In 1917, at Camp Upton in Yaphank, NY, an officer asked Sgt. Irving Berlin to write a show to help raise money for the Army. The result was Yip Yip Yaphank, a revue that ran for the better part of a year, featuring a cast of more than 300 servicemen. In 1942, Berlin revived the concept for This Is The Army, another soldier-driven revue that ran for three years; in 1943, Warner Brothers made a feature film called This Is The Army that combined numbers from both Berlin shows with a loose retelling of how they came to be. The screen version is more pep rally than drama, designed to emphasize the sentimental tradition of military service more than the killing and dying. But it's well-directed by journeyman Michael Curtiz—who could always be counted on to emphasize how ordinary people reacted to sweeping historical events—and it's a fascinating document of the bygone, perhaps never-was America that Army star Ronald Reagan frequently evoked in his political career.
As such, This Is The Army makes a fine anchor for the "Warner Bros. And The Homefront Collection," a three-disc set that contains two other revue-style inside-showbiz musicals: Thank Your Lucky Stars, which is ostensibly about a group of young performers looking for a break, and Hollywood Canteen, about a pair of wounded soldiers who spend time at a star-studded rest stop that caters to the military. Thank Your Lucky Stars is the least essential of the bunch, though even its procession of unrelated musical numbers—and its hammy turn by Eddie Cantor, playing "himself"—has a pleasantly lulling rhythm. Hollywood Canteen is far sweeter, exploring a one-of-a-kind Shangri-la where movie stars kiss, counsel, and converse with uniformed fans. The Hollywood Canteen actually existed, which makes the movie more poignant. There's something appealing about an era when public-spiritedness extended to everyone having the same set of big-screen heroes and crushes.
Key features: A typically informative commentary track by Hollywood historians Joan Leslie and Drew Casper on This Is The Army, plus vintage trailers, wartime newsreels, and shorts on all three discs, and the fascinating Steven Spielberg-narrated documentary Warner At War.