“Listen, you kids: I think our time has come!”
Babes… — directed by Busby Berkeley — is likely the first film one thinks of when contemplating the “let’s put on a show!” genre, and this one pulls out all the stops, complete with an offensive black-face minstrel piece which will distress any modern viewers not hardened enough to simply regard it as an unfortunate product of its time.
The storyline itself is surprisingly hard-hitting — most notably in its depiction of strained relations between Rooney and his father (Winninger), who at first is in massive denial about the imminent collapse of vaudeville’s reign, then bitterly angry about the role his son is trying to play in its revitalization; their father-son squalls together are far from representative of typical escapist fare.
But, naturally, there’s plenty of levity throughout as well — primarily in the form of Preisser as an “aging” child-actress with tremendous gymnastic talents (check out those back flips!), plenty of money to fling around, and mooning eyes for Rooney:
Her temporary threat to Rooney’s romance with Garland provides the bulk of the film’s narrative tension. The songs, sadly, are mostly forgettable, but listen for a fine rendition of Arthur Freed’s “Good Morning”.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)