights, and they choose to spend their time at the Hollywood Canteen, brushing shoulders with the stars. Slim is determined to meet his Hollywood crush, Joan Leslie, before he and Sgt. Nolan get shipped back to the South Pacific.
Hollywood Canteen was directed and written by Delmer Daves.
The story here is silly and thin, but doesn’t need to be more than that, for the purpose is pure entertainment. The entirety of the film’s appeal rests in its massive amount of movie star appearances and delightful musical numbers.
There are many musical highlights to be enjoyed. My favorite numbers are Jane Wyman and Jack Carson’s performance of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” “Don’t Fence Me In” as performed by Roy Rogers and his dancing horse, and the opening song by the wonderful Andrews Sisters.
For the modern viewer, the film appeals as an oddity from history. It’s inspired by a real star-staffed club catering to servicemen, a passion project of Bette Davis and John Garfield, who saw the need to do their part as morale-boosters during World War II. The club offered a night of food, drinks, music, and dancing, completely free of charge to any uniformed serviceman.
It was an honorable pursuit on part of Hollywood. The film is a bit self-congratulatory in this respect, but the efforts of Bette, John, and their club staff of co-stars and friends truly were valuable in lifting the spirits of the armed forces, so it’s hard to be too critical of ’em for patting themselves on the back. Additionally, in bringing the Canteen to the screen, they spread that cheer beyond the walls of the club, into movie houses across the country.
And cheer, they sure do bring. Hollywood Canteen always leaves me with a smile, not only from its musical numbers, but from Slim and Sgt. Nolan’s amusing star encounters. “Holy smoke, you’re Mrs. Skeffington!,” Slim exclaims upon meeting Bette Davis, in a cute scene. My favorite, though, is a very funny bit with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. (“He didn’t trust us, Peter!”)
Since this is a review for the Stanwyck project, I can’t talk about the film without mentioning her cameo. She appears about 14 minutes in and offers one of its highlights, serving food and sharing banter with Slim. Their conversation is lighthearted and flirty. Slim tells Barbara their relationship is over, because he’s fallen in love with Joan Leslie.
Hollywood Canteen does seem to carry on for quite a long time while watching, though any shorter and it couldn’t have included all of its star power. Most of the run time is light and enjoyable, making it worth a watch for any classic movie buff, if for no other reason than to enjoy the parade of familiar faces gracing the screen.