While musicals as a film genre are back, this particular subset of film musical is most forgotten relic of bygone days: the all-star musical revue, designed entirely to boost morale during the dark days of World War II.
The plot, such as it is, centers on Tony (George Raft) who, along with his sister and father, are part of a vaudeville act that is quickly going out of style. They move to California to look for work, and soon Tony is part of the stage show of an entertainer named Vera Zorina (Gloria Vance). Tony and Vera fall in love, but their relationship hits the skids when the war breaks out and Vera thinks Tony is trying to get out of serving (he's actually 4F because of a bad knee).
Wanting to help the war effort and get back on Vera's good side, he puts together a truly amazing USO show, and what a line-up! The Andrews Sisters, Donald O'Connor, Dinah Shore, Lon Chaney Jr., Randolph Scott, Sophie Tucker, Maria Montez, Jenette MacDonald, and W.C. Fields doing trick pool shots!
The act I'm leaving out--and the reason I tracked this film down back in the 90s when it was only available on VHS--is none other than Orson Welles, who performs a magic act alongside his victi--er, partner, Marlene Dietrich!
Orson saws Marlene in half, all the while delivering charming patter that is reminiscent of the monologues Welles did during his Mercury Theater radio shows. It's utterly delightful, and basically worth the price of admission.
The film's plot essentially stops cold for all these acts, which are shot in long, continuous takes, in a proscenium style. Occasionally there are cuts back to our boys enjoying themselves, but during the middle section of the movie it feels like you're there in the audience along with the soldiers.
The plot picks back up again, but at this point I don't think anyone really cares. At almost two hours, it's way too long--it probably would have been just as, if not more, effective to drop all the plot stuff and just shoot this as a sort of concert film. There's not much existing footage of Orson Welles, immediately post-Citizen Kane, doing his magic act, so I could have watched a lot more of this!
So while Follow The Boys is pleasant enough, I bet you can find all the celebrity acts on the internet, and that's probably the best way to see them. In fact, here's Orson's bit with Marlene in full. Thanks YouTube!