This week’s Cladrite Clip is taken from Stage Door Canteen, an enjoyable piece propagandistic fluff from 1943 that features the slimmest of plots and literally dozens of cameos from stars of film and Broadway.
To be honest, we prefer its follow-up, Hollywood Canteen, which came out a year later — the celebrity cameos in that picture appealed to us more — but both are entertaining in their way.
To give credit where it’s due, Stage Door Canteen does boast a nice lineup of Cladrite Radio-worthy orchestras. Count Basie, Xavier Cugat, Benny Goodman, Kay Kyser, Guy Lombardo, and Freddy Martin are all on hand to contribute their considerable talents.
In Stage Door Canteen, we follow the adventures of a quartet of soliders (nicknamed, from west to east, California, Texas, Dakota, and Jersey). Though our fighting young men are given a brief furlough in NYC before they ship off to fight in World War II, they spend the majority of their time not taking in the sights of the Big Apple, but trying, each in his own way, to make time with the cute gals volunteering at the titular canteen.
Tex (Sunset Carson) quickly pairs up with Ella Sue (Margaret Early), an Alabama gal whose interactions with Yankee soldiers have left her pining for a Southern gentleman. Jersey’s engaged and manages to get married mid-movie, and California, the callowest of youth, is awarded his first kiss by his canteen hostess, Jean (Marjorie Riordan) — which is expressly against canteen rules, but what the heck — just before he heads off to fight for his country.
It’s around Dakota (William Terry) and his rocky romance with haughty actress/canteen hostess Eileen (Cheryl Walker) that the wispy plot mostly revolves, and it will surprise no one that, in the end, Eileen is fully reformed. She not only falls in love with Dakota, but she gets her big break on Broadway when she’s cast in a play opposite Paul Muni.
But one doesn’t watch either of the Canteen movies for the plot. It’s the musical performances, the patriotism (though it can be heavy-handed at times), and the star cameos that appeal.
Which picture one might wish to start with will depend on one’s tastes in entertainment. Each has its share of movie stars, but if the names Katharine Cornell, Lynn Fontanne, and Helen Hayes make your heart go pitty-pat — if, in short, you’re something of a Broadway baby — Stage Door Canteen is probably the movie for you.
If you’re a movie buff, you’ll want to see both (after all, even Stage Door Canteen boasts cameos by such Hollywood luminaries as Harpo Marx, Ray Bolger, and Katherine Hepburn), but I would suggest seeing Hollywood Canteen first. Its cameos pack a bigger cinematic wallop.