Strike Up the Band is Metro’s successor to Babes in Arms, with Mickey Rooney, assisted by major trouping on the part of Judy Garland, dominating every minute of the extended running time. Story details the enthusiastic musical talents of Rooney, who converts the high school band into a swing orchestra, and then aims for a spot on the Paul Whiteman scholastic band broadcast.
The attention-arresting abilities of Rooney are forcibly demonstrated here. Young star is a socko personality, timing every movement for most effective reaction. In addition to a standout performance, he sings, dances and plays both piano and drums in talented style.
Despite the overall dominance of Rooney, Garland catches major attention for her all-around achievements. She’s right there with Rooney in much of the story as his mentoring girl friend, teams with him in the production numbers for both songs and dances, and rings the bell with several songs sold to the utmost.
Outstanding production number is a conga played by the school band and danced by a large student ensemble, with Rooney and Garland spotlighted prominently throughout. In contrast, a novel and ingenious little production number – with only Rooney and Garland participating – is one of the most original sequences ever devised for pictures. In bragging to Judy how he will arrange and lead the band for the contest, Rooney sets out the contents of a fruit dish on the table and starts his imaginary direction. The various pieces of fruit dissolve into small puppet musicians, playing their respective instruments in proper tempo.
Direction by Busby Berkeley deftly carries through the story side, despite script deficiencies, but he is in his element in the staging of the production and musical sequences.
1940: Best Sound Recording (Douglas Shearer)
Nominations: Best Score, Song (‘Our Love Affair’)