I suppose there is no better way for a movie lover to celebrate another July 4th except by watching a patriotic flick, and although I selected Thousands Cheer, I am afraid it is yet another Gene Kelly bad-soldier film. That is not to say the picture does not promote the army, it just fails to make a soldier out of Kelly, who in For Me and My Gal also missed the mark as an ideal military man.
Kathryn Grayson joins Kelly as classical singer Kathryn Jones who announces to her audience she is leaving with her father for an army camp where she will engage in morale-boosting. The whole opening has a creepy incest feeling to it as both Kathryn and her conductor Jose Iturbi (as himself) say she is leaving her singing job to “run off with a man”. Not helping this uncomfortable dialogue is that the father Col. Jones (John Boles) does not look too old to be ruled out as a sweetheart, plus they talk to each other as strangers because the father had left Kathryn’s life early on. We can luckily get passed that when Kathryn waits to board the train with her father. She is alone standing beside Kelly’s Pvt. Eddy Marsh, and as the two glance around at all the soldiers smooching goodbye to their sweethearts, both give expressions of longing and glances at each other. At the last moment, Eddy grabs the gal and lays a couple on her, with no objection from the lady, but clearly is unaware she too will be on his train. The best part of the movie is a cute exchange once the train is moving when Kelly fears this girl has gotten the wrong idea and is following him. He tells her they’re through, but she plays along and insist the kiss means they are engaged.
Once at the base, Kathryn is a hit with all the men except Eddie, but he eventually comes around, sneaking into the house she shares with her father to convince her to go on a date. The romantic feelings seem genuine but it turns out his intention is to have her meet his family of trapeze artists and explain why he would rather be in the Air Force. Falling into his scheme she offers to talk to her father about a transfer, but he ultimately kisses her again and the two settle on their mutual affection.
Eddie has had a couple of sour run-ins with Col. Jones by this point and because he has been a lousy soldier unwilling to respect his superiors or show any inkling of discipline, Kathryn’s father does not think of him as the perfect suitor. Eddie vows to get his act together in the military and just days before being shipped out secures and engagement with his girl. The trouble now lies in Kathryn’s mother, Hyllary, played by Mary Astor. Because she left her husband because he was too devoted to the military, she naturally objects to her daughter suffering the same fate. She attempts to take her daughter home, but the girl refuses because she has arranged a major show featuring Jose Iturbi, Eddie’s family of trapeze folk and a host of Hollywood celebrities. When Kathryn goes to speak to Eddie about the trouble, however, the soldier gets riled and rushes off to face Hyllary, but because he abandoned his duty the boy is thrown in the guard house and will have to face a disciplinary hearing. Col. Jones convinces Eddie’s family to use him in the show and re-teach him discipline and teamwork.
Here the story line is interrupted for 40 minutes to allow for the variety show that features too long a list of MGM performers to mention. Mickey Rooney MCs musical performances featuring Lena Horne, Ann Southern and Virginia O’Brien, among others; skits with Lucille Ball, Red Skelton and Frank Morgan; and Bob Crosby and his orchestra. The latter is Bing Crosby‘s brother who became famous in his own right as a band leader and can be found featured in a variety of movies. I want to make special note of the final performer, Judy Garland. Although Rooney continually introduced all the other female performers by emphasizing their va-va-voomness, if you will, for Garland he says she is “cute and sweet” despite that the girl was at the peak of her sexual attractiveness in Thousands Cheer —thin, blonde and beautiful. This introduction surely added to Garland’s pessimistic feelings about her looks given Louis B. Mayer had dubbed her his “little hunchback” not long after hiring her.
Jumping back into the story now that the audience has had plenty of time to forget the conflict there in, Eddie performs a dangerous stunt on the trapeze successfully and, jumping ahead to his getting ready to ship out, a tearful Kathryn again agrees to wear his ring while she waits for him. The ending is a big musical number with Grayson in front of performers from a variety of countries singing some patriotic number.
I have never been a fan of Grayson’s singing voice, but she keeps it rather subdued in Thousands Cheer so I did not feel the need to fast-forward through her numbers as I have in the past. I would rather have seen Judy Garland in this part, having starred opposite of Kelly in For Me and My Gal and proving the two had great chemistry. In that movie, Kelly plays a soldier who become a deserter in a far more disgraceful manner than his mere lack of devotion in Thousands Cheer. In that picture, at least, Kelly sings. For Thousands Cheer it is Grayson as the lead singer with no support from Kelly. The man does put on one dance number, however, which is totally worth the wait.
Despite my trouble seeing Kathryn Grayson as a very appealing romantic figure, Kelly shows what a talent he was by proving he can make affection toward anyone seem real. He is so romantic, charming and genuine in his emotions on screen here that I found it hard to resist swooning.