STRIKE UP THE BAND (1940) B/W 120m dir: Busby Berkeley

w/Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Paul Whiteman & His Orchestra, June Preisser, William Tracy, Larry Nunn, Margaret Early, Ann Shoemaker, Francis Pierlot, Virginia Brissac, George Lessey, Enid Bennett, Howard Hickman, Sarah Edwards, Milton Kibbee, Helen Jerome Eddy, Jack Baxley, Harlan Briggs, Harry Harvey, Earle Hodgins, Jack Kenney, Harry Lash, Jimmie Lucas, Margaret McWade, David Oliver, Ed Payson, Margaret Seddon, Phil Silvers

From The Movie Guide: "Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, two of the great young stars of their day, team up in this musical comedy as a pair of high school students. Mary (Garland) works in the library after school, and Jimmy (Rooney) spends his free time practicing the drums. He wants to smack the skins in a dance band, but his widowed mother yearns for him to become a doctor. Jimmy and a bunch of his pals form an orchestra with the intention of entering a contest sponsored by big band 'King of Jazz' Paul Whiteman. ... Rooney and Garland deliver their usual energy-packed performances, but one unexpected scene is a standout: as Jimmy uses a bowl of fruit to illustrate an idea he has for a musical number, the fruit turns into little animated puppet models (masterminded by George Pal) that perform 'Do the Conga.' Also included is the big band classic 'Sing, Sing, Sing.'"

From the website The Judy Room (, this article about the film:

"The enormous success of 1939's Babes in Arms featuring Judy and Mickey Rooney as lovable teens who just want to put on a show guaranteed that there would be a follow-up. The result was a mini-golden age of 'Let’s Put On A Show' or 'Barnyard' musicals that encompassed just four films (all starring Judy and Mickey) that to date still have a lasting legacy. The 'Hey kids, let’s put on a show' trope has been used and parodied over and over.

"The reason this four film series had such a lasting impact is due to the talents of its stars on screen and the directors and staff behind the scenes. Judy and Mickey were the perfect pair of idealized teens who just happened to be incredibly talented. They reflected the emerging American teen market that at the time was full of 'hep' for (mostly) swing music. This stereotype lasted for decades with varying changes in style and music (most notably rock and roll replacing swing). Strike Up the Band was the first in the series to continue and cement this legacy. It’s the archetypical 'Let’s Put On A Show' musical.

"The title (and Gershwin song) Strike Up the Band was chosen as the follow-up to Babes in Arms because, as legend has it, MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer thought that it sounded 'patriotic.' The producer of both films, Arthur Freed, had wanted to remake Good News (an early MGM talkie in 1930), which had a similar theme although the 'kids' were in college rather than high school. The property had been a big stage success and as noted, a popular early MGM musical. The popular score included 'The Best Things In Life Are Free' and 'The Varsity Drag.' Good News became a pet project for Freed. After being told to put Good News on hold, he tried to get it filmed for several years before finally it was made with June Allyson and Peter Lawford in 1947.

"For Strike Up the Band, Freed turned to Fred F. Finklehoffe and John Monks, Jr. to write the script. The duo had just had a Broadway hit with their play 'Brother Rat' and Freed wanted them to spruce up Good News. After Mayer convinced Freed that Strike Up the Band was a better choice, the duo was tasked with writing an original story. The only real direction the duo was given was to use the song 'Strike Up The Band' but forgo the rest of the original 1927 stage show of the same name, to find a way to incorporate Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, and to be sure to center it around the talents of Judy and Mickey. The duo came up with the story of Mickey as Jimmy Connors, a high school kid who forms his own swing band in opposition to the traditional school brass band with Judy as Mary Holden, Jimmy’s girl singer and best 'pal.' They find some success then hear about a national radio contest for school bands in far off Chicago. They need to raise the money to travel to Chicago and compete so naturally, they put on a show. Drama ensues when one of the kids is injured during that show (the 'Gay Nineties' sequence) whose parents can’t afford the important operation needed to make him well. The kids reluctantly use their Chicago money to pay for the operation. But all is not lost. The richest man in town (whose daughter, played by June Preisser, was a temporary competitor for Jimmy’s attentions away from Mary) hears of their selflessness and pays for their trip. Naturally, Jimmy’s band with Mary as their vocalist wins the contest. The film ends with a big band finale medley of songs previously performed, ending with the flag waving last shot of Judy and Mickey superimposed over the American flag during the last notes of 'Strike Up The Band.' You can’t get any more patriotic or American that than!

