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June Moon: Moonlight and Cactus (1944)

This month we’re under the sway of the pale satellite in the night sky. Because it’s June, the spotlight is on the Moon. This week Rodney and Samantha gaze upon Moonlight and Cactus from 1944.

SAMANTHA: I liked this movie as soon as it began. This is my favorite iteration of the Universal logo. Moonlight and Cactus drips WWII era escapism. It is lighthearted, inconsequential and full of fun musical numbers. There is even a war bond notice at the end (spoiler alert). The plot is hair thin, it doesn't make much sense, and it's highly predictable. So what makes this film worth watching? The music and the personalities of the character actors are the draw and that's enough entertainment to last you through this zippy B.

RODNEY: Well, here’s what we’ve got as a plot with this one. Some merchant marines that also double as Mitch Ayres’ orchestra (and Shemp Howard) get a two week leave and decide to spend it at a ranch, which is completely staffed by beautiful women (and the Andrews Sisters). Tuneful antics ensue. Is that it? Yeah, pretty much, but you can’t exactly do Citizen Kane when you’ve got an hour to fill and cram eight songs in. There’s a romantic subplot between Tom Seidel and Elyse Knox, and comedy relief by the aforementioned Shemp, Eddie Quillan, Murray Alper, Tom Kennedy and Leo Carrillo.

SG: Seidel is terribly wooden and he's lucky he's surrounded by so much talent to overshadow his lack. At the beginning of the movie, he dully informs the men on the ship that they're getting two weeks leave. The band starts playing. Shemp goes into spasms.

QUILLAN: A glass of water, my poor man? SHEMP: No, just pat me on the back with a redhead.

Funnily enough, when they get to the ranch, they're more concerned with winning their gambling losses back than with spending time with the scads of women there.

RB: The Andrews Sisters work on the ranch, but I don’t know what they actually do there, besides burst out into song several times a day.

SG: I'd happily take a moment to watch the Andrews Sisters perform random impromptu concerts. I sing their songs around the house often. These films were clearly made quickly and on the cheap; I caught Patty lip-sync the wrong word in their first song, "Wahoo."

RB: You wouldn’t think that this would be any way to run a ranch, but under the able guidance of Louise Ferguson (Knox), everything goes pretty smoothly-- except for the cattle rustling, which she keeps secret from Tom so he won’t fire her. The cast in these little bottom-half-of-the-bill programmers are just so great. Shemp definitely gets some laughs, and Knox is absolutely gorgeous as always. Looking at her IMDB, it’s become apparent that she’s pretty much become the resident Quarantine Cutie in my home as I’ve, without any planning at all, watched NINE films with her in the cast since the start of the pandemic.

SG: Mark Harmon's mom! It is crazy how many modern celebrities have classic-era roots.

RB: I had a tough time finding any reviews of this film, but what little I found shows that it was pretty well received. The Andrews Sisters were the most popular music act during this time period, so it makes sense that it made money. It opened on Labor Day weekend, often sharing a bill with Casanova Brown (which is also a lot of fun and available from ClassicFlix)

SG: Subtle it ain't. Seidel has a line at the end, "This is what you call a grand finale." But you can't approach these fun b-movies as high art. They were made quickly and cheaply to fill out a double bill. They're a great time capsule for the time though (Victory rolls and pompadours galore), and they'll lift you up every time. That's why they're often such a major part of the Cinevent schedule. So many of them are forgotten because they're so numerous and they're wonderful to rediscover. I give Moonlight and Cactus three stars.

RB: I love this kind of movie because it so much encapsulates a certain time and place. This is the kind of film that wartime audiences craved and Universal churned these out by the dozen. It’s beyond me why they haven’t released more of them (any of them really) on disc or streaming because they’re just SO much fun. Songs, laughs, a little romance. We need it now just as much as they did then. I LOVED this movie. It provided just as much escapism for me now as it did audiences over 75 years ago. A complete and utter delight. Four stars.

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Rodney Bowcock
Rodney Bowcock
Jun 25, 2021

There are a lot of film fans that typically watch and enjoy the big, popular warhorse that get trotted out freqently on TCM or at revival screenings. For my money, these are the sorts of pictures that really teach you about what was popular at the time. These are the films that brought people out midweek after dinner to theaters. They're light and unpretentious, and while they aren't always masterpieces, each one is a history lesson in pop culture. Maybe people would watch them more if they were actually available in any sense of the word, but that's a topic for another day...


Adam Williams
Adam Williams
Jun 25, 2021

Clive Hirschhorn’s coffee table book The Universal Story is a fantastic portal to a largely neglected pool of B-movie musicals. Flipping through it is a great reminder that there are a ton of sound films yet to be released on home video. Just browsing 1944’s films, I’m finding such tantalizing offerings as Swingtime Johnny (also with the Andrew Sisters), Sing A Jingle, Hat Check Honey, My Gal Loves Music, Allergic to Love, Hi, Good Lookin’, and Pardon My Rhythm. I love these programmers.

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