Babes in Arms (1939)
A very cheerful take on old school versus new school, "Babes in Arms" is the story of two teenagers wrestling with careers or as any other person would call it: "life".
In the early 1920s, vaudeville performers were living the high life. There were no challengers to usurp the monopoly they had on the entertainment industry...and yet there were warning signs that the motion picture could overtake them. By the time the first talking pictures came around, the vaudeville arena had faded into the background. The following decade proved too challenging for the performers who were now married and raising a family.
As their kids became teenagers, some of the performers decided to try for one last revival tour. They got everyone together and went on the road again...without their kids.
Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney) has longed for the life of the rich and famous ever since he was born backstage during a show. Literally raised on the stage, he has performance in his blood. He writes songs and tries to sell them and the first time we see him do it, he's a success. With the help of his friend Patsy (Judy Garland), he charms a few producers and gets 100 bucks for his song...which causes him to pass out.
Elated on his newfound fame, he returns home with pride only to find that his family is packing up to start their tour; and that they won't be bring the kids, because they are "excess baggage". "Babes in Arms" has a cutesy-cutesy way of working its song into the movie. The kids are desperate to prove their worth to their parents, so they sing a song to showcase their talent. It's a fun time, but it reminds us that "Babes in Arms" is slightly mindless with its songs and with its point. It's not a challenging movie, and is only designed for entertainment.
Impressed but not convinced, the parents still decide that the road is no place for a child, so they are going to take off without the kids.
Angry at being left out in the cold, Mickey begins to take things into his own hands. While dodging the evil eye of a woman who would have all the vaudeville children in boarding school, Mickey starts to write his own play. His plan is that the kids will perform it while the parents are gone and prove to everyone that they too can make a living in show-business.
Alas, minor complications arise when a child star returns to town and wants a place in the play. She blinks prettily a few times and Mickey seems to have no choice but to help her help him.
So there you have it: the show must go on.
What "Babes in Arms" does is many things: it lets Mickey Rooney run wild with his over-the-top acting and his imitations, it gently criticizes the show-business industry for being so persnickety, and it provides some very memorable musical moments (not all of which are without discomfort).
What makes the movie work, more than anything else, is the charisma of the two leads. Garland and Rooney are just plain adorable here.
There is something a little like Wes Anderson with "Babes in Arms" in how all the children act like adults and vice versa. We do have time for the father-son relationship which is supposed to bring a teary eye to the audience...maybe it was just a little too heavy-handed.
I think the biggest obstacle for the modern day viewer to hurdle is the black-face and other racist impressions which go on for quite some time during Mickey's play. It's just so odd to find that we go back a few decades in history and there we have it, in black and white (no pun intended), the evidence of a culture that has changed...but whatever.
"Babes in Arms", all things considered, is innocent and enjoyable
Posted by Micah Jones