"Even though it clocks in at a solid 120 minutes (which was long for movie musical at the time) and today might be predictable and a bit corny, Strike Up the Band is filled with delights. The 'Do the La Conga' number is still as thrilling a musical sequence as has ever been put on film. The energy is palpable and the sequence is one of director Busby Berkeley’s best. Judy and Mickey got to introduce 'Our Love Affair' (written by Freed and Roger Edens) which became an instant standard (still performed today) that was nominated for the Oscar for 'Best Song.' Judy’s plaintive solo '(I Ain’t Got) Nobody' (sometimes referred to as simply 'Nobody'), is one of her best. At this point Judy’s image in these films was that of the girl who’s in love with Mickey’s character but he basically doesn’t know she’s around (other than as a 'pal') and takes her for granted, hence her solo about her plight as the unseen and unloved girl next door. Naturally the audience can see that she’s the girl with the heart of gold and that somehow he’ll see what’s been right in front of him the whole time. Another highlight is 'Drummer Boy, ' a wonderful swing number that gives Judy a great vocal. Naturally, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra get several chances to shine as well.

"The choice of Strike Up the Band over Good News proved to be the correct one. Strike Up the Band was another big hit for MGM and the burgeoning Freed Unit, which became the premiere producer of movie musicals in the 1940s and early 50s. The success of these 'Let’s Put On A Show' musicals afforded Freed the chances to bring in some of the top musical talent (usually) from Broadway which helped advance the style and prestige of the movie musical.

"One of Freed’s Broadway imports was Vincente Minnelli. Minnelli was a successful Broadway designer and director who, thanks to a negative experience at Paramount Pictures a few years before, had no intention of 'going Hollywood.' Freed lured him to MGM with the promise that he wouldn’t be required to do anything other than observe and learn, and give input if necessary. It was a lucrative offer. Minnelli arrived at MGM in April of 1940. Minnelli ended up helping Berkeley solve an issue with 'Our Love Affair.' Berkeley was having trouble with how to effectively show Mickey’s character’s enthusiasm for his band as he’s explaining it to Judy’s character, during the 'Our Love Affair' scene. There needed to be something to show it. Minnelli was on the set and noticed the prop bowl of fruit on the prop table. He came up with the idea of having the fruit become the musicians in a dream-like fantasy sequence. In his autobiography I Remember It Well Minnelli noted, 'Apples for fiddles, oranges for brass, bananas for woodwinds. Then have Mickey conduct with his hands. The pieces of fruit are now puppet characters of musicians.' The idea worked like a charm and proved to the studio that having Minnelli around was an asset. For years afterward, Mayer would exclaim that Minnelli was 'the genius who took a bowl of fruit and made a big production number out of it.'

"Minnelli’s presence is also notable as it was his first encounter with his future wife, Judy Garland. After Strike Up the Band their careers at MGM went in separate directions until Meet Me in St. Louis went into production in 1943 with Judy as the initially reluctant star. The rest is history. Louis was Minnelli’s first chance to prove himself as a director and he created a masterpiece. He and Judy fell in love during the production. They eventually married and gave us Liza Minnelli. Judy was his muse and he created some of her most famous (and fabulous) musical films and numbers. Minnelli stayed at MGM for over 20 years and directed not just musicals but comedies and dramas. He won the Oscar for Best Director for 1958's Gigi.

"Strike Up the Band, probably more than Babes in Arms, remains the archetypical 'Let’s Put On A Show' musical. Though music and styles have changed, the youthful zest on display is timeless. It’s still a delightful and infectious movie musical."

STRIKE UP THE BAND received an Oscar for Best Sound (Douglas Shearer) and was also nominated for Best Score (Georgie Stoll, Roger Edens) and Song ("Our Love Affair," music & lyrics by Arthur Freed & Roger Edens).