Guest Author - Karen L Hardison
Stage Door Canteen (1943) is a snapshot of a true-to-life New York City USO Canteen in 1943, during World War II. The story may be fiction but the place, the events and the people certainly are not.
Soldiers of all branches and from many countries who were on furlough or awaiting deployment would frequent the New York City USO Canteen for free food, free dancing with pretty volunteer hostesses and--unique to the New York City USO--free world class entertainment.
Producers, directors, actors and actresses as varied and as famous as Tallulah Bankhead, Ray Bolger, George Raft, Merle Oberon, Katherine Hepburn, Gypsy Rose Lee and George Jessel, just to name a few, would do their stints as volunteers for the Allied fighting men and women of WWII who would come through New York City.
By the way, I disagree that this film is rightly categorized as a Comedy. I would certainly categorize it as a Comedy/Drama, especially since most people who watch it end up in tears at one point or another.
Stage Door Canteen tells the story of this canteen through the eyes of three buddies who are newly arrived in New York City and awaiting deployment. One of the lads is just a teenager still, and he falls for one of the hostesses who breaks the canteen rules and lets him kiss her during a dance. One fella learns how to "jitter" from a southern belle, while the third buddy develops a love-hate relationship with another hostess volunteer who is a graspingly aspiring starlet: He loves her; she hates him.
The storyline takes us alternately through their adventures, with their wins and losses (in contemporary terms, the story espouses some dubious wisdom that it is best to laugh off) while...and here's the great part...while the boys are entertained by some of the world's best-ever talent. Peggy Lee sings "Do Right" to the accompaniment of the Benny Goodman band. Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen discuss the meaning of a mirage: Edger: A mirage? Oh, that's like a vision. Charlie: Ooohh. What's a vision? Edger: A vision? Well, that's like a mirage. Charlie: Ooohh. Wanna go round again?
Ray Bolger, famous for having legs like rubber that can miraculously dance, does one of his famous singing and dancing routines and Gypsy Rose Lee takes some of it all off while discussing "psy-chology" and "an-thro-pology."
The soldiers--and you--hear the music of the Guy Lomabrdo Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Xavier Cugat Orchestra, which plays lively Latin American tunes. Helen Hayes and Katherine Hepburn make appearances as part of the storyline once some trouble starts to brew. Then the soldiers and hostesses sing good night to each other along with the golden tones of Kenny Baker (The Goldwyn Follies 1938).
Stage Door Canteen--this wonderful living snapshot of the heart behind WWII and of so many of the greatest talents alive in 1943--was directed by Frank Borzage who has a long list of impressive credentials including the movie A Farewell to Arms (1932) from the Earnest Hemingway novel, starring Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou.