I think wartime musicals are quickly becoming my favorite subgenre within the movies I’ve been watching as part of my weekend morning musical project. Being raised in a Navy town I have to give slight preference to sailor stories, but I do love a good Army picture like Something for the Boys.
Filmed in glorious, glorious Technicolor, Something for the Boys is a film utilizes a pretty generous definition of “plot” to string together its mostly unrelated musical numbers and romances. But the diverse cast is charming enough to mostly make it work. A trio of cousins–con man/inventor Harry Hart (Phil Silvers), show girl Blossom Hart (Vivian Blaine), and factory worker Chiquita Hart (Carmen Miranda)–inherit their uncle’s estate home, and set it up for the nearby army wives from the nearby base. This ensures a steady stream of soldiers, and luckily all of their wives seem to have trained as chorus girls, so they’re able to put on a swingin’ show midway through the movie. The rest of the movie is devoted to a war game simulation, which seems slightly goofy in the context of this movie being made in the midst of the ACTUAL war, but I guess you don’t want to go see a movie with Carmen Miranda storming Normandy when your son is actually there.
It gets a little confusing with such an ensemble, as the main romance (and thus main characters) are supposed to be Blossom and singer/soldier Rocky, but they’re not terribly interesting and unique characters. Especially when “Chiquita” is so completely dynamic and fun.
That’s where it gets kind of tough with her movies–they’re not letting her be the leading lady when she clearly has the chops to be one, because they’ve already cast her in this role and, well, she has an accent. So we’re stuck watching her as the wacky sidekick, goofy best friend, catty other woman, and so on and so on, never really getting The Guy herself.
Anyway, this is actually a pretty tame one in terms of Miranda, as most of the jokes are led by her and aren’t at her expense, and she gets a good number of jokes to make about other people, that aren’t just about how “feisty” she is. I love her working at the factory, head wrapped Rosie-the-Riveter-style in a gorgeous, Technicolored scarf, and there’s an extended bit about her fillings picking up (and transmitting!) radio signal that ends up making her essential to the plot.
My favorite gag is near the very end, as the army official walks into a scene of chaos and demands to know what’s going on. Without missing a beat, Miranda launches into a complete description of the situation–in rapid-fire Portuguese. But my initial assumption that this is a joke at her expense–that she’s so wacky she doesn’t realize she’s speaking in a different language than everyone else–is actually turned on its head when the official listens, nods his head, comments occasionally on her story, then walks off, satisfied with her detailed explanation. The joke is now flipped onto the other characters in the film–and however much of the audience–who ridiculously don’t speak Portuguese.
All in all, Something for the Boys is a pretty fun, light musical, with some good numbers and a great turn by Carmen Miranda–who gets to play very slightly outside of her often typical “appear onscreen for 15 minutes of unrelated musical numbers in the background of the scene” roles.