Oak Park Oak Leaves
Midler marches off with For the Boys
By VIRGINIA GERST
Wednesday, November 27,1991
In “For the Boys,” a new movie with aÂ decidedly old-fashioned style, BetteÂ Midler plays Dixie Leonard, a singer, andÂ James Caan is Eddie Sparks, her partner in aÂ song and dance act.
Eddie is the star of the duo, at least at theÂ beginning, but there never is any question asÂ to which of them is the more talented or smarter. If this Dixie had takÃ©n on the NorthÂ in the Civil War, we might all beÂ Confederates today.
“For the Boys” was produced by Midler’sÂ All Girl Productions, and it was tailored toÂ her talents as surely as Wayne Finkelman’sÂ costumes were designed to fit her frame.Â The story, which covers 50 years, gives theÂ star a chance to sing songs from World WarÂ II to the present, to age from her mid-20s toÂ mid-70s, and to play the beleaguered heroineÂ of what used to be called a three-hanky film.
This may be the most unabashedlyÂ sentimental movie since “Stella Dallas.”Â Midler manages all of it stunningly. SheÂ puts across a song with great style, showsÂ her well established flare for comedy, andÂ handles the sentimental moments withÂ restraint. It is a bravura performance thatÂ puts those around her in shade.
Decked out: in a matinee-idol mustache,Â James Caan, particularly, never seems herÂ match. His Eddie does not seem to have theÂ talent or the magnetic personality to accountÂ for his stardom, though the character’sÂ self-indulgence does come through clearly.Â Much of thÃ¨ story is told in flashback.
J e ff Brooks (Arye Gross), a youngÂ television network employee, arrives atÂ Dixie’s apartment to escort the aged entertainer to the studio. She and Eddie areÂ to be honored with Presidential medals fc-rÂ their service to the boys overseas duringÂ three wars, and the ceremony is to beÂ broadcast on national TV.
Dixie isn’t welL As she lights cigarettes inÂ rapid succession, Brooks asks her if she should be smoking so much, and she repliesÂ that she should not even be breathing: ButÂ she still has plenty of fire. In terms thatÂ would make most women her age blush, sheÂ explains that she detests Eddie and will notÂ appear on stage with him.
As she tells her stoiy, the camera travelsÂ back to 1942, when Dixie is a youngÂ unknown, hired to work with the alreadyÂ famous Eddie on a U.S.O. tour to Britain.
When she steals the show, he says heÂ wants her fired, but even the egotistic EddieÂ is too smart to go through with it. Soon, theyÂ are hits at home as well as overseas.
The movie is at its best when they are onÂ stage.
The World War II scenes, in which MidlerÂ sings “Shake Me Good” for the troops inÂ Great Britain and a touching “Come Rain orÂ Come Shine” for her soldier husband, as wellÂ as other assembled military men in NorthÂ Aftica are highlights. So is ” In My Life,”Â which she performs for soldiers in Vietnam.
Dixie is not political. She admits that sheÂ long thought Karl Marx was the sixth MarxÂ Brother, but she can’t help being touched byÂ history, and the film skillfully takes note ofÂ events from the Hollywood Blacklist to theÂ desperation of soldiers fighting in SoutheastÂ Asia.
The contrast in the U.S.O. toursÂ through the three wars is one of the film’sÂ most memorable features’.
‘For the Boys” was directed by MarkÂ Rydell, who showed he was not averse toÂ sentiment with “On Golden Pond,” and whoÂ also directed Midler in “The Rose,” her firstÂ dramatic screen role.
Midler earned , an Oscar nomination forÂ her work in “The Rose” and is likely toÂ receive another one with “For the Boys.”Â Even if she doesn’t, the film is a bouquet forÂ her fans.