Paramount managed to squeeze practically every star on the lot into their variety show to cap off 1942, Star Spangled Rhythm. Victor Moore plays “Bronco Billy,” a washed up silent-era star reduced to working as a gatekeeper on the Paramount lot. Embarrassed by his job, he lies to his sailor son (Eddie Bracken), claiming instead to be a powerful executive at the studio. When his son comes to town with a group of his friends to visit his supposedly rich father, Moore enlists a studio switchboard operator (Betty Hutton) to help him play the part of movie mogul for the day.
The group wreaks havoc on the lot as Moore takes the place of executive B.G. DeSoto (Walter Abel, mocking Paramount producer B.G. DeSylva) and sends all the productions into chaos, while the rowdy sailors run between sound stages looking for girls. Cecil B. DeMille cameos, boasting about how much “everybody talked about the giant squid in Reap the Wild Wind,” while Preston Sturges shows up to screen a musical number from his new film starring Dick Powell and Mary Martin (one that Sturges clearly had no involvement in actually shooting, as it’s extremely drawn out and has none of his wit). All the action on the lot is meant purely as buildup to the last half hour, when the group manages to convince a bunch of stars to put on a show for all the sailors on Bracken’s ship.
Bob Hope cracks jokes as the host, Vera Zorina dances to the Oscar-nominated song “That Old Black Magic,” Alan Ladd parodies his noir character type, Paulette Goddard sings with Dorothy Lamour and Veronica Lake poking fun at their screen personas, and even more—but none of it tops the antics of the first hour. These all-star films are usually the opposite; the beginning throws together some flimsy plot to fill time and explain what everyone came to see, the big show at the end. But because Harry Tugend’s screenplay is so nutty and packed with fun references, and the skits at the end are so underwhelming, Star Spangled Rhythm becomes the rare film to subvert that expectation completely.
Take Bing Crosby: he sings an exceedingly patriotic number towards the end, but the actor is far more entertaining when he’s childishly feuding on the lot with both his real 9-year-old son Gary and his Road to Morocco co-star Hope. The willingness of the stars, executives, and the entire studio to poke fun at themselves and their films sets Star Spangled Rhythm apart, so that even when most of the beats the in the finale disappoint, the buildup remains so good that it barely matters.
Where to Watch
Buy it on DVD