Discussion of old movies and the culture that made them.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Cowboy Canteen - 1944
“Cowboy Canteen” (1944) is Columbia’s answer to the Warner’s Bros. wartime all-star revues “Hollywood Canteen” and “Stage Door Canteen”. We can have a look at the latter two at another time, as “Cowboy Canteen” really doesn’t compare much.
It’s a short, fun look at cowboy swing in an era when it was just beginning to take off in popular music, but the plot of this movie is paper thin. Charles Starrett, who played in about a zillion B-movies, mostly Westerns, and mostly as guys named “Steve”, is the boss of a ranch. However, he and his sidekick played by Guinn “Big Boy” Williams are off to give Hitler what-for, so they need people to step in and run the ranch for them while they’re in the Army.
A troupe of entertainers takes up the job, including Jane Frazee, Max Terhune as the ventriloquist of the bunch, and Vera Vague (in real life, Barbara Jo Allen), the stock man-chasing comedienne. Look for Dub Taylor as “Cannonball”, a comedy relief character he also played in a zillion B-movies.
Starrett and “Big Boy” are assigned by the C.O. to organize a camp show, so there we are. One funny bit, so brief you miss it if you blink, is when Vera, struggling with her purse and a heavy suitcase, hands a big galoot her luggage. He grabs her purse instead, tucking it under his arm and walking away.
What makes this B-movie fun are a few of the featured acts, including the great Tex Ritter, he of the mournful ballads of A-Westerns, like “High Noon” (1951) and “Trooper Hook” (1957), reviewed here.
The Mills Brothers make an appearance, but they seem a little too polished and classy for this crowd, with “Up a Lazy River” and “Paper Doll”, which were huge hits for them.
I really get a kick out of Roy Acuff, “The King of Country Music”, performing “Wait for the Light to Shine” and “Night Train to Memphis”. The Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls accompany him. Their sound is special, completely genuine, raw and spirited music, free of any Hollywood gloss. Their rollicking hillbilly hymn is a joyous reminder that war or no war, people were still having fun somewhere.