Review: ‘Stage Door Canteen’

What stood a good chance of emerging a 'big short' under less skillful hands than Sol Lesser proves a sock filmusical of great stature. It has a cast that reads like an out-of-this-world benefit, and a romance as simple as Elsie Dinsmore - and the blend is plenty boffo.

What stood a good chance of emerging a ‘big short’ under less skillful hands than Sol Lesser proves a sock filmusical of great stature. It has a cast that reads like an out-of-this-world benefit, and a romance as simple as Elsie Dinsmore – and the blend is plenty boffo.

Stage Door Canteen is a skilful admixture by two casts, in itself a departure. One cast projects the simple love story – Eileen and her ‘Dakota’; Jean and her ‘California’; Ella Sue and her ‘Texas’; Mamie and her ‘Jersey’. Another cast comprises the Stars of the Stage Door Canteen, and but few of them do walkthrough parts.

Plausibly and smoothly, these stars are introduced into their natural habitat, the Stage Door Canteen on West 44th Street, just off Broadway, where Lunt and Fontanne and Vera Gordon, Sam Jaffe, George Raft and Allen Jenkins, Ned Sparks, Ralph Morgan and Hugh Herbert – these, among others, are shown doing their menial back-in-the-kitchen chores. Then, up front, performing for the visiting men in uniform, gobs, doughboys, marines – no officers – is paraded a galaxy of talent that’s a super-duper, all-star array which reads like a casting agent’s dream of paradise.

Thus are paraded six bands – Basie, Cugat, Goodman, Kyser, Lombardo and Martin, in sock specialties all.

And, to project the mechanics of the canteen, showing the officer-of-the-day, the senior hostesses, the dancing junior hostesses, or as part of the plot motivation (as with Katherine Cornell’s skillful bit of Romeo and Juliet, and Paul Muni’s part as rehearsing his own play), there are introduced another array of stars and legit personalities: Helen Hayes, Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Vinton Freedley, Merle Oberon, Brock Pemberton, Katherine Hepburn and the others are intertwined into the lonely-soldier-boy-meets-romantic-stage-girl plot.

Scripter Delmer Daves does a deft writing job, and Frank Borzage’s direction smoothly splices the sum total into a very palatable cohesive entity.

1943: Nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Song (‘We Mustn’t Sya Goodbye’)

Stage Door Canteen

Production

United Artists. Director Frank Borzage; Producer Sol Lesser; Screenplay Delmer Daves; Camera Harry Wild; Editor Hal Kern; Music Freddie Rich

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1943. Running time: 132 MIN.

With

Cheryl Walker William Terry Marjorie Riordan Lon McCallister Margaret Early Michael Harrison
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