It's the sort of booshwa you don't get anymore: four stars go out amongst the fightin' men, show they're just regular gals who'll scrub floors and help out in the operating theater and put on a show at the end of the day, 'cause the boys need some entertainment before they're fed to the flesh-shredding Nazi war machine. That's how it looks to modern eyes, I suppose. It's based on the experiences of the stars in USO gigs, and by "based" I mean the screeenwriters started with the fact that they all got on a plane and made up everything after that.
Haymes' birth in Argentina meant he was not legally an American citizen. In order to avoid military service during World War II he asserted his non-belligerent status as a citizen of Argentina, which was neutral. Hollywood-based columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper seized upon this at the time, questioning Haymes' patriotism; but the story had little effect on Haymes' career.
Apparently not. The movie begins in the CBS studios, which look alluringly modern.
It's the old 1938 CBS studio.
The movie begins with one of those enormous, elaborate radio shows. With lots of costumes. We meet the first star, Betty Grable, who is probably reading the script, realizing she doesn't have any more scenes after this, and gets a warm glow of delight:
One of the four Jills has to be comic-relief who gets hooked up with the least attractive man who's also funny, and here that's the mouth herself, Martha Raye:
The other Jills:
Mitzi Mayfair, the Zeppo of the group; she only had a few movies, and this was her biggest.
Carol Landis. More about her in a bit. The Den Mother Jill:
Kay Frances. She was nearing the end of her career by this movie; she'd been one of the highest paid stars in the 30s.
While the Jills introduce themselves, the boys listen in to the show with rapt attention and buoyant enthusiasm:
But guess who shows up to show the Jills around the European combat theater?
It's Bilko, and he's playing Bilko. He was never any better than when he's scheming, lying, evading, and all the other characteristics beloved by anyone who never had to serve under him or count on him in battle, I guess. He'd made almost 20 movies before this, so he was a familiar face. Anyway, they go to Europe, comic misadventures and romance follow, and it's all quite dull except for the musical numbers, which aren't top of the genre either. Since the audience wants some glamour, we have to cut away to the studios back home, where another elaborate, well-costumed radio show gives us the master MC of his day:
He was a punchline on the Johnny Carson show in the 70s: George Jessel. He was quite popular in his time, though - he was the original lead in the Broadway version of "The Jazz Singer," appeared one of the earliest talkies (1924!), produced two dozen musicals, slept with everyone woman in Hollywood, and so on. When he was a young man, he formed a singing group in a theater with two other ushers, one of whom was Walter Winchell. And so on. The man had stories. Also a rather crusty side. Says Wikipedia:
His attempt to extend his career was undermined, however, by a perception that his style of comedy was outdated, as well as by his outspoken support of the Vietnam War and of conservative political causes.
On the other hand, he often crossed the era's stereotypical political lines with his support for the Civil Rights movement and criticism of racism and anti-Semitism. His outspokenness regarding his political opinions could sometimes get him into trouble. In 1971, while being interviewed by Edwin Newman on The Today Show on NBC, he repeatedly referred to The New York Times as "Pravda", and was ejected from the show.
Little evidence of his appear is evident in the movie. On the other hand: ay yi, ayi yi:
There's just something frightening about Carmen Miranda.
At the end, the big offensive is on, and the Jills wave goodbye as everyone heads to the front, and they sing a song of happy farewell!
Does the movie seem entirely incapable of realizing how ridiculous it is? Yes:
Don't think they didn't bust up about that when the scene was done.
About Carole Landis: In the summer of 1947 she began an affair with Rex Harrison, who was married. Minor inconvenience. Winchell outs the affair the next year; the studio is furious, but it all dies down. In May Harrison leaves his wife. On the Fourth of July he goes to Landis' house, and brings with him a copy of a play he's considering doing; he'd be gone from her in a while. He leaves at nine, and goes to visit a friend, actor Roland Carver. Sometime in the next few hours she puts a suitcase containing Harrison's love letters outside the door of Carver's house. She goes home and starts drinking. She calls the mother of actor Dick Haymes - yes, the Dick she was thnking about; she was her singing coach. No one answers. As this site says:
She writes two notes. One is for her maid, telling her the cat has a sore paw and needs to be taken to the vet. The other note is for her mother and reads: “Dearest Mommie: I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this. But there is no way to avoid it. I love you, darling, you have been the most wonderful Mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly. Everything goes to you. Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything. Good bye, my angel. Pray for me--Your Baby”
She then consumes a lethal dose of Seconal barbiturates.
Rex Harrison found the body. He burned all the letters. He did not leave his wife, but remained married to her for another nine years.