UNDEREMPLOYMENT CINEMA — Meet the People (1944)

Lucille Ball stars in this patriotic musical mishmash along with Dick Powell (TCM’s Star of the Month in December 2018). A bit of a mishmash because the main story of Ball becoming a welder at a ship yard gets interrupted now and then by vaudevillian routines and musical numbers along the way.

Swanee (Dick Powell) “wins” a date with Broadway star Julie Hampton, and with her help he almost gets to mount a production of his soldier-brother’s play. But, he doesn’t like the Broadway producer sexing up his work about the assembly line at a shipbuilding yard. He takes his marbles and goes home.

Meanwhile, Julie goes to the shipyard and gets a job as a welder. This leads to some publicity and she winds up in charge of PR at the shipyard. And she produces some shows at the shipyard that pisses off Swanee

Between scenes of this main story, we get “The Commander” (Burt Lahr) doing a bit of vaudeville, and Virginia O’Brien singing a song about domestic violence that is played for laughs but is actually quite horrifying by any era’s standards. I think MGM used this movie to get some of its stars some screen time so they could fulfill contractural obligations.

The odd part of this movie is that the shipyard was putting on shows during lunch hour anyway. In a patriotic wartime moment, Julie and Swanee watch an act where a Mussolini imitator plays an organ grinder with a chimp done up like Hitler. The singers address the chimp as “Schicklgruber,” a common wartime taunt to the F?hrer. [War time propaganda decided that Hitler’s father being born out of wedock to Maria Schicklgruber and extending that to Adolf Hitler was a way to insult him, even though Hitler was born Hitler.]

Lucille Ball is very funny here, delivering sarcastic lines in a way you don’t see in her TV series, and she’s quite beautiful. It’s also pretty obvious they have dubbed someone else singing during her musical number. Dick Powell is effective as the bullheaded man who lets pride lead him around by the nose. As wartime patriotism goes, the movie is pretty patriotic but not too over the top compared to others I have seen.




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