BABES ON BROADWAY (director: Busby Berkeley; screenwriters: Fred Finklehoffe/Elaine Ryan/based on a story by Finklehoffe; cinematographer: Lester White; editor: Fredrick Y. Smith; music: Georgie Stoll/Burton Lane/Roger Edens/Harold Rome; cast: Mickey Rooney (Tommy Williams), Judy Garland (Penny Morris), Fay Bainter (Miss Jones), Virginia Weidler (Barbara Jo), Ray McDonald (Ray Lambert), Richard Quine (Morton Hammond), Donald Meek (Mr. Stone), Alexander Woollcott (Himself), James Gleason (Thornton Reed), Donna Reed (Secretary), Joe Yule (Mason), Margaret O'Brien (Maxine); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Freed; Warner Home Video; 1941)

"Rousing but corny musical."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Busby Berkeley ("Gold Diggers of 1935"/"Strike up the Band"/"For Me And My Gal") directs this rousing but corny musical sequel to his Babes in Arms. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and Berkeley team-up for the third time in musicals that were all similar and were dubbed by historians as the "backyard musicals." It's a familiar story about youngsters trying to break into show business. The music and dancing carries the pic, as the narrative is too thin. The songs include: "Babes on Broadway," "(I Like New York in June) How About You," "Anything Can Happen in New York," "Hoe Down," "Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On," "Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones," "Bombshell from Brazil" and "Mamãe eu quero."

The 'Three Balls of Fire,' Tommy Williams (Mickey Rooney), Morton "Hammy" Hammond (Richard Quine) and Ray Lambert (Ray McDonald), are an impoverished but cheerful vaudeville musical act discovered by talent scout Miss Jones (Fay Bainter) while singing in an empty basement spaghetti restaurant. But the naive trio blab to their unemployed actor pals in their Manhattan drugstore hang-out about the private audition with big-time producer Thornton Reed (James Gleason), Miss Jones' boss, and the audition is packed with Broadway hopefuls, so the grumpy producer doesn't audition or hire them.

Instead Tommy picks up in the drugstore a bawling out-of-work singer, Penny Morris (Judy Garland), who works as a secretary in the Dorman Street settlement house for underprivileged children. Tommy later schemes to put on a 4th of July block party show to raise money to send the kids to the country for two-weeks, and thereby make a name for the trio by using the kids to get free publicity. The boss of the settlement house, Mr. Stone (Donald Meek), approves of the idea and Penny calls him her Lincoln. Things get expanded when the settlement house arranges to have twenty British refugee children make a short-wave broadcast to their parents in London on that day, which gets tied in with the effort to send the city kids to the country. We're left wondering if these good deeds will help get Penny and Tommy to Broadway.

Though critics wearied of this innocent youth act, audience loved this schmaltz. The film premiered two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and audiences saw it as an escapist film that reminded them of innocent times. Garland singing "Chin Up, Cheerio, Carry On" to a group of British war orphans was one of the film's highlights and went over very well in England, as well as her singing the film's best song "How About You." While Mickey sings, dances and does a number of celebrity impersonations of the time (like Carmen Miranda, Sir Harry Lauder and George M. Cohan).

REVIEWED ON 5/9/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"