Sunday, March 29, 2009

Four Jills in a Jeep

Four Jills in a Jeep posterThe US war propaganda film Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) is introduced in the opening credits as a tribute to the performers who had the privilege to go overseas and entertain troops during WWII. The story is based on the actual experiences of Hollywood actresses Kay Francis, Carole Landis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair, who all play themselves.

The women are at first in Hollywood doing an exclusive live radio show for troops overseas. These actresses sing and swoon over men they haven’t met, as the soldiers ‘over there’ gather around their radios, listen intently, and reminisce about being back home. After the show concludes, Kay talks to jazz band orchestra leader Jimmy Dorsay (also played by himself) behind the scenes and they realize that they are both to be stationed in London within the next few days. Kay sadly reveals that she can only go if she puts together an ‘entertainment unit’ to help her cheer-up the troops; however, all problems are solved when she overhears Martha, Mitzi, and Carole telling Colonel Hartley that they’d be keen to go overseas and help the men. Kay recruits the three beauties and they fly to an American camp just outside of London.

Living the life of a soldier isn’t quite what the Hollywood actresses had expected as they get introduced to 5:30 am wake-up calls, canons, rain, and helmets. While walking to the Mess Hall, Carole loses her boot in the mud and enlists a passing soldier to help her regain her boot. The officer, Ted, immediately falls for Carole, even though he cannot understand why he finds her so familiar. After she leaves, he realizes that it was Carole Landis and nearly plants himself face first in the mud with a silly, star-struck expression on his face. The women are faced with the business of a working war camp as they attempt to brighten the men’s spirits. Their efforts are commendable and they try their hardest to support in any way they can. At one point, Mitzi runs into her ex-performing partner Dick Ryan, now a lieutenant, and they begin a loving bicker like old times. Carole encounters Ted again and the two promise to meet up once he is back on a 24-hour leave. A few days later, the girls all receive a bout of letters and Kay breaks protocol by letting them know that their beaus can meet them tomorrow night in London where they are all scheduled to perform. The ladies relish the elegant concert as Dick performs with Mitzi, Kay flirts with Colonel Hartley, Carole passionately kisses a persistent, but charming, Ted, and Martha convinces several high-ranking officials that she would love a chance to be stationed with the men on the front lines in Africa.

The next few days find Carole eagerly awaiting Ted’s return from his mission during a Christmas concert. The troops all gather in the Mess Hall to listen to the live radio broadcast from Hollywood which features a swooning song by Betty Gable and a hip-knocking, singing and dancing number by Carmen Miranda. The soldiers in the camp then allow the ladies a little rest and relaxation while they perform songs and musical numbers in their honour. Unfortunately, the performance is cut short when a siren sounds to announce that there is a plane about to make an emergency landing. Carole rushes outside just to see the plane hit the ground and explode. She fears the worst, until Ted appears at her side wishing her a merry Christmas and the two embrace. The next scene is at Ted and Carole’s happy wedding. Everyone is happy and enjoying the celebration until some telegrams arrive telling the ladies that their request to be posted in Africa has been granted and they must leave immediately. This spoils the newlyweds’ honeymoon plans, but Carole insists that she is a valid member of the U.S. Army and must obey orders at all times.

When the ladies arrive in Africa, the troops can’t believe their eyes. This camp is far more dangerous than the previous one in London, and the ladies soon find themselves lending a hand in the casualty unit, from sterilizing instruments to scrubbing floors. At one point Mitzy feels faint, but Kay tells her to imagine she’s back in Hollywood working on a motion picture. Love follows the ladies to Africa as well as Kay runs into Colonel Hartley once again and Dick tracks down Mitzy in order to profess his love to her. The women are tired after a long day of volunteering, but still muster the strength to do a stunning performance when the soldiers request it of them. Suddenly alarms sound and bombs begin dropping which sends everyone to the trenches to hide. The women are terrified as the troops are ordered to counter-attack. As the noises and lights of the fighting slowly fade away, the four actresses are offered a chance to return to a safe country while they can, but these determined females instead all opt to stay and see the boys through their tough times away from home.

During WWII, Brazil was seen by the American population as a perplexity among the allies. For all intensive purposes, the South American country was certainly a huge asset to the US, but it’s true relationship with Germany still remained hazy in the popular eye. On this note, Carmen Miranda’s minute role in Four Jills in a Jeep is also portrayed in a light which lends an image that is very foreign, despite the fact that she is in support of US troops. From the palm tree back-drop to the customary Carmen Miranda attire (complete with extravagant head-dress), this legendary Brazilian performer is depicted as a tropical illusion in the midst of blonde songbirds and American soldiers. Her appearance in the film, which seems to be completely unnecessary, raises the question of ‘Why?’ Could it be to give the men overseas the sensual thought of spinning hips? Or perhaps a peek into the tropical vacation that the soldiers can look forward to when they go on leave? The most obvious detail about Carmen’s performance is that she remains in the US while the American stars are overseas and in direct contact with the heroes that they support in the war. And so it appears acceptable to have a foreign performer give a show, but not to send her over to be with the troops in person; a fact which shadows the reality of America and Brazil maintaining good relations during WWII, but with Brazil always staying quietly out of focus as a friendly face on the sidelines.

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