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Busby Berkeley
Mickey Rooney, Judt Garland, Paul Whiteman
Writing Credits:
John Monks, Jr., Fred Finklehoffe

Teens try to enter a music competition.
Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 6/23/2020

• Introduction by Mickey Rooney
• Two Archival Shorts
• “Do the La Conga” Stereo Remix Version
• “Leo Is On the Air” Radio Promo
• “Millions for Defense” Radio Excerpt
• 1940 Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast
• Trailer


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Strike Up the Band [Blu-Ray] (1940)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 14, 2020)

One of Hollywood’s most successful duos, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland pair for 1940’s Strike Up the Band. Along with famed director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, the film brings the expected mix of music and comedy.

Famous bandleader Paul Whiteman (Paul Whiteman) organizes a contest to find new, young talent. High school pals Jimmy Connors (Rooney) and Mary Holden (Garland) organize a musical revue with the hopes they can compete in this affair.

They use a variety of methods to raise the funds for transportation, and a serendipitous encounter with Whiteman allows them to get the money to push them over the top. However, potential tragedy interferes and threatens Jimmy and Mary’s showbiz dreams.

Do movies like Strike really need actual plots? It seems to me that audiences sought light comedy, some melodrama and a mess of singing and dancing – who cares if the movie brings a story as well?

I guess the producers figured they should attempt at least some stabs at a narrative to differentiate Strike from other movies that offered nothing but a litany of musical numbers. That makes sense, but the plot of Strike really does feel superfluous.

Given their immense success, the basic combo of Mickey and Judy probably felt like enough back in the 1940s, but it seems more questionable how well the duo holds up 80 years later. I don’t mean that as an insult to their talents, as Rooney and Garland earned their status as Hollywood legends.

However, Strike feels much more “of its era” than the best Golden Era musicals. The absence of a strong plot places more emphasis on the production numbers, and those fail to offer much zing.

As we know from Dana Carvey’s borderline mean-spirited Saturday Night Live impersonation, Rooney enjoyed a few years as Hollywood’s biggest box office draw. 80 years later, this seems utterly perplexing.

I mean no offense to Rooney, of course, but it remains befuddling that a tiny, average-looking guy turned into such a star. Rooney had talent, but based on the evidence of Strike, it feels confusing that audiences so adored him back then.

Though only 19 during the shoot, Rooney looks closer to 40, and whatever boyish charm he possessed doesn’t elevate the part. Jimmy seems like the kind of go-getting dreamer often seen in this sort of movie, and Rooney can’t add enough personality to the thin role.

Mary feels no more fleshed out than Jimmy, though her unrequited love for him at least gives her a stronger arc. Garland brings a better performance than Rooney, as she shows superior acting skills.

Rooney mainly substitutes spunk for character, whereas Garland actually attempts to develop a personality and some range. While she doesn’t save the movie, at least Garland gives the flick signs of life.

Unfortunately, Garland’s talents can’t redeem this slow effort. As I went into Strike, I figured it’d probably span about 90 minutes, as such a thin tale like this wouldn’t seem to need an extended running time.

Imagine my surprise when my Blu-ray player told me the film clocked in at two hours on the nose. That’s easily 20 to 30 minutes too long, and much of it feels like filler.

Boy, does this flick move at a snail’s pace! We wait until nearly one-third into the flick’s running time to even learn of the big contest, and it burdens us with pointless plot points such as Mary’s rival for Jimmy’s affections.

If the musical numbers excelled, they might balance out all these plodding parts, but the tunes seem relentlessly forgettable. None come across as memorable, and some feel borderline embarrassing.

For instance, “Do the La Conga” fills six minutes and clearly intends to act as a showstopper. Unfortunately, it seems absurd, as the sight of the white-bread cast’s take on Latin American music prompts unintentional comedy.

“Conga” doesn’t even become the film’s worst offender, as the “Gay Nineties” sequence threatens never to end. The stage performance the kids use to raise funds, it runs almost 15 minutes, a mind-numbing amount of time that causes the film to grind to a halt.

If you maintain a tremendous affection for Rooney and/or Garland, you will likely get more from Strike than I did. To me, it ends up as a slow, forgettable musical.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Strike Up the Band appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I felt pleased with this terrific transfer.

Sharpness seemed consistently strong, as the film looked crisp and well defined at almost all points of the film. The shots remained tight and the movie appeared concise.

I detected no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and edge enhancement remained absent. The movie exhibited natural grain and lacked specks, marks or other concerns.

Throughout the film, black levels looked consistently strong, as they always seemed deep and rich. Shadow detail also appeared very good, with a nice level of opacity that rarely looked too heavy. This was a splendid image that held up well over the last 80 years.

While not in the same league as the picture, the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Strike also worked well. Speech seemed reasonably accurate and distinct, with no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music came across as fairly bright and lively, though dynamic range seemed limited given the restrictions of the source.

Effects were similarly modest but they showed good clarity and accuracy within the confines of 80-year-old stems. This was a more than adequate auditory presentation for an older movie.

We get a handful of extras here, and these launch with an Introduction from Mickey Rooney. In this three-minute, 16-second clip, the actor offers some memories of the production. Rooney keeps things sunny in this innocuous remembrance.

Two archival shorts appear: Wedding Bills (9:42) and Romeo In Rhythm (8:17). For the former, narrator Pete Smith offers a comedic look at the expenses some schlub (William Newell) encounters when he decides to marry.

During the animated Rhythm, a group of crows stages a musical version of Romeo and Juliet.

Bills seems woefully dated in a mix of ways, and the then-46-year-old Newell feels old for the character, but it comes with enough cynical comedy to work.

Rhythm doesn’t lack charm, but it feels even more dated than Bills, mainly due to the racial stereotypes it uses. While it doesn’t utilize these in a mean-spirited manner, it’s still a relic, and it doesn’t compensate with a lot of convincing humor.

”Do the La Conga” brings us a remixed stereo version of that production number. It runs six minutes, one second and indeed presents a stereo take on the song – kinda.

The track still feels a lot like broad mono, without much real spread to the instrumentation. It’s a painless extra but not one that adds value.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three audio-only features. Leo Is On the Air runs 14 minutes, 15 seconds and acts as a long advertisement.

“Leo” mainly promotes Strike but it mentions some other MGM titles as well. It’s pretty forgettable.

An excerpt from July 2, 1941’s Millions For Defense radio broadcast lasts 15 minutes, 15 seconds. A program to raise funds for war bonds, this segment features comedy from Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

In addition, Garland sings “Strike Up the Band”. It’s a fun slice of history, though I wish we’d gotten the whole show.

From October 28, 1940, we get a Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast presentation of Strike Up the Band. It goes for 59 minutes, six seconds brings Rooney and Judy Garland back to reprise their roles as the leads.

The Lux adaptation includes some music but it loses a lot of the movie’s flab. It drops “La Conga” and chops down the painful “Gay Nineties” sequence to the bare minimum.

This means the Lux Strike emphasizes the movie’s woefully thin plot, but I don’t mind. An hour of this becomes much more tolerable than two hours.

With the classic pair of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in tow, Strike Up the Band boasts potential. Unfortunately, it lacks the creativity and spark to become more than a slow, dull musical journey. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals as well as more than acceptable audio and a decent set of supplements. Fans of Garland/Rooney might enjoy this one, but it leaves me flat.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6666 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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