the Boys (1991)
Romantic melodrama starring Bette Midler and James
Caan as a song-and-dance team entertaining the troops from World
War Two to Vietnam.
Stars: Bette Midler, James Caan, George Segal, Patrick O'Neal, Melissa
Director: Mark Rydell
blatantly contrived yarn about the trials and tribulations of two legendary USO
entertainers, FOR THE BOYS was tailor-made for the myriad talents of the Divine
One herself, Bette Midler. She's given multiple opportunities to emote, tell dirty
jokes, emote, kick up her heels, emote and finally metamorphose into a full-scale
pop culture tragedienne. While Midler's multitude of fans may wax enthusiastic
over this spectacularly ambitious period saga, the average viewer will find FOR
THE BOYS a very long sit.
the film opens, smooth young TV executive Jeff Brooks (Arye Gross) is sent to
escort veteran entertainer Dixie Leonard (Midler) to a lavish televised awards
presentation honoring Leonard and her partner of nearly 50 years, the legendary
Eddie Sparks (James Caan). Brooks is informed by Dixie, now a feisty octogenarian,
that she has no intention of appearing on the same stage as Eddie, despite the
honor. Quickly assessing the situation, Brooks earns Dixie's confidence by cannily
questioning her about her turbulent life and career.
year is 1942 and, thanks to the help and clout of her show-biz agent uncle, Art
Silver (George Segal), eager entertainer Dixie Leonard gets her first big break
when she's offered a spot in England entertaining the GIs for the USO. The star
with whom she is to work is none other than show biz great Eddie Sparks, renowned
career-maker ... and skirt chaser. Once onstage, Dixie is an instant success,
thanks to her vibrant personality, swinging voice and double entendres, all to
the chagrin of Eddie. Offstage, Eddie informs Dixie that she won't work for him
again. Though all tough-as-nails brass on the outside, inside Dixie is all heart
and quite vulnerable, and she's devastated by Eddie's news. However, the starmakers
behind the scenes come to her rescue and, realizing the incredible impact Dixie
has had on the boys, convince Eddie to team up with her.
private life, meanwhile, is primarily focused on raising her small son and awaiting
the safe return of her husband, a GI fighting in North Africa. Soon after a brief
visit with her husband--arranged by Eddie--Dixie is widowed and never marries
again. Instead, she devotes her life to her son and show business. While the Sparks-Leonard
pairing flourishes onstage, seemingly in perfect harmony, offstage it is a battle
royale. Still, their professional union continues through World War II, a successful
TV series, and the Korean conflict. The love-hate relationship between Dixie and
Eddie boils over into genuine bitterness on Dixie's part when Eddie betrays Uncle
Art, now his top comedy writer. It's the McCarthy era and Art Silver has been
blacklisted. Fearing reprisals, Eddie fires Art and for this Dixie never forgives
this, Dixie, now a successful nightclub owner, allows herself to be coaxed by
Eddie into coming out of
retirement to appear with him once again entertaining the troops, this time in
Vietnam. The main attraction for Dixie is the fact that a trip to Vietnam will
reunite her with her estranged son Danny (Christopher Rydell), a GI. During their
performance, the Viet Cong attack and Danny is fatally wounded, dying in his mother's
arms. Traumatized by the shock and horror of this bloody incident, Dixie permanently
retires from the stage, vowing never to work with, or contact, Eddie again.
it is unquestionably loud, brassy, glittering and vulgar, FOR THE BOYS fails to
be as potent, meaningful or as focused as it should have been and the overall
effect is a tedious, rambling story that finally grinds to a halt during the final
Eddie Sparks-Dixie Leonard reunion sequence. Apparently afraid to buck the current
thought that musicals don't make it at the box office, director Mark Rydell chose
instead to keep the action moving at all times. This means that most numbers are
seen only in bits and snatches while some other--much less interesting--bits of
manipulative backstage business are taking place, such as which TV monitor to
pick Dixie and Eddie up on, etc. What we have now is a show biz chronicle that
often lacks the coherence it should have at all times. True, the concept of two
superstar entertainers who are a smash as a team but whose private lives are all
messed up, is very clear. However, the film's preoccupation with Eddie's supreme
selfishness and Dixie's bombastic brassiness tends to get in the way of story
progression to the point where there is blessed little time to appreciate the
setting of any given episode--the exceptions being the early sequences entertaining
the troops in 1942 and the horror of Vietnam.
there's the problem of Caan, a fine actor horribly miscast as Eddie. Sparks is
described as a superstar song-and-dance-man and comedian, a seeming combination
of Bob Hope, Al Jolson and Fred Astaire, but we're never given a full-fledged
demonstration of his amazing talents. Caan, although splendid in his offstage
moments, lacks the charisma to effectively convey Eddie's tremendous appeal.
and this is probably the film's worst moment and greatest single flaw, there is
the blatant contrivance of having Dixie perform on the very day and at the very
spot where her son is mortally wounded in Vietnam. Christopher Rydell's death
scene in Midler's arms--anguish registering all over her face--just doesn't work
because it makes the viewer too acutely aware that he is being manipulated by
yet another excessively executed plot point.
