Thank Your Lucky Stars (1944): David Butler’s All-Star Musical Comedy–Warner’s WWII Fundraiser

From Our Vaults:

David Butler directed (or rather orchestrated) Thank Your Lucky Stars, a musical comedy made by Warner as a World War II fundraiser.

Grade: B

Thank Your Lucky Stars
ThankYourLuckyStars.jpg

theatrical poster

The stars donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen, which had been founded by John Garfield and Bette Davis, who appear in this film.

It stars Eddie Cantor, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie, Edward Everett Horton and S.Z. Sakall. (see below).

It was based on a slim plot, sort of an excuse to combine different musical numbers by as many of the studio’s stars as possible.

The Premise:

Two producers try to stage a wartime charity extravaganza called Cavalcade of Stars. The egotistical Eddie Cantor has Dinah Shore under contract and will only allow her to appear if he is made chair of the benefit committee.

Meanwhile, aspiring singer and his songwriter girlfriend conspire to get into the charity program by replacing Cantor with their lookalike friend, tour bus driver Joe Simpson.

Warner’s stars performed in musical numbers, even those not known as singers.

The show features the only onscreen musical appearances by Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino.

The shoot began on October 14, 1942, and the movie was released in 1943.

 

Cast
Eddie Cantor as himself/Joe Simpson
Joan Leslie as Pat Dixon
Dennis Morgan as Tommy Randolph
Edward Everett Horton as Farnsworth
S.Z. Sakall as Dr. Schlenna
Mike Mazurki as Olaf
Noble Johnson as Charlie, the Indian
Ruth Donnelly as Nurse Hamilton
Ralph Dunn as Marty
Paul Harvey as Dr. Kirby

Guest Stars

Willie Best
Humphrey Bogart
Jess Lee Brooks
Jack Carson
Ben Corbett
Bette Davis
William Desmond
Olivia de Havilland
Errol Flynn
John Garfield
Alan Hale, Sr.
Mark Hellinger
Ida Lupino
Hattie McDaniel
Ann Sheridan
Dinah Shore
Alexis Smith
Madame Sul-Te-Wan
George Tobias
Doodles Weaver
Don Wilson as radio announcer
Spike Jones and His City Slickers

Musical numbers
Some are performed as part of the slender plot; others are heard in rehearsal.

“Thank Your Lucky Stars”, by Dinah Shore on Eddie Cantor’s radio show.
“My Mama Done Tol’ Me” (better known as “Blues in the Night”), sung by John Garfield on Cantor’s radio show.
“Now’s the Time to Fall in Love,” sung by Cantor on radio show.
“Hotcha Cornia”, a hot and wild version of “Otchi Chernye” (“Dark Eyes”), performed by Spike Jones & His City Slickers for their fellow residents in Gower Gulch.
“Ridin’ for a Fall”, sung by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland), with Spike Jones and his band.
“We’re Staying Home Tonight…Doing the Patriotic Thing”, sung by Eddie Cantor to a captive audience of his household staff and the hapless producers of the benefit.
“I’m Goin’ North”, sung by Jack Carson and Alan Hale, Sr. as old-time vaudevillians meeting in a train station; both are bucking the trend toward all things Southern. After several costume changes, they end up in a blizzard, dripping with icicles.
“Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made”, sung by Ann Sheridan with Joyce Reynolds and a chorus of girls in a sorority bedroom.
“No You, No Me”, sung by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie (dubbed by Sally Sweetland) from a tableside jukebox in a café.
“The Dreamer”, sung by Dinah Shore as a farm girl singing to her love; she wants to dream “until you’re home once more.”

“Ice Cold Katie..Won’t You Marry the Soldier?” a number performed on a Harlem set by Hattie McDaniel, Willie Best, Jess Lee Brooks, Rita Christian, chorus of singers and dancers.

“How Sweet You Are,” by Dinah Shore with chorus of waltzing couples.

“That’s What You Jolly Well Get,” sung and danced to by Errol Flynn as a mustachioed Cockney seaman, boasting in pub of cronies about his battles with the Nazis over the past four years.

