Today we’re going to take a look at a film starring “The Brazilian Bombshell,” Carmen Miranda. Or, as many people remember her, “the lady with the fruit on her head.” She was a unique talent with an almost unequaled amount of spunk and energy. In today’s movie, she stars in the film version of a popular 1943 Broadway musical complete with a rally-around-the-troops theme for the World War II era audience. Released in 1944, it’s “Something for the Boys.”
As the film opens, the word has gone out over the radio that the search is on for three cousins who have inherited a massive southern plantation. There’s Harry Hart (Phil Silvers), a con-man, Blossom Hart (Vivian Blaine), a nightclub singer, and Chiquita Hart (Miranda), who works the Rosie the Riveter role in a defense plant. The three cousins are all unaware of each other, but end up meeting up at the office of lawyer Col. Calhoun (Thurston Hall) who then takes them to see their inheritance…Magnolia Manor.
Well, the place is a dump. It’s completely falling apart, plus, the three cousins haven’t got any money to pay the taxes on the joint. Harry is quick to want to sell the place, but his attempt to convince Calhoun to buy it falls flat. But then, a group of army recruits stops by. Their Staff Sgt, Rocky Fulton (Michael O’Shea), has been eyeballing Magnolia Manor as a possible place where the wives of his men could stay. They can’t buy the place, but they could certainly rent it. The cousins get the soldiers to agree to help fix the place up and BOOM, they’re in business!
The plantation gets fixed up real quickly, but the issue of the taxes still remains. As it turns out, before the war, Rocky was a well-known orchestra leader, and many of his men were in the show biz as well. So, one night while making goo-goo eyes at Rocky, Blossom hits on an idea. She and the boys will put on a show so they can raise the funds to pay the taxes.
The show ends up being a big production, featuring numbers by Blossom, Chiquita, and Sgt. Laddie Green (Perry Como). The night is a great success, except that right before the show, Rocky’s rich spoiled fiancee Melanie (Sheila Ryan) shows up and takes over the house. To make matters worse, Harry can’t resist turning one of the upstairs rooms into a casino for the recruits. When this is discovered by Lt. Ashley Crothers (Glen Langan), he has the Magnolia Manor declared “off limits.” This doesn’t sit well with the ladies, who were counting on conjugal visits from their soldier boy hubbies.
Rocky is now on the skids with Blossom but desperately wants to patch things up. While the army is conducting war games in the area, he stops by the manor to try to talk with Blossom. But while there, the enemy team takes over the house and captures Rocky. Meanwhile, Harry and Chiquita have been working on a strange invention. It seems that a build up of metal shavings on Chiquita’s fillings (from working in the arms plant) has made it so she can hear radio broadcasts in her head. So, they hit on the idea to intercept the enemy team’s radio transmissions and resend them to Rocky’s team, using Chiquita as the radio. Got all that? But even if Rocky’s team wins, will he win back the girl he loves?
“Something for the Boys” is a fun movie, but it does feel a little disjointed. The two halves of the film are very different. The first half is essentially a “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” style musical, and it’s a lot fun. The songs are quite good and the musical numbers created around them are top-notch. Both Carmen Miranda and Vivian Blaine put everything they’ve got into their numbers.
The second half then shifts into a wanna-be screwball comedy, which doesn’t exactly work. The whole war games scenario feels really contrived and falls far short of the energy of the more musical first half of the film. The songs are not completely abandoned in the second half, though. The one major musical number in this sequence is somewhat uncomfortable to watch, however. It’s called “Climbin’ Up ‘Dem Golden Stairs,” and it features Silvers taking a head first tumble into the fireplace and emerging with black soot around his mouth. He then does a “Mammy” routine before launching into the song. It was a different time. There’s not an ounce of nastiness in it, but it’s still difficult to watch.
Though the second half of the film is a bit lackluster, it does redeem itself with a great Miranda number at the closing. Ultimately, the film is uneven, but it is well worth a look for the undeniable appeal of Carmen Miranda. She excels both musically and comically. Not too bad for a lady with fruit on her head.