Thursday, February 27, 2003

The Colossal Hangover

If Mickey and Judy didn’t exactly save the world with “Babes in Arms” and similar cinematic pap — the second World War was breaking out as the movie opened — they made a textbook example of what American Youth was expected to be.

The Depression had been the colossal hangover after the equally-colossal party of the late ’20s. By the mid-’30s, the sophistication and/or abandon that had characterized late ’20s movies and music (and indeed bled over into the early ’30s) symbolized the hedonism that had gotten us into trouble. Culture and fashion, as a result, shifted back to a “wholesome” look and feel. The Sweet Sixteen of 1927 wore black silk stockings under a short-skirted, sleeveless dress and bobbed her hair; her 1939 counterpart grew her hair long and pinned it up, wore frilly polka-dotted dresses that hid her knees, and childlike bobby sox and saddle shoes.

Mickey and Judy’s Road to World Redemption was paved with wholesome intentions. They were what the public wanted to see in its teenagers: nice, scrubbed-behind-the-ears kids. “Babes in Arms” represents an era of enforced rose-colored glasses that would soon be broken irreparably as the kids putting on a show in the barn became extras on the set of “Let’s Put On a War.”


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