THE BOYS truly shines when Bette Midler is permitted to perform uninterrupted,
unfortunately all too rare a circumstance. The few musical numbers Midler, in
a role patterned after the life and career of Martha Raye, is allowed to do justice
to include a previously unheard Hoagy Carmichael-Paul Francis Webster song, "Billy-A-Dick,"
along with the haunting Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen standard, "Come Rain or
Come Shine," plus an all-to-brief performance of the energetic "Stuff
Like That There" by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans and, finally, the Lennon/McCartney
classic, "In My Life."
has definitely been short-changed here. She is a unique and special performer
whose way with a song is dynamite and, perhaps, if this film had much more footage
devoted to what Midler does best--singing upbeat, snappy tunes and emotion-charged
torch songs--audiences would have taken to FOR THE BOYS much more than they did.
(Some violence, profanity, adult situations.)
Fox's song-driven wartime showbiz meller For the Boys
is a big, creaky balloon of a movie that lumbers along
like a dirigible in a Thanksgiving parade, festooned with patriotic sentiment.
Ambitious effort spans the 50-year relationship of two USO entertainers (Bette
Midler and James Caan) whose song, dance and innuendo carries them through three
wars. Allegedly a 'love story' between two difficult people who are each married
to others, pic suffers from the couple's lack of electricity.
begins in the present day, when a dapper production assistant (Arye Gross) arrives
by limo to pick up Dixie for a major awards show. Midler makes a shocker of an
entrance; pic then dissolves to 1942, when she was a bubbly young mother called
up to join the famous Eddie Sparks in a London wartime revue.
doesn't move, it regroups: from Europe to North Africa, then to Korea, through
the bloodbath of McCarthyism and finally to Vietnam. The details of costume and
design are convincing, but the main idea isn't.
Midler steams through
the outing with sass and charm, eking out laughs on her own merit whenever the
script stumbles. But Caan, in a role that recalls his pallid backup to Barbra
Streisand in Funny Lady, seems pinioned by the script and generally uncomfortable.
Byrge, Hollywood Reporter
the Boys'' should primarily play for the girls. This big, fluffy, red-white-and-blue
Bette Midler blazer should strut out with a snazzy boxoffice gait for 20th Century
Fox. While this All Girl Productionwill likely dazzle enough mature girls to carry
it to a ''Beaches''-level boxoffice tide, its somewhat soapy constitution and
its often shallow sweep of the last 50 years of U.S. war and social history will
swamp many viewers.
best part of ''Boys'' is, well, the girl herself, Midler as Dixie, a smart-talking,
smooth-singing USO entertainer shot straight to fame by her World War II performances.
Dixie, as you'd guess, is no wallflower: She's a smart, sassy, Mae West-type dynamo
who not only sees the big picture but has got the moxie to kick in the pants anyone
who can't see beyond their own self-interest; in this case, her senior song-and-dance
partner, Eddie Sparks (James Caan), who's never quite tapped into the notion that
World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and all other ''limited engagements'' were
not just mere backdrop to the main event, namely his patriotic performances for
it's tempting to blast off a 21-popcorn-box salute to the filmmakers for attempting
to tell a compelling personal story through the prism of the last 50 years of
U.S. history, it's discomforting to view wholesale sequences that reverberate
with about as much depth as a Desert Storm victory parade.
the most part, namely the personal story segments, as Dixie and Eddie hit their
high notes and scrape their bottoms, screenwriters Marshall Brickman, Neal Jimenez
and Lindy Laub's script rings true, snapping with energetic humor and picking
up the colors and uncertainties of the different times.
this ambitious film is weighted down by its over-bulky, 145-minute frame; director
while wonderfully pinpointing many grand-scale particulars in his scope, also
allows the film to wallow in redundant, superficial sap.
