Spotlight on Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway

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Sometimes when I participate in blogathons I think and think of the best movie to write about before finally picking one. For the Backstage Blogathon host by Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid I instantly knew what I wanted to write about. When it comes to movies about putting on a show there’s only one duo that comes to mind – Mickey and Judy.

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Between 1937 and 1943 the duo starred in a whopping 8 movies together and the majority contained at least one show scene. Even in the Andy Hardy films Judy impresses Mickey with her showmanship on two separate occasions (in Love Finds Andy Hardy and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante).

With their myriad of films how could I possible narrow it down to one to write about? Turns out I couldn’t. For me, there are two quintessential Mickey and Judy “Let’s put on a show!” pictures – Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway.

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When I was a little girl I loved The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis, especially because of Judy Garland. My mom took notice and decided to tape me a couple of films off AMC – Babes on Broadway and Babes in Arms. Little did she know I would soon become OBSESSED with these films. I would watch one, rewind the tape and watch it again, rewind the tape and….you get the story. Eventually, I had them pretty much memorized and would just fast forward to my favorite parts – the musical numbers. Boy did I love those.

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Babes in Arms was released in 1939 and is the first of the Mickey and Judy show pictures. The plot centers around a group of vaudeville offspring. Things aren’t so easy for their families as vaudeville is long dead. The parents decide to go on the road with a revival leaving a bunch of teenagers to take care of themselves. Soon the kids get in trouble, the law gets involved and the parents’ show fails. It’s time for Mickey and Judy to save the day by putting on a show!

Babes in Arms was directed by Busby Berkeley and features a number of memorable songs. In fact, the film marks the debut of “Good Morning” a song later made famous in Singin’ in the Rain.

In addition to the musical numbers it also features several scenes that showcase Mickey Rooney’s comedic skills. In an especially hilarious scene he instructs his cast on how to properly portray Cleopatra and Marc Antony using Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore as examples. He ended up getting an Oscar nomination for his performance in the role losing out to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

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Babes on Broadway was released in 1941 and was again directed by Busby Berkeley. In this film both Garland and Rooney are a bit older and the action moves from a small town to New York City. They’re out of high school and struggling to make it in the big city. Both want to be stage stars but have yet to find success. At the same time, a group of city kids are trying to earn enough money to visit the country. Mickey and Judy join forces to put on a benefit for the kids and hopefully gain fame in the process.

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Babes in Broadway was released on the eve of the US entrance into World War II which brings a more somber tone to the film. There’s a particularly moving sequence where refugee children speak to their families overseas while Garland sings the beautiful “Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On!”

There are still plenty of opportunities for fun song and dance scenes like the impressive “Hoe Down” number and Rooney again has a chance to show off his comedic skills. A scene where he imitates Carmen Miranda kept me in stitches as a kid (and still tickles my funny bone).

Both films aren’t perfect and, unfortunately, black face numbers are prominent in both. Aside from this disappointing sign of the times they highlight the incredible talent of both Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. After watching these films it’s no wonder they became stars.

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