MGM’s extravagant, star filled musical is a tonic of good cheer that’s very close to my heart. I watched it one night after some miserable days. Musicals always brighten my mood, so I hoped Thousands Cheer would do the trick. It did, and then some. Although the plot leaves a lot to be desired, the real attractions are the musical numbers and cameos of MGM contract players.
Kathryn Jones (Kathryn Grayson) is a young singer who is leaving her music studies behind in order to join her father at an army base. Colonel Bill Jones (John Boles) has been divorced from Kathryn’s mother Hyllary (Mary Astor) ever since she was a little girl. Kathryn has been trying in vain to get her parents back together. Kathryn meets a soldier named Eddie (Gene Kelly), a former aerialist who wants to join the air force. Things start off shaky for them, but soon they both fall in love. Because of his disdain for the army, Eddie has to learn discipline and earn the approval of Colonel Jones.
That’s really what the story boils down to in the first half. If the movie was an hour shorter, it’d be pretty tepid. Unless of course, there was something anchoring the story down to make the audience invested. But I like the first half because Kathryn Grayson is such a doll.
The first half also features one of Gene Kelly’s most dazzling routines, where he dances with a mop.
Now the second half of the film is a showcase for MGM talent. Kathryn puts on an army show with a bevy of Hollywood stars, each of whom is introduced by Mickey Rooney. Rooney also does some spot on impressions of Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore.
Gloria DeHaven and June Allyson perform “In a Little Spanish Town” with the famously deadpan Virginia O’Brien. June was a year away from becoming a major star. She’s cuter than cute in her pigtails with the ribbons. Imagine, she was actually 26! But MGM shaved some of her years off in order to keep her playing ingenues. My only complaint is that this little number was too short. I would’ve loved to see Junie again in her pigtails. (Luckily I did when I watched the Lucille Ball vehicle, Best Foot Forward, also from the same year).
My favorite number was “Honeysuckle Rose” performed by Lena Horne. The way she’s lit is just beautiful and is one case of Lena looking so glamorous, which is a big deal. Of course a scene like this would’ve been cut from theaters down south owing to Jim Crow laws. THEIR LOSS. We get to see her glorious figure and we get close ups of her gorgeous face. Bless TCM, because the clips on youtube don’t do Lena any justice. Thankfully I was able to see a beautiful print, so I could appreciate the colors and the camera work.
The other cameos. The young lady on the bottom right is Marsha Hunt, who turns 99 next month!
Now, Kathryn’s show is a huge success. And what’s more, Eddie even performs an arealist routine with his family.
Eddie loses his streak of rebellion, learns the value of discipline and things wrap up nicely, with a tearful goodbye between him and Kathryn when he’s deployed for the front. Is it hokey Patriotism? You betcha. But you know something, it’s worth it. Thousands Cheer is really a fascinating time capsule. It’s a film that’s pure entertainment and a morale booster, for what was arguably the last just war ever fought. I’m not sure if something like it could be made today. That’s okay too. It brings me nothing but joy, and I’m sure it did the same for movie goers in 1943.