BootLeg Betty

BetteBack November 29, 1991: Midler in full-blown glory in ‘For The Boys’

The Valley Independent
Midler in full-blown glory in ‘For The Boys
November 29, 1991

Since her astonishing debut in “The Rose,” Ihe full realization of Bette Midler‘s rare talent has eluded capture on the screen.

‘Her performances have been marked by a nervy freneticism (“Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Ruthless People“), allowing little of her puckish n a t u r e to be s e e n. T he lachrymose “Beaches” captured some of her flavor and ^allowed her to sing. “Stella” was a major mistake; self-pity is not in her repertoire.

At last “For the Boys.” directed by Mark Rydell (“The Rose”), presents Midler in her full-blown glory. It is the best slam-bang entertainment of the year.

The saga is told in flashback, a timeworn device that works because of the n a r r a t i v e ‘s sprawl. The aged entertainer Dixie Leonard (Midler) is called for at her modest Hollywood a p a r t m e nt by a t e l evi s ion underling (Arye Gross), who is responsible for delivering her to a special s a lut ing her longtime partner, Eddie Sparks (James Caan).

“I’m not going,” she announces. The desperate Gross encourages her to reminisce about her career, and the story begins. It is the wa r t ime ’40s, and the young singer reports to a unit e n t e r t a i n i ng U.S. troops in England. Sparks, a radio star, is repelled by her off-color jokes, but the GIs love her. A team is born.

S p a r ks h as a w i fe a nd daughters, and Dixie is married to a soldier, so there is no romance between them. They continue their uneasy partnership a f t er the war, starring on television in a domestic sitcom and entertaining in the Korean War. When Eddie fires his longtime agent (George Segal) b e c a u se of t he i n d u s t ry blacklist, Dixie upbraids him and leaves the act.

The Vietnam War comes. Dixie agrees to join Eddie in the third war tour, largely because she can see her soldier son (Christopher Rydell ). Tragic events bring the final break of Dixie and Eddie.

Rydell, himself an actor and entertainer, captures each era with amazing accuracy. The raw energy of entertaining near battlefronts, the helter-skelter of early television are lovingly documented.

Bette Midler achieves the heights in “For the Boys.” She never sang better, and she segues from one raucous to tender number with the greatest of ease. Caan has a more difficult task. Obviously a Bob Hope clone, Eddie Sparks never shines as a performer, so you don’t know what made him a star. But Caan does well with a complex role and is especially effective in the later vears.

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