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BetteBack November 27,1991: Midler marches off with For the Boys

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Midler marches off with For the Boys
By VIRGINIA GERST
Wednesday, November 27,1991

In “For the Boys,” a new movie with a decidedly old-fashioned style, Bette Midler plays Dixie Leonard, a singer, and James Caan is Eddie Sparks, her partner in a song and dance act.

Eddie is the star of the duo, at least at the beginning, but there never is any question as to which of them is the more talented or smarter. If this Dixie had takén on the North in the Civil War, we might all be Confederates today.

“For the Boys” was produced by Midler’s All Girl Productions, and it was tailored to her talents as surely as Wayne Finkelman’s costumes were designed to fit her frame. The story, which covers 50 years, gives the star a chance to sing songs from World War II to the present, to age from her mid-20s to mid-70s, and to play the beleaguered heroine of what used to be called a three-hanky film.

This may be the most unabashedly sentimental movie since “Stella Dallas.” Midler manages all of it stunningly. She puts across a song with great style, shows her well established flare for comedy, and handles the sentimental moments with restraint. It is a bravura performance that puts those around her in shade.

Decked out: in a matinee-idol mustache, James Caan, particularly, never seems her match. His Eddie does not seem to have the talent or the magnetic personality to account for his stardom, though the character’s self-indulgence does come through clearly. Much of thè story is told in flashback.

J e ff Brooks (Arye Gross), a young television network employee, arrives at Dixie’s apartment to escort the aged entertainer to the studio. She and Eddie are to be honored with Presidential medals fc-r their service to the boys overseas during three wars, and the ceremony is to be broadcast on national TV.

Dixie isn’t welL As she lights cigarettes in rapid succession, Brooks asks her if she should be smoking so much, and she replies that she should not even be breathing: But she still has plenty of fire. In terms that would make most women her age blush, she explains that she detests Eddie and will not appear on stage with him.

As she tells her stoiy, the camera travels back to 1942, when Dixie is a young unknown, hired to work with the already famous Eddie on a U.S.O. tour to Britain.

When she steals the show, he says he wants her fired, but even the egotistic Eddie is too smart to go through with it. Soon, they are hits at home as well as overseas.

The movie is at its best when they are on stage.

The World War II scenes, in which Midler sings “Shake Me Good” for the troops in Great Britain and a touching “Come Rain or Come Shine” for her soldier husband, as well as other assembled military men in North Aftica are highlights. So is ” In My Life,” which she performs for soldiers in Vietnam.

Dixie is not political. She admits that she long thought Karl Marx was the sixth Marx Brother, but she can’t help being touched by history, and the film skillfully takes note of events from the Hollywood Blacklist to the desperation of soldiers fighting in Southeast Asia.

The contrast in the U.S.O. tours through the three wars is one of the film’s most memorable features’.

‘For the Boys” was directed by Mark Rydell, who showed he was not averse to sentiment with “On Golden Pond,” and who also directed Midler in “The Rose,” her first dramatic screen role.

Midler earned , an Oscar nomination for her work in “The Rose” and is likely to receive another one with “For the Boys.” Even if she doesn’t, the film is a bouquet for her fans.

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