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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Babes In Arms: Review

The first of all their films together, Babes in Arms teamed Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland as a couple of teens struggling to put on a show in the old barn. It’s not Citizen Kane, but for a wholesome good time when Americans were still recovering from the Depression and war was brewing in Europe, nothing satisfied like a nice, little flick from the iconic boy and girl next door.

In this film, Mickey and Judy are high school sweethearts who happen to be the children of vaudevillians. When their parents attempt a comeback, the ambitious young performers want to make a go of it themselves and gather up a bunch of friends in order to stage a show in their own backyard. The plot’s a bit old and cornball, even for 1939, but the spectacular talents involved work to make this production impressively entertaining.

After all, Rooney was the biggest star in the world at the time, and for good reason. The young man had been working in movies since he was 6, making a name for himself as “Puck” in the 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And of course, Rooney won the hearts of moviegoers as the lead character in the Andy Hardy films. As an amazingly talented individual the young man could dance, sing, play multiple instruments, and do some remarkable impressions. All of these abilities and more are showcased to great advantage in Babes, so much so that it earned Rooney an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. He might even have had a chance at winning had it not been such a particularly competitive year with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and the eventual recipient Robert Donat also earning Oscar consideration.

And then of course, there’s the phenomenal Judy Garland as the female lead. She was already a recognized vocal prodigy and a raising new star at MGM, having just finished The Wizard of Oz. Paired with Rooney the two were guaranteed box office gold, appealing to movie-goers of all ages. With their natural chemistry and youthful exuberance its no wonder the studio felt matched the pair again and again.

But what really brings this charming example of a backstage musical together is the incomparable staging talents of its director, famed choreographer Busby Berkeley. The renowned dance man is responsible for some of the most eye-catching sequences ever brought to the screen (think overhead kaleidoscopic dance lines). So, impressive was his recent work on the dance routines for a Jeanette MacDonald film that studio chief Louis B. Mayer confidently handed Berkeley the reigns for his first directing gig, Babes in Arms.

Of course, with the effervescent Rooney and Garland as stars it would have been virtually impossible to fail. Throw in Berkeley’s inspiring, show-stopping numbers (blatantly too grand to fit in any real backyard) and you have a vehicle in which to present the bright young talents in the best light possible, making Babes in Arms a pure and simple joy to experience.

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