August 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms


With his hog-like facial features, crooked teeth, and short stature, there's precious little about Mickey Rooney that bears semblance to your traditional male movie star. But much in the spirit of Marie Dressler, Rooney too was the number one box-office attraction of his time. So while his popularity with audiences likely played a role in him earning his first Oscar nomination, that's not to say Rooney isn't deserving of it. I came into Babes in Arms anticipating a contrived musical...and was pleasantly surprised to have ended up liking both picture and Rooney a lot more than I had expected to. 

Admittedly I am not very familiar with Rooney's work. I paid close attention to him during the earlier scenes of Babes in Arms because I was very curious as to what it was about this short, peculiar looking man that made him such a sensation way back when. As I would find out, the man has an adroit knack for performing, both for the camera and for the film's elaborate stage sequences. The only child to two vaudevillians in real life, it's no surprise that he would seem so at home playing the show biz-minded son of a has-been vaudevillian couple. Rooney looks as though he has an adept familiarity with Mickey Moran's ambition and stage persona, no doubt helped by his theatrical upbringing. He brings loads of passion and spunk to his work here, making Mickey an affable and believable presence to root for despite a screenplay that veers off into far-fetched territory every now and then. Regardless, Rooney is a hoot to watch, especially in the scenes where he's on stage or prepping for being on stage--his Clark Gable and (very impressive) Lionel Barrymore impressions were spot-on, and his blackface performance--while uncomfortable and a tiny bit awkward to watch--is done with the very skilled competence that you'd expect from a minstrel. It's a testament to his ability as a performer that he could make a film about youths putting on a show actually interesting to me, but I was also surprised by how much range he shows here. What Rooney lacks in conventional beauty he more than makes up for with sheer performance capability, and The New York Times put it best in his obituary from a few months ago--"he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue." A solid, fun performance by a supremely talented performer.  


  1. wow.
    didn't expect such a generous ranking. :)

    how's Judy?

    1. I'm quite surprised myself!

      I actually thought Judy was pretty decent! I'm starting to become a fan, even if I didn't really care for The Wizard of Oz all that much.