Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Korean War All-Star Morale Booster

Doris Day was TCM's Star of the Month for March, which gave me the opportunity to record a couple of her movies that I hadn't blogged about before. Among them was Starlift.

Sgt. Mike Nolan (Dick Wesson) and Cpl. Rick Williams (Ron Hagerthy) are a couple of Air Force men from Travis AFB out in California, on a bit of leave in Los Angeles. They're not engaged in combat in the war over in Korea, but instead fly the combatants over the Pacific, returning with the injured getting sent stateside. In front of one of the theaters, they see a cardboard cutout of Warner Bros.' newest star, Nell Wayne (Janice Rule). Nell just happens to be from Williams' hometown of Youngstown, OH, and the two were even vaguely acquainted as Williams' dad was Nell's dentist.

Ruth Roman (playing herself) shows up, as does Doris Day (also playing herself). When they hear about Rick's being from the same town as Nell, the two actresses decide to bring him and Mike to their hotel to meet Nell (and James Cagney in another cameo). Unfortunately, Mike is a bit of a jerk, and leads the actresses to believe that the two are actually about to go off to combat, and that Rick and Nell are much closer thank they are in real life. But the actresses agree to go up to Travis AFB to see some of the men before they go off to Korea, in the sort of morale-booster that had been common in World War II.

Ruth Roman gets more into it, sort of the way Kay Francis did in Four Jills in a Jeep, and starts something called "Operation Starlift", to try to get all of the Warner Bros.' contract players to go up to Travis to see the men and perform for them. Meanwhile, Louella Parsons has been handed Mike's line of guff about Rick and Nell, and has made it into a really big story.

Nell keeps going up to Travis as part of Operation Starlift and, as you can guess, on one of those trips she's going to see Rick on the plane that's come back from Honolulu. Rick probably should have told Mike off and then told Nell the truth about what a jerk Mike was. But there's the problem of keeping up appearances for the sake of Nell's career. Worse, Rick's parents wind up in Los Angeles and meet Nell's parents.

The plot of Starlift isn't much to write about. But that's because the plot wasn't supposed to be the point of the story. Instead, Starlift was designed as the sort of morale-booster that every Hollywood studio had made the previous decade during World War II. Unfortunately, public opinion had changed in the intervening half-dozen years, and there wasn't the unanimity of purpose that there was in the 1940s.

Instead, the main reason to watch Starlift is for the cameo performances. Some of them are quite good. Doris Day, as you can expect, does very well with her songs. Gary Cooper shows up for one of the variety shows, playing a Texas Ranger who has to deal with Frank Lovejoy. These two do quite well also. On the minus side, Gordon MacRae's singing style is an acquired taste, and I definitely haven't acquired it. Peter Marshall and Tommy Noonan show up, unrecognizable, spoofing an Italian chef radio show. It doesn't work.

Starlift is an interesting historical curiosity, but not particularly great as a standalone film. It is available on DVD, however, if you want to watch for yourself.

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