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Strike Up the Band (1940)

Strike Up the Band (1940)

Like Babes in Arms (1939) this musical comedy starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland was directed by Busby Berkeley. The film won an Academy Award for its Sound Recording and its Original Song “Our Love Affair” by George Stoll and Roger Edens was Oscar nominated as was their Score. George Pal (uncredited) animated a fruit orchestra sequence for the song. John Monks Jr. and Fred Finklehoffe wrote the screenplay; the George and Ira Gershwin title song is used in the musical finale.

James ‘Jimmy’ Connors (Rooney) is a high school drummer that’s bored with playing the same old songs like the national anthem; so he organizes late night jazz jam sessions with his friends. His girlfriend Mary Holden (Garland) is a talented singer that’s frustrated because Jimmy treats her like a pal instead of a gal. Jimmy’s widow mother (Ann Shoemaker) has always wanted him to go to college to become a doctor like his father but his real passion is his music. Encouraged by Mary he decides to ask their school principal Mr. Judd (Francis Pierlot) if he can organize a dance band. Because Mr. Judd had been thinking of disbanding the school’s orchestra because of mounting debts he agrees and enthusiastically proclaims that he’ll buy the first ticket (e.g. to the dance). The school function is a big success and soon Jimmy has an even bigger idea to enter conductor Paul Whiteman’s radio contest for high school bands which is offering a top prize of $500 to the winner. Unfortunately romantic entanglements distract Jimmy from this goal.

June Preisser plays Barbara Frances Morgan a worldly new rich girl at school who decides that Jimmy is just the boy for her. He seems helplessly unable to resist her charms and temporarily lets down his Mary his best friend Philip Turner (William Tracy) and the other band members. Larry Nunn plays 13 year old Willie Brewster who has a crush on Mary and tries to comfort her in Jimmy’s absence. Margaret Early plays Phil’s girlfriend Annie. But Jimmy gets it together and with Mary’s and Phil’s help he and his Riverwood High School pals produce and act in a musical play for the local Elks Club raising $150 towards the $200 they need to get to Chicago for Whiteman’s contest. Barbara then steals Jimmy away from the cast party with his friends by telling him that she can convince her father to hire their band for her eighteenth birthday party. However when Mr. Morgan (George Lessey) says that he’d already made other arrangements Jimmy is upset until he learns that Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra has been hired and he and his friends are all invited.

At Barbara’s party Jimmy and his band can’t resist taking the stage and playing a number of their own during the hired band’s break; they impress the bandleader so much that Whiteman offers Jimmy a job in New York. But Jimmy’s mother who’d earlier released her son from her dream of him becoming a doctor when she’d realized his sincere passion for his music reminds him that disappointing his friends was no way to start his new career. So Jimmy tells Whiteman his decision but then secures the remaining $50 as a loan using his drum set for collateral.

However Willie who’d hurt his arm during the Elks Club show and neglected to take care of it is now in need of a doctor; the situation is so serious that the doctor (Howard Hickman) states that unless the boy sees a specialist in Chicago right away his life is in danger. Jimmy doesn’t hesitate to give the band’s $200 in order to charter a plane for Willie’s transportation. When Mr. Morgan reads about it he asks Jimmy to meet him for breakfast he’s made arrangements for a Chicago bound train to transport Jimmy and his band to Chicago to participate in Whiteman’s contest which utilizes a local audience as well as (American Idol-like) telephone voting to select its winner. After the obvious outcome the titled finale is performed.

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