The movie begins in the present and quickly moves into Mickey Rooney’s flashback. which takes us through the rest of most of the movie that includes some Rooney voice overs. The few minutes in the present provide several pertinent facts so there’s not too much suspense.
Rooney gets to play an adult as a recently discharged vet who meets some interesting people in and around Los Angeles. The plot doesn’t hold a lot of surprises and the dialogue is average. What makes this film worth watching is the musical score and the setting of Los Angeles, particularly the Sunset Strip. The movie is quite stylish, complete with neon flashing signs.
Jazz musicians featured include Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden in performances of “Shadrack,” “Basin Street Blues,” and more. But the number one song from the movie is “A Kiss to Build a Dream on,” performed four times throughout the movie. (The song was nominated for a Best Original Song Academy Award.)
While visiting a few nightclubs, we are also treated to performances by Vic Damone and Monica Lewis, both of whom were huge stars in their day.
Rooney shows himself to be a skilled drummer and a very naive man. William Demarest is wonderful as the crusty, soft-hearted nightclub owner nicknamed “Fluff.” He and Rooney perform one of the four versions of the award-nominated song previously mentioned.
Sally Forrest plays Rooney’s love interest and was not often seen in films. She gives a fine performance as an ambitious showgirl and dancer. James Craig plays the handsome heavy effectively and sufficiently slimy. He loves his indoor plants, and he is usually sitting down when he’s talking to Rooney. (“You talk pretty big for a little man.”)
Don’t miss the brief and humorous appearance of the talented child actor, Tommy Rettig. (His appearance as Bartholemew Collins in “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” in 1953 was fantastic, and he was the first Lassie master on the TV show). Kay Brown has a sweet and memorable role as a hat check girl, one of her four film roles ever. In the credits, she’s called Edna, but she’s referenced only as “kid” or “honey” throughout the movie.
The usual MGM studio personnel had a hand in the production; Cedric Gibbons and Edwin B. Willis are credited with Art Direction and Set Decoration, respectively. Sound is by Douglas Shearer and Special Effects by A. Arnold Gillespie and Warren Newcombe. The black and white cinematography was beautifully done by Robert Surtees, and the dances were ably staged by well-known choreographer, Nick Castle.
The musical numbers fit nicely into the movie and do not interrupt the plot. It’s an entertaining little movie and worthy of 85 minutes. And if you ever hear “send in Behr and Boynton,” run for the door!
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