Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Call Me Mister

It turns out that there is at least one movie in the FXM Retro rotation that I hadn't blogged about before, at least according to my most recent search of the blog. That movie is Call Me Mister. I recorded it the last time it showed up, figuring that if I hadn't seen it before, it would show up again soon enough and I could do a post on it. With that in mind, the next airing is tomorrow (Feb. 28) at 8:55 AM.

The movie released in 1951 but based loosely on a Broadway revue that was first staged in 1946, starts off by informing us how on the evening of August 14, 1945, America was waiting for the news that eventually did come out of Japan, namely that Japan had surrendered to end World War II. The action then switches to Japan, since there were many many soldiers who were not going to be part of the occupation long term and they needed to be shipped back home.

One of those soldiers is Sgt. Shep Dooley (Dan Dailey). He was a vaudevillean before the war, and supposedly pressed into war service so quickly that he carried his tap dancing shoes with him throughout the Pacific. So now he wants to dispose of them on the black market. Good luck with that. Anyhow, while in Tokyo, he walks into a store that's selling kimonos. Who does he run into but one Kay Hudson (Betty Grable). She was his partner in vaudeville before the war, and was even married to him, but the marriage went sour in large part because Shep was a ladies' man and a smooth operator, consistently leaving Kay in the lurch. However, she was never able to finalize the divorce before the war.

Kay is in Japan as part of a group called the CATs, the Civilian Actress Technicians, a group set up by the Army to provide entertainment, but not quite the way the USO did. Instead, the CATs looked for talent within the members of the armed forces, and trained them to put on shows themselves. Kay having been an enertainer stateside, this is the perfect sort of service for her, and would have kept her far away from Shep, or so she thought. What bad luck running into him here.

But there are servicemen stationed in lots of places in Japan, and the army is looking at putting on some shows over in the Kyoto area in the west of Japan. They just need some volunteer CATs. Kay, wanting to get away from Shep again, volunteers, going with her friend Billie (Benay Venuta). At the base where she ends up, she's consistently told nobody can spare men to put on a show, at least until Capt. Comstock (Dale Robertson) sees her. She's so good looking that of course he's willing to let his men do the show just so he can keep her close by. One of his men has natural talent, but that man, PFC Stanley Poppoplis (Danny Thomas) is stuck doing KP. Will he get discovered by Kay?

Unsurprisingly, Shep finds out that Kay has run off to Kyoto, so he follows her out there, making up a story that he's been transferred to Kyoto. He even gets himself put in the show, what with being a more natural performer than any of the regular servicemen. But his story is a lie, and he when he goes back to Tokyo, he finds that the boat that was supposed to take him back to the States to be demobbed has already sailed, leaving him technically AWOL.

And that's part of where all the problems I had with Call Me Mister are. Dan Dailey worked well with Betty Grable, but in Call Me Mister he's being asked to play a character that's more like the sort of schmoozer Jack Carson was playing over at Warner Bros. If the Shep character were a supporting character and not supposed to end up with the leading lady at the end, it might work. But here, we're rooting against Shep until the orders from above that you know are going to come to reunite Shep and Kay as well as to satisfy the Production Code.

The 1951 release date that I mentioned also doesn't help. Fox had made a number of good morale-boosting musicals during World War II, and then followed that up after the war by making nostalgic musicals set a generation or two before the release date. This one, however, is only set five years or so before the release, so the old-fashioned pre-war style (musical numbers staged by Busby Berkeley) really make the film seem old-fashioned in a bad way. The movie isn't a period piece, but gives off vibes of being dated.

In many ways, that's a shame, since Grable is always appealing, and Danny Thomas does quite well relatively early in his career. There are also one or two good numbers, with "Goin' Home Train" probably being the best of them. So give Call Me Mister a chance, even though it's decidedly not the best movie from any of the people involved.

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