Mickey Moran (Mickey Rooney) and Patsy Barton (Judy Garland), the children of vaudeville performers, spring into action when their homes and their lives are put in danger. Vaudeville is dead, and the group of performers, led by Mickey’s parents, Joe and Florrie Moran (Charles Winninger and Grace Hayes) who have made comfortable homes on Long Island, now must go back on tour in the sticks to try and scrounge up some money. Naturally, the kids of show biz performers want to help, but they’re shot down by their rigid parents who don’t see any need in updating their tired old acts.
Mickey and Patsy decide to put on their own barn show, in the hopes of attracting a Broadway producer. However, they face opposition from Martha Steele (Margaret Hamilton), the town’s welfare officer, who wants to put all of the children in a state workhouse since they’re living unsupervised at home. As well, the kids learn that all of their homes have been mortgaged, and that they stand to lose everything if they can’t come up with the dough to buy them out. On the romantic homefront, Mickey and Patsy, tentatively falling in love, hit an obstacle in the form of ex-child star Rosalie Essex (June Preisser), who wants to be in their play. Mickey isn’t dumb, and knows that Essex’s name on the marquee will attract attention, so he asks Patsy to step down from the lead role. Will the kids make it on Broadway, and will they save their parents’ homes from foreclosure?
For a film that many critics label as outright fantasy (and to be sure, much of it is), there’s a surprising amount of gritty reality lurking beneath the surface of Babes in Arms. An undertone of failure marks Babes in Arms, with the parents unable to revive the moribund vaudeville, while the financial threat of foreclosed houses and mandatory work house assignments conjures up the all-too real situations of no doubt many audience members at the time. The scenes where Mickey agonizes over his parents’ financial situation still hold weight today, although you never seem to see kids in films today worry about money. And in keeping with the great American screen tradition of having the male lead be a heel so he can reform at the last moment, Mickey’s totally self-serving use of Rosalie and her money to keep the show afloat adds a sour note to his romance with the sweet, loving, patient Patsy.
Of course, all of this is washed away by M-G-M, who has the kids making it to Broadway all too easily via producer Maddox (Henry Hull), who drops back into the picture in the best Hollywood deus ex machina manner, offering not only Mickey’s big break, but also salvation for his father, Joe, in the form of coaching the kids for their big production number. But why they would need a coach is anybody’s guess, when their first big production, put on at the local barn, is executed in the glossiest M-G-M fashion. Modern audiences will have a problem with this minstrel number, but it’s important to view it and understand it in the context of the times.
As for the music, some critics disliked the elimination of all but two of the songs from the original Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart Broadway production…. But Mickey and Judy get a nicely focused duet for “Good Morning,” with the grand finale, “God’s Country” (Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg) more than compensating, sending out the happy patrons humming.
Commentary by Judy Garland authority John Fricke
All-New Introduction by Mickey Rooney
9/24/1939 Gulf Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast
11/9/1941 Gulf Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast (Babes in Arms)
Good News of 1938 radio show
Leo Is On the Air radio promo
1.60GB | 1h 36m | 716×478 | mkv