We’re off to war this month. Every Friday in March we will look at a classic World War II film. This week Rodney and Samantha look at the Fox musical Four Jills in a Jeep.
SAMANTHA: Four Jills in a Jeep is the true story of all-female entertainers who traveled to England and North Africa to entertain the troops during WWII. The group consisted of Carole Landis who wrote the book (with the help of a ghostwriter), Martha Raye, Kay Francis, and Mitzi Mayfair. The film features cameo appearances by pin-up favorite Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, and Alice Faye (which is how this ended up as part of an Alice Faye DVD set).
RODNEY: I will say at the start that I can’t really defend this being part of an Alice Faye box set, but I am glad that it’s here, and I recommend the set. This is a strong, light and likable film, like all of the other films that are featured. Fox did a nice job with this one, and it makes me lament when they’d actually release this kind of stuff. We aren’t likely to see these kinds of releases any time in the near future again. Now, I have no inside information about this, naturally, but I do have a strong hunch that Disney isn’t going to do much with the classic Fox catalog, with the exception of a few key high profile titles. I fear that these comparatively lesser known films will languish and fall by the wayside. All the more reason to treasure the releases that we were able to get before the purchase of Fox by Disney.
S: I was not very familiar with the women in this film but I was impressed. Landis is glamorous, delicate and beautiful, and it is no wonder she met and fell in love with a soldier while on tour. Unfortunately she was unlucky in love and married four times by the time she was 29, when she sadly decided to end her own life. Raye has several fat jokes and ugly references volleyed her way, maybe that’s because of the stereotype that a beautiful woman can’t be funny, but she proves them wrong. She is very sexy in her fitted gown and a feather in her hair. Mayfair is adorable. She dances like an ice skater and her impromptu swing dance with the soldiers features everything you would want from such a scene. I’ve always envied people who could dance like that. It is amazing to me that her charm in this film didn’t lead to more celluloid performances, but this was her only feature. Francis is subdued in comparison, filling a matronly role.
SOLDIER: You can’t entertain anybody with your brains knocked out.
MARTHA: I guess he’s never been to Hollywood.
R: What a cast! I’m a huge fan of Carole Landis. I’ll watch anything with her, and have seen several films in her canon over the last few months. I’ve grown very fond of her screen presence, along with several other Fox contract players from this time period. She’s positively delightful and her sad end is the stuff of unfortunate Hollywood lore. The rest of the cast is equally likable, and they work together so well that it’s obvious that they spent a lot of time together during trying times.
S: Rounding out the entertainers is Phil Silvers, who is fun, especially in a scene where he puts a heckler in his place. There are some good reaction shots of the girls watching his show. They feel genuine and unrehearsed; the actresses obviously have a real bond with each other.
R: Silvers is a lot of fun here, but maybe not as much fun as in other films, or in his classic TV series. He has a few good appearances in Fox films, particularly in Something For the Boys, where we get to a prelude to his Sgt Bilko character. Great fun.
S: Baby-faced Dick Haymes plays Mayfair's love interest. I can never tell the difference between Jimmy Dorsey and a lot of the other swing bands, but I really like them. I think that is the general sentiment of the film. It doesn’t really matter who is performing as long as they are entertaining.
R: Reflecting on these wartime Fox musicals, I feel the need to revise my opinion on musicals as a whole, a genre that I’ve neglected if not outright dismissed. I really like these movies. Four Jills is yet another example of a movie that’s just a lot of fun. It’s easy to imagine how positive the response would’ve been when this film played at Army bases.
S: In the book, Landis talks about the conditions they performed in. She said Cary Grant warned her to bring woolen underwear to England because of the bone-chilling cold and she was grateful. She described singing in the rain on stage, inhaling the water and feeling like she was drowning. Mayfair performed on a rickety stage with a loose board, and had to stay mindful of stepping on it while also bearing the rain, and then she lost a shoe mid-step and had to quickly kick the other one off to finish her dance. They were troupers. Funnily enough the USO group that went overseas just before these ladies consisted of Al Jolson, Merle Oberon, Frank McHugh, Allan Jenkins and Patricia Morison and they were labeled prima donnas compared to the second group.
If you like old time radio, check this one out. They show Command Performance in action.
R: As near as I can tell, the Command Performance segments of the film come pretty close to how the show would’ve been transcribed. I noticed that little details that generally bug me during the reenactments of radio show recordings in the movies (stapled script pages!!!) are absent. It’s a really cool snapshot of an entertainment medium that’s nearly entirely extinct in the 21st Century.
I loved this movie. The cast is amazing, the songs are great, and the entire proceedings are so much fun and irresistible. Four stars all day long.
S: I give it three stars. I hoped for a little less fluff since this was based on a true story, something deeper than frivolity and songs. This was war after all. But I enjoyed this movie immensely.