Bette Midler proves that she can single-handedly make a film worth watching in FOR THE BOYS, an overlong but rewarding comedy-drama with music which chronicles the relationship between singer Dixie Leonard and comic Eddie Sparks (James Caan),a character clearly patterned after Bob Hope, which begins during a WWII USO tour and concludes in the present where the glamorously aging couple are being reunited for a television special. Bette received her second Best Actress Oscar nomination for her commanding performance here, She lights up the screen whether Dixie is upstaging Eddie in front of thousands of troops during WWII, cursing out sponsors during her and Eddie's television show, or tearing Eddie a new one when she thinks he is trying to steal her son away from her. As expected, she makes the most of her musical moments in the film with "Stuff Like that There" and "Come Rain or Come Shine" as standouts. Caan works hard in the role of Eddie Sparks, managing to make a pretty despicable character rather likable for the majority of the story. The only big mistake here was director Mark Rydell's casting of his real-life son, Christopher in the pivotal role of Dixie's adult son. Rydell's lifeless performance is a major detriment to an important part of the film, but for the most part, FOR THE BOYS is grand entertainment, thanks to the Divine Miss M.
For the Boys
Action / Comedy / Drama / Music / War
For the Boys
Action / Comedy / Drama / Music / War
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USO entertainers Dixie Leonard and Eddie Sparks travel and perform together through World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The story of their adventures together, filled with love, laughter, and tears, is related in flashbacks by Dixie on the eve of being awarded a medal by the President.
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Bette's powerhouse performance sustains a somewhat lackluster film
Bette Is Truly Divine
For The Boys is a film that's about two performers and their almost 50 year association of one kind or another through some tumultuous times in America. The filmed earned Bette Midler a nomination for Best Actress in what might be her best screen role. At least it's the favorite of mine.
Dixie Leonard where Midler gets to show all her talents is a young club singer who gets a break to accompany famous entertainer Eddie Sparks as played by James Caan on a USO tour in World War II. Midler's husband is an army photographer who's killed in action, but she still has his son who is played at various times in his life by Brandon Call and Christopher Rydell, director Mark Rydell's son. George Segal who is Caan's gag writer also is Midler's uncle and he acts as cupid in this show business marriage. All of Midler and Caan's lives are played out against the background of America in World War II, the Korean War, the McCarthy Era and Vietnam.
Caan's character of Eddie Sparks is said to be based on Bob Hope and God only knows what Hope must have thought of this film at the time it was out. By that point his stature as an American icon was secure. Hope was known to have liaisons with a few female performers, most discreetly however. The best known that kind of bubbled to the surface was with Marilyn Maxwell who Midler's character might have been based on. The character of Eddie Sparks however had three daughters and America's most well known father of girls was Eddie Cantor in most of this era. And Cantor's most well known extra-marital affair involved Joan Davis.
By the way actress Shannon Wilcox has a brief but really telling part as Caan's ice princess of a wife. Her few scenes tell you exactly why Caan's out roaming.
Caan got a lot of criticism for his part and I'm mystified as to why. Eddie Sparks is a complex part and Caan mastered all the subtleties even though he's not my idea of a song and dance man. He's the kind of man who will stop at nothing to climb the ladder of success, but he's also not a totally bad man. Knowing full well that George Segal's pungent political comments in front of gossip columnist Rosemary Murphy, another ice princess, will get him in trouble, he tries in one scene to tell him to just cool it. In that other classic, The Way We Were, Caan is adhering to Robert Redford's philosophy where in ten years time right wing producers will be hiring left wing writers and the blacklist will be forgotten, it's just something to be ridden out if one keeps a cool head. I don't think Caan was totally wrong there, he didn't want to lose his friend and a good writer.
What finally breaks Midler and Caan apart is the death of her son, like his father in combat in Vietnam. Caan and the boy bonded genuinely and the young man, probably more to honor his father chose a military career, graduating from the Citadel. Caan has a flip attitude towards education which is something the kid picks up on. But people who have a flip attitude towards education, albeit with a military bent, don't last at the Citadel.
Midler sees Caan as a warmonger who built his career on the publicity surrounding the entertainment of troops like Bob Hope. Caan argues quite rightly that he doesn't make policy, he doesn't send kids to war, he's a song and dance man.
A good mixture of songs from the various eras make up the score for For The Boys. One song, Bill-A-Dick by Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster was an unpublished number at the time it was written and makes its debut here. It's sung by Midler along with Melissa Manchester and Pattie Darcy as an Andrews Sisters like trio. Remember Midler did revive the Andrews Sisters's Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.
The film is an absolute gem, Midler is divine and don't listen to the criticisms that were given to James Caan.
boy oh boy
In full brassy form, Bette Midler plays Dixie Leonard, who does USO performances in WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Throughout pleasant times and hard times (and even through tragedies),she and co-star Eddie Sparks (James Caan) always have to find a way to make sure that the show goes on.
I don't know whether I would call this a masterpiece, but it's some good nostalgia. Midler shows off her talents the same as she did in "The Rose". And moreover, "For the Boys" also looks at the sorts of things going on during those wars, including Cold War-era red-baiting. Worth seeing.