The month of July is known for one important national holiday in the United States – American Independence Day. While it should be a time for people to truly understand and appreciate the significance of this day, it has unfortunately become more about parties and festivities. Even the common practice of referring to it as the “Fourth of July” instead of “Independence Day” diminishes its true meaning. However, there are classic films that capture the essence of this holiday and remind us of its importance, not just on the fourth but throughout the entire month of July.
One such film is “Babes on Broadway” from 1941, which features a poignant scene that perfectly embodies the celebration of Independence Day. Set 57 minutes into the movie, the main characters, aspiring Broadway performers, organize a musical block party in honor of the holiday. Interestingly, they also invite British children who have sought refuge from World War II. As Judy Garland sings the heartfelt song “Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On!”, the tearful children’s faces are juxtaposed with images of London before the war, showcasing the devastating impact the conflict had on England even before the United States entered the war.
The film revolves around the Three Balls of Fire, a male trio aspiring to make it big on Broadway. Tommy Williams, portrayed by Mickey Rooney, leads the group, which also includes Ray Lambert and Morton “Hammy” Hammond. Although they have a chance to audition for a Broadway show after impressing a well-connected manager named Jonesy, their generosity towards their friends ultimately ruins their opportunity.
Amidst their attempts to break into the theater industry, Tommy meets a talented young singer named Penny Morris, played by Judy Garland. They quickly become friends and plan to put on a show, with Penny as the lead. Tommy believes that their cause should be helping the local orphanage where Penny’s father works, as a means to attract attention from Broadway producers. However, Penny eventually discovers Tommy’s true motives, which disappoints her as she genuinely cares about helping the orphans.
The scene in question takes place in a vibrant neighborhood in New York City. The entire street is decorated patriotically, with a lively band stand and an enthusiastic group of dancers performing a synchronized farm-style number called “Hoe Down.” The sidewalks are filled with excited onlookers, and even people lean out of their windows to catch a glimpse of the show. As the performance concludes, Tommy and Penny stand on the bandstand, discussing who should address the audience. Despite their strained relationship, Tommy encourages Penny to take the microphone and explain the purpose of the block party and their planned show. Reluctantly, Penny calls Tommy over to introduce the British children as the guests of honor.
The inclusion of the British children in this scene holds profound significance, as “Babes on Broadway” was one of the first American films to acknowledge the ongoing World War II. Although England had formally declared war on Germany in 1939, many Americans were initially reluctant to acknowledge another global conflict so soon after World War I. The movie premiered in New York on December 31, 1941, shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack propelled the United States into World War II. While the scene featuring the British children may appear unrelated to the rest of the story, it plays a crucial role in the characters’ development.
In a prior scene, Tommy admits to using the orphans as a means to fund his show, showcasing his ambition and resourcefulness. Similarly, the radio hookup with the British refugees presents an excellent opportunity for publicity. However, it also exposes Tommy’s lack of genuine concern for the orphans. Witnessing Penny’s reaction to his disregard for their well-being deeply affects Tommy, causing him to take a backseat during the Fourth of July scene and allowing Penny to shine instead.
On the other hand, Penny genuinely cares about both the British children, who have been separated from their parents due to bombings in London, and the local orphans. Her emotional performance of “Chin Up! Cheerio! Carry On!” demonstrates her sincere compassion and understanding. While she also aspires to have a successful performance career, she recognizes that true success is hollow if achieved at the expense of others.
This particular scene evokes a profound emotional response, particularly given its patriotic and wartime context. The children’s voices singing the tender melody and the projection of images of London over their tear-stained faces create a powerful moment that tugs at the heartstrings. The impact of this scene would have been even more profound for audiences in 1941, as they were living through the tumultuous times of war.
In conclusion, “Babes on Broadway” is a remarkable musical that showcases the talent of its young cast. The inclusion of the Fourth of July celebration scene, with its patriotic undertones and emotional resonance, reinforces the movie’s underlying message: true success and talent must be accompanied by compassion and generosity. It serves as a timely reminder of the importance of understanding and appreciating the significance of Independence Day, not just as a day of celebration but as a commemoration of the hard-fought freedom that the United States enjoys today.