''Boys' '' bloated nature, it's full of oomph, namely Midler, who struts her considerable
stuff to the staccato-steppin' max. While she's at her funnest when dropping bawdy
bombs on all the stuffed shirts, Midler's acting range is clearly as wide as her
vocal range. The dark torment of Dixie's waning years, when she feels she's lived
beyond her time, are deeply touching -- a testament to Midler's capacity to reach
down and get to her character's low notes.
while somewhat uncharismatic as the young Eddie Sparks, similarly pulls off a
solid performance: Caan reveals the wondrous, as well as the hideous, components
to this superficial showman's successes. Lending solid support is George Segal
as the duo's brainy, underappreciated writer.
this big-bunting production, technical contributions are generally superior, with
bars and stripes to costume designer Wayne Finkelman for the cross-all-wars threads
and to composer Dave Grusin for the big-band blasts.
the Boys" tells the endless story of a showbiz partnership that lasts 50
years, during about 35 of which the two partners are not speaking. That wouldn't
be so bad if they had any chemistry when they are speaking, but this movie is
cold and distant when it isn't contrived, and by the end not even the manufactured
emotions ring true.
Midler stars as Dixie Leonard, a singer who is plucked from semi-obscurity at
the outset of World War II and given her big break: A USO tour of Europe with
Eddie Sparks (James Caan), a song-and-dance man who's a famous star. Their first
time on the stage together, Dixie steals the show, Eddie tries to fire her, and
they're off and running. Through thick and thin - North Africa, the Korean war,
television, McCarthyism, Vietnam - they fight and make up while the world applauds,
and finally there's a climax on a live TV awards show, where Dixie, ageless, and
Eddie, 91 and looking like Little Big Man, kiss and make up.
structure of the screenplay is as old as the hills. The movie opens with a young
producer on his way to Dixie's house to pick her up for the awards show. She refuses
to appear on a stage with "that sonuvabitch Eddie Sparks," the producer
coddles her, she lights a cigarette and pours herself a drink, and tells the kid
her whole life story.
curious about the flashbacks in "For the Boys" is that most of them
are angry or depressing, and yet the movie doesn't establish the dramatic credentials
to be so somber. The first USO musical number is a success, with Bette trading
risque repartee with Caan and then belting out a loud number and a ballad. But
from then on, the enjoyable moments are few and far between.
curiosity: Although Eddie Sparks is intended to be a superstar on the level of
Bob Hope, he never has a single moment in the film when he reveals the talent
needed to be onstage at all. Even that first USO performance contains an enormous
oversight: We apparently see the entire show (Eddie's entrance, intro of Dixie,
her first song, power failure, her second song by flashlight, big exit) but apart
from the unscripted repartee before her first song, at no point during the show
does Eddie actually perform.
this because all the big numbers were assigned to Midler? I think the problem
is deeper than that: The filmmakers
never knew who Eddie or Dixie really were. That's why we don't know which side
to take in the tortured subplot, involving Dixie's son, Danny, who Eddie loves
as if he were his own. Eddie has a wife and three daughters of his own but does
not love them at all, for reasons not cited other than the wife's alcoholism (established
with one big backstage glass of booze, in a role limited to two dozen words).
and Dixie grow famous for breaking up, most notably during a hit TV show in 1950,
after Eddie fires his writer because he may be a communist sympathizer, and Dixie
walks out. The two do not speak until the 1960s, when Eddie seduces Dixie into
a Vietnam tour with the promise she can see her son, now a military officer, on
the battlefield. The outcome of that reunion is not happy, but nothing on the
screen indicates why they then again stop speaking for another 25 years.
what it all comes down to is that I didn't like Eddie and Dixie separately or
together, and when Bette Midler wasn't singing there was little in the movie to
entertain me. A showbiz biopic is one thing (and Midler made a good one, "The
Rose"). But a movie with the ambition to deal with serious and depressing
subject matter needs more dramatic substance, instead of perfunctory arguments
punctuated by unconvincing reunions, remembered by a bitter old woman.
climactic awards ceremony itself, by the way, needs to be seen to be believed.
Movies are always making the mistake of using dialogue that tells us how much
time is left. Then we think about the time, too. At one point, Eddie and Dixie
have "five minutes" until they have to go onstage, so they have a long
argument. Later, a brief acceptance speech turns into a long-winded speech, followed
by an impromptu sketch. It's touching, all right, but on live TV the show would
have been off the air before Dixie ever appeared onstage.
too little patter, singing and dancing in this Bette Midler vehicle which casts
the dynamo dame as an entertainer who, through her partnership with another, finds
herself frequently involved in taking part in shows 'for the boys' at war. It
begins well - the first 30 minutes are hugely enjoyable - but grows increasingly
heavy as it (and the wars) go on. It might have been better, in fact, if the scenario
had just been limited to one war, the Second World, which would still have afforded
enough tragedy and reality - the loss of Midler's husband, the bloody introduction
of the touring troupe to real war - to spice the mixture up without making it
too lumpy. As it is, the old age make-up that results from making this a 50-year
saga merely makes Caan and Midler (who never really suggest, on stage, a legendary
partnership) look like troglodytes. The ending touches the right emotional chords
for audiences still with the characters after such a long haul.