Strike Up the Band was the second of four Backyard Musicals Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made together between 1939 and 1943. When the film was released in 1940, Rooney was in the midst of a three year reign as the top box office star in the country (Garland ranked 10th that year) and, so it’s no surprise that he gets lots of screen time in this MGM musical. Rooney/Garland films follow a tried and true formula: for one reason or another, the talented pair put on a show. It’s predictable, but fun watching those two give it their all.
Teenage drummer Jimmy Connors (Rooney) forms a high school swing swing band with his “gal” Mary Holden (Judy Garland) on lead vocals. They want to travel to Chicago for a radio talent contest being sponsored by bandleader Paul Whiteman. The kids put on a show to raise the $200 needed for the trip. Later, they meet Whiteman at the home of a wealthy new classmate whose father has hired Whiteman’s band to play at a party.
Drama ensues when a member of them band breaks his arm and requires emergency surgery. He must be flown to Chicago for the operation. Wouldn’t you know it? The whole thing cost $200! No worries though. Since this is a Rooney/Garland musical everything works out in the end.
As Jimmy Connors, Mickey Rooney is a ball of energy. He sings, dances, and mugs for the camera. Judy, meanwhile, pines for him in song. She performs a wistful tune called “Nobody” where she bemoans the fact that famous lovers throughout history had someone, but she is all alone.
Other songs include an ingenious stop-motion sequence wherein a bowl of fruit becomes a symphony orchestra and an uptempo, rhythmic Conga number staged and shot by Busby Berkley. His trademark camera movements add much to the visual style of the big production numbers. Strike Up the Band ends with a musical finale that reprises many of the earlier numbers before the big finish – the title song by Mickey, Judy, and chorus.
At two hours, Strike Up the Band is the longest of the four Rooney/Garland musicals. The plot is a bit convoluted and lopsided in favor of Rooney. However, there’s no denying that the screen comes alive whenever Mickey and Judy take the stage together.
Warner Archive has indicated this is a 4K restoration from the best surviving elements. Presented in the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the result is a terrific 1080p transfer. This film doesn’t look eighty years old. Density is very strong across the board, highlighting the silvery grain structure of the restoration. Fine detail and textures are both excellent in closeups, while contrast levels look great. The clean image shows no signs of debris or other damage.
The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio Mix provides a very natural presentation. Noticeably free of any age-related defects, dialogue and background effects are balanced very nicely. All of the musical performances–including those performed by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, as well as composer Roger Edens’ stirring original score—sound crystal clear.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The DVD-era extras were originally created as part of the multi- disc Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection released by Warner Bros. in 2007:
- Song Selection: Direct access to 16 songs and major music breaks from the film including multiple versions of “Strike Up the Band,” “Our Love Affair,” “Do the La Conga,” “Come Home, Father,” “A Man Was the Cause of it All,” “Drummer Boy,” and more.
- Introduction by Mickey Rooney (HD, 3:16)
- Wedding Bells (HD, 3:42) A 1940 MGM comedy short featuring Pete Smith.
- Romeo in Rhythm (HD, 8:17) This music heavy 1940 MGM animated short uses voice work by Mel Blanc.
- “Do the La Conga” (6:01)
- Audio Only Extras: These include a “Leo is on the Air,” radio promo, the “Millions for Defense” radio special with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, plus a 1940 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast with Rooney and Garland.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:47)
Strike Up the Band (1940)
Movie title: Strike Up the Band
Duration: 120 min
Director(s): Busby Berkley
Actor(s): Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland , Paul Whiteman, June Preisser, William Tracy , Larry Nunn
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Romance