|Stage Door Canteen|
|Directed by||Frank Borzage|
|Written by||Delmer Daves|
|Produced by||Frank Borzage|
|Music by||Freddie Rich|
Principal Artists Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$4.35 million (U.S. and Canada rentals)|
Stage Door Canteen is a 1943 American World War II film with musical numbers and other entertainment interspersed with dramatic scenes by a largely unknown cast. The film was produced by Sol Lesser's Principal Artists Productions and directed by Frank Borzage. The film features many celebrity cameo appearances but primarily relates a simple drama set in the famed New York City restaurant and nightclub for American and Allied servicemen. Six bands are featured. The score and the original song, "We Mustn't Say Goodbye", were nominated for Academy Awards.
Stage Door Canteen is in the public domain in North America and for this reason is widely available in many DVD and VHS releases of varying quality.
The film, made in wartime, celebrates the work of the Stage Door Canteen, created in New York City as a recreational center for both American and Allied servicemen on leave to socialize with, be entertained or served by Broadway celebrities. The storyline follows several women who volunteer for the Canteen and must adhere to strict rules of conduct, the most important of which is that their job is to provide friendly companionship to and be dance partners for the (often nervous) men who are soon to be sent into combat. No romantic fraternization is allowed. Eileen is a volunteer who confesses to only becoming involved in the Canteen in order to be discovered by one of the Hollywood stars in attendance. She ultimately finds herself falling in love with one of the soldiers.
Stage Door Canteen was made under the auspices of the American Theatre Wing. The actual Stage Door Canteen in New York City was a basement club located in the 44th Street Theatre, and it could not be used for the filming as it was too busy receiving servicemen. The settings were recreated at the Fox Movietone Studio in New York and at RKO Pathé Studios in Los Angeles. Stage Door Canteen was in production from November 30, 1942, to late January 1943.
Star appearances range from momentary cameos, such as Johnny Weissmuller working in the Canteen's kitchen, to more substantial roles. In a June 1943 feature story titled "Show Business at War", Life magazine counted a total of 82 performers in Stage Door Canteen, and provided total screen time for some of them:
Stage Door Canteen represents the only film appearance of Katharine Cornell. It features a performance of "Why Don't You Do Right?" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, which became the first major hit for singer Peggy Lee.
African-American producer Leonard Harper was hired to do the African-American casting in New York City. Of additional cultural note are two segments, one in which Merle Oberon sings the praises of America's Chinese allies, represented by Chinese airmen, and another in which Sam Jaffe interviews several Soviet officers, one of them female, in both English and Russian.
These featured cast members either perform or have extended dialogue in the story.
These featured players make brief appearances in the film.
Other stage, screen and radio artists making cameo appearances include the following:
Distributed by United Artists, Stage Door Canteen was released June 24, 1943, with a run time of 132 minutes. Some modern prints have been trimmed to 93 minutes.
Stage Door Canteen was named one of the ten best motion pictures of 1943 in a Film Daily poll of 439 newspaper and radio reviewers.
The film received two Academy Award nominations—for the original score by Fred Rich, and for the original song, "We Mustn't Say Goodbye", by James V. Monaco (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics).
Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, prefaced his remarks on the film by stating his aversion to the contemporary trend toward all-star spectacles, which he called "cheap showmanship":
But for once, we've got to make a frank concession. As done in Stage Door Canteen this parading of show-world notables has some real dramatic point. It shapes a glamorous, atmospheric setting within which a slight story is played—a setting as real as is the Canteen for a story that is old as the hills. … And, besides, some of the acts are pretty good.
Crowther praised producer Sol Lesser for creating an illusion of authenticity by casting newcomers to the screen—"anybody's boys and girls … just so many nice kids at the Canteen." He credited the film for catching the generous spirit of show people wishing to do their part to help win the war. "As a general rule," he concluded, "this writer is depressed by a bandwagon of stars. But this is one time when the spectacle really brings a lump of pride to the throat."
All proceeds, after Lesser's 8.5 percent, were donated to the American Theatre Wing and its allied charities. The film was such a success at the boxoffice that Lesser was able to turn over $1.5 million—the equivalent of more than $20.5 million today.
"Patriotism, entertainment, and romance mix badly", wrote modern critic Pauline Kael, who looked back on the film for The New Yorker. "Many famous performers make fools of themselves … Katharine Cornell, Katharine Hepburn, and Paul Muni fare a shade worse than most of the other 50-odd famous performers; Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn come off rather better." Kael termed the film "depressing" and particularly criticized Delmer Daves's "horribly elaborate narrative". Dave Kehr of The New York Times called the film "an interesting document on World War II".