“They’re Either Too Young or Too Old”, sung by Bette Davis in  nightclub set with men whose appearances fit the song. A brief jitterbug performance by Davis and real-life dance contest winner Conrad Wiedell sends her out to her car. At the end, she replaces the last phrase by blowing a kiss to the audience. The song was written by Frank Loesser and Arthur Schwartz.

“The Dreamer”, a jazzed-up reprise sung by Olivia de Havilland (dubbed by Lynn Martin), Ida Lupino and George Tobias singing scat and costumed as jitterbugging teens; Tobias wears a toned-down zoot suit.

“Good Night, Good Neighbor,” romantic take on the Good Neighbor Policy, opens with Dennis Morgan escorting Miss Latin America (Lynne Baggett) home to the Pan American Club for Women, singing to her and residents. The scene segues to elegant Club Chiquita, where Alexis Smith dances with Igor Dega and Arnold Kent.

The finale medley of “Cavalcade of Stars”, on celestial set, with brief reprises or revisions of: “We’re Staying Home Tonight” (Cantor as Joe Simpson pretending to be Cantor)

“How Sweet You Are” (Chorus girls on clouds)

“We’re Way Up North…” (Carson and Hale, Sr., in a star)

“The Dreamer” (Shore, on stage, dreamily; de Havilland, Lupino and Tobias in a star)

“Ridin’ for a Fall” (Morgan and Leslie)

“Love Isn’t Born (It’s Made)” (Sheridan, in a star)

“That’s What You Jolly Well Get”, as opera. Flynn, without his mustache, interrupts to comment “That voice is so divine, I wish that voice were mine!” and resumes singing in his star.
“Good Night, Good Neighbor” (Morgan), while Smith and her partners dance on a cloud in the background.

“They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” (Davis, in a star)
“Ice Cold Katie” (McDaniel, enthroned on crescent moon and Cantor, rowing by on a cloud)

“Thank Your Lucky Stars” (ensemble)

Producer Mark Hellinger and director David Butler both made cameo appearances.

Thank Your Lucky Stars featured the debut of both Dinah Shore and Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Each cast member was paid a $50,000 fee, which was then donated to the Hollywood Canteen.

The film used sets that had been built for other Warner films, The Green Pastures and Wonder Bar.

Bette Davis recalled that Conrad Wiedell, who had won  jitterbug contest, was frightened at the thought of hurting her. She told him “forget about who I am…let your instincts come to the fore, and just do it!”

Olivia de Havilland said that she added the over-the-top gum chewing to the act in order to help with the lip-synching.[13]

The finale was shot with the large cast on stage together. They are shown when the curtain comes down, due to special effects that place five acts—Flynn, Sheridan, Davis, the Carson-Hale duo and the trio of de Havilland, Lupino and Tobias—over their glitter-covered stars.

Thank Your Lucky Stars was popular with audiences, even if the reputable critic James Agee described it as “the loudest and most vulgar of the current musicals.”

Ticket sales, and the performers’ donated salaries, raised more than $2,000,000 for the Hollywood Canteen.

A commercial hit, largely due to its timing of release, the movie earned $2,503,000 domestically and $1,118,000 in foreign markets.

Critically, Eddie Cantor received the greatest attention.

how is so realistically repeated that fiction becomes painful fact…you have a

In actuality, it was a rather conventional all-star show, sort of an ‘amateur night’ at the studio, but it was well intentioned, lively, and genial, compensating for an exceedingly long running time.

 

Oscar Context:

The song “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” by Arthur Schwartz (music) and Frank Loesser (lyrics) was nominated for the Best Music, Original Song Oscar, but lost to “You’ll Never Know” by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon from Hello, Frisco, Hello.

The song was also a number-one hit on Your Hit Parade.

Credits:

Directed by David Butler
Screenplay by Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, James V. Kern, story by Everett Freeman, Arthur Schwartz
Produced by Mark Hellinger
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Edited by Irene Morra
Music by Heinz Roemheld

Production and distribution: Warner

Release date: September 25, 1943

Running time: 127 minutes

Budget $1,568,000
Box office $3,621,000; $2.8 million (US rentals)