STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM Release Date: December 30, 1942 | Production Date: June - July 1942 | Color: Black & White | Running Time: 99 minutes | Studio: Paramount Pictures
When Navy sailor Johnny Webster (Eddie Bracken) comes ashore with his pals for a twenty-four hour leave in the Los Angeles area, he calls his father "Pop" (Victor Moore) at Paramount studios. Pop, a former silent movie Western star known as "Bronco Billy," has told Johnny that he is the executive vice-president in charge of production at Paramount, because he is too embarrassed to admit that he is only the gateman. Switchboard operator Polly Judson (Betty Hutton) helps Pop keep up the farce by pretending to be his secretary every time Johnny calls, and has fallen in love with Johnny just from his photo.
In order to maintain the ruse, Polly calls the secretary to B. G. De Soto, the real executive producer, and tells her that De Soto has taken ill and wants her to work at his house. When Johnny, Hi-Pockets (Gil Lamb) and the other sailors arrive, they meet Pop, wearing a beret and a natty suit, and Polly, in De Soto's office. The sailors are impressed by Pop's position, especially when performer Cass Daley comes in for an audition. Pop makes a mess of De Soto's office by unintentionally pressing automatic buttons that turn on the fans and display the hidden bar.
When famous director Cecil B. DeMille telephones to ask De Soto's advice on some new footage he sent him, Pop tells him it stinks. Outraged, DeMille shows up at De Soto's office, and Polly, Pop and the sailors run out. De Soto, meanwhile, arrives at the studio but is blocked from entering by the guard, who is under orders from Polly, who also has told De Soto that he was fired that morning. Polly, Pop and the sailors slip into a screening room where director Preston Sturges is viewing a musical number featuring Dick Powell and Mary Martin. Believing that De Soto is with the group, Sturges runs the film for them, and is extremely insulted when he finishes and De Soto has apparently slipped out.
The group next stops at a sound stage where a big music and dance sequence is being shot, but when Hi-Pockets is unable to contain himself any longer and starts dancing with singer Dona Drake, director Ralph Murphy throws them off the set. In order to avoid being caught out of uniform, Pop takes the day off and shows the sailors around town, and casually mentions that he would have put on a star-studded performance for the sailors if only they had more shore leave. Johnny, Hi-Pockets and the others finally return to the ship, and Johnny asks the captain's permission to marry Polly. Although the captain grants permission, he cannot allow any more shore leave as he is waiting for orders.
When Johnny mentions that his prestigious father offered to put on a variety show, the captain agrees to allow all the soldiers to go to the canteen auditorium the next night for the show. The next morning, Johnny calls Polly and tells her the "good" news, and Polly is terrified that she is now expected to fulfill Pop's idle promise. She immediately gets to work impersonating De Soto's secretary and asking Bob Hope to commit his evening to the benefit, but De Soto catches her and Pop in his office and fires them both. Pop is disconsolate, but Polly refuses to give up, and beseeches Hope and Bing Crosby to do the benefit for Pop's sake. Both actors agree and offer to enlist other stars on the lot.
At 4:30 in the afternoon, De Soto is astonished when he sees all of his highly-paid stars leaving early, and follows them to the auditorium. At six o'clock, as Pop goes on stage to apologize to the soldiers for failing them, Bing Crosby and a host of other big names appear behind him, and the show begins, with Bob Hope as the emcee. When Johnny learns that De Soto has arrived with the intention of stopping the show, he and the sailors bind and gag him. During the performance, De Soto escapes but is unable to interrupt the proceedings. The head of all production, Y. Frank Fremont, then arrives, and when Polly confesses all, he is delighted by her and Pop's ingenuity and offers to rehire them both.
The sailors are called to duty, and Johnny gives Polly his ring and a farewell kiss, as Bing Crosby finishes with a patriotic song dedicated to the American flag.
as "Polly Judson"
as "Johnny Webster"
as "Bronco Billy Webster"
as "B.G. De Soto"
as "High Pockets"
appearing as themselves
Betty Jane Rhodes
Cecil B. De Mille
Original Screen Play by
Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen
George Kaufman, Arthur Ross, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Robert Emmett Dolan
Vocal Arrangements by
Joseph J. Lilley
Dances Staged by
Danny Dare and George Balanchine
Directors of Photography
Leo Tover, A.S.C. and Theodor Sparkuhl, A.S.C.
Academy Award: Best Music, Original Song (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer - "That Old Black Magic") (Nomination)
Academy Award: Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Robert Emmett Dolan) (Nomination)
The working title of this film was "Thumbs Up".
The song "Hit The Road To Dreamland" was written for this film. Although Betty did not perform it here, she would later go on to record it as a single release for Capitol Records in 1956.
Betty sustained a skinned nose, sprained ankle and six bruises in doing her hilarious wall-climbing act in "Star Spangled Rhythm".
At New York's Paramount Theatre, "Star Spangled Rhythm" was accompanied by a stage show featuring Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.
As noted in the Variety review, the picture features comic portrayals of various Paramount studio executives, including Walter Abel as "B. G. DeSoto," who is modeled after executive producer B. G. DeSylva, and Edward Fielding as "Y. Frank Freemont," who is modeled after studio vice-president Y. Frank Freeman.
Some sketches in "Star Spangled Rhythm" were originally written by Arthur Ross and Fred Saidy for an unproduced musical titled "Rally Round the Girls".
One unusual skit is played by four actors in the manner of women. Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, Lynne Overman and Franchot Tone appear in the segment, written by George S. Kayfman and originally titled "If Men Played Cards as Women Do." This was a reprise of a 1929 Paramount one-reel short.
News items in 1943 reported that Max Aronson, better known as "Broncho Billy," filed a $900,000 lawsuit against Paramount for using the "Broncho Billy" name. Aronson, who was renowned as one of the first motion picture stars and creator of the Western character "Broncho Billy," protested that Paramount was portraying him as a "washed-up and broken-down actor."
Actor Tom Dugan, who briefly portrays "Hitler" in the musical revue in this film, also portrays an actor playing Adolf Hitler in United Artists' film "To Be or Not to Be".