For the Boys

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In the early 1990s, retired entertainer Dixie Leonard (Midler) has a commitment to attend a Hollywood ceremony being televised live to honor her and her longtime show-biz partner Eddie Sparks (Caan). When a young man from the TV show comes to pick her up, Dixie balks and explains what brought Eddie and her together, as well as what drove them apart. The majority of the film is an extended flashback.

Dixie’s story begins during World War II when she receives an offer to entertain the troops overseas as part of Eddie’s act. Dixie is an instant hit with the boys in uniform, but Eddie wants her gone, ostensibly because he finds her kind of humor too coarse, but really because she stole the show by topping his jokes. Dixie doesn’t care for him much either, but fellow entertainers and her joke-writer uncle (Segal) persuade her to stay.

Eddie wins her over, particularly by reuniting Dixie with her soldier husband on stage. However, later in the war, Dixie’s husband dies in battle.

Despite her distaste for Eddie, she continues working with him back in the U.S. to support herself and her son. Eddie is married with daughters, but treats Dixie’s son as if he were his own.

The two bickering performers go overseas twice more to entertain the troops in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. They endure the horrors of combat, the sin of temptation where they appeared to have slept together after seeing a soldier killed in action, the paranoia of McCarthyism and, ultimately, the death of Dixie’s son in Vietnam (which occurs right in front of them when the show is attacked in a mortar barrage), which they both mourn.

Dixie has not forgiven Eddie for his part in all this. But, at the last minute, because he speaks of their joint loss in Vietnam, she consents to join him on stage for one last song and dance, before appearing to accept their mutual love for one another.


A few weeks ago, I was on the road with some friends and we got to talking about who was the best live performance we’d seen. Of course the usual came up, Journey, Aerosmith, Kanye, etc., but one of my friends made a surprise entrant into the mix, Bette Midler! This got me thinking, is she puts on such a great show, I need to go see it. First off, though, I need to check out a few more of her films, starting with For the Boys.

What is this about?

On the eve of receiving a presidential medal, aging USO performer Dixie Leonard (Bette Midler) reflects on the events of her 50-year career. Plucked from obscurity by Eddie Sparks (James Caan), Dixie agrees to a tentative partnership that takes the duo through many wars, onstage and off. Eddie and Dixie never quite see eye to eye, but they somehow manage to keep the act together — for the sake of the boys in uniform.

What did I like?

Divine Miss M. I have always know Bette Midler to be a fine actress, but everything I have seen her in, with the exception of Hocus Pocus, has relegated her to a small supporting role. She is a natural at old school comedy and throw in a couple of songs for her to belt out and it is no wonder this woman is so highly revered and respected!

Casualties of war. There are war films that show the gritty reality of war, rather than glorify it. For the most part, the focus of this picture is on the entertainers during that time, but there is one scene near the end that, while not as graphic as what can be seen in something like Saving Private Ryan, will break your heart and cause you to realize the horrors that go on over there. I won’t reveal said scene, just be prepared.

Back and forth. James Caan and Bette Midler as a comedy duo. Who’d have thunk it, right? Somehow these two seasoned professionals have chemistry that rivals that of Lucy and Desi! Ok, maybe that is a bit of a stretch, but they do play off each other as well as the greats. It makes for some very entertaining scenes for when they are on and off stage. I was enjoying their witty repartee throughout the whole film.

What didn’t I like?

Old and fake. Hollywood just cannot make people look genuinely old. In present day, James Caan and Bette Midler are in their 90s, yet with their make up on, they look like puppets. Who ever it was that did this makeup job needs to be fired! I have never seen old people that look like that! Wouldn’t have just been easier to find a couple of old farts that somewhat resemble them a la A League of their Own?

More music. For a film about USO performers there is an apparent lack of music. I’m not saying this needed to be a musical (although I think they did turn this into a Broadway musical recently), but a few more songs would have been nice, especially during the WWII days. I’m just saying.

Cliffnotes. Realizing that these are not real people, but rather based on various aspects of real life, I feel as if we only got touches of this and that when in comes to their history. For instance, the whole “red scare” angle was mentioned for a couple of scenes and then forgotten, as if it never happened. Midler’s son’s attachment to Caan was shown, but other than him being a male figure in his life, we don’t really know why he was so close to him all through his life. Things like this are why I felt like I was watching a cliffnotes summation of the events that transpired.

When For the Boys was initially released, I believe I was still in junior high, possibly even elementary, so you can imagine I had no interest in watching. That being said, I can say that everytime the trailer would come on television, I remembered the swinging music. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more of this, but given that this is the span of 50+ years, I can forgive that little tidbit. Really, this is a good film, albeit a bit longer than it probably needs to be. Do I recommend it? Yes, very much so, as it is an enjoyable trip through time with a couple of USO performers. Watch and enjoy!

4 out of 5 stars

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