Bette Midler, James Caan age well in 'For the Boys'

November 27, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

BETTE MIDLER'S ''For the Boys'' is an epic motion picture that covers three wars, beginning with World War II.

The star's image and the trailer might persuade Midler fans to assume that she is her old, tacky self in the film.

That's close to the truth. Midler is not exactly back to playing the tacky roles she once did, but she is a lot tackier than she has been in her more recent films.

The trailer also might persuade people to assume that ''For the Boys'' is a musical. It isn't. There is music in it, but not that much. Midler does ''Stuff Like That There,'' and ''I Remember You'' becomes the theme song of the film, but it isn't a musical.

The film is a glossy version of the kind of films Betty Grable did. "For the Boys" takes two people through World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, and it makes you laugh and cry.

The film is a trifle long, running almost 2 1/2 hours. But overall, this is a very entertaining, sometimes heart-breaking film in which both Midler and her co-star, James Caan, excel.

Caan plays a Bob Hope type, and Midler is Dixie Leonard, a band singer. They first meet in England, shortly after World War II has begun. She has been asked to work as a supporting act for him. She does, and when she makes it big -- when she takes the audience away from him -- he doesn't want her in his show.

He soon retreats from that position, and from there on, he and she, while married to others, continue a professional relationship (at one point, it is more than that) that culminates in a testimonial dinner to which both have been invited.

Midler's makeup as an older woman is not very good, but fortunately we see her as she is through most of the film.

Caan's makeup is much better, but at a supposed age of 91, he dances with surprising bounce.

No matter. These are small infractions. Another one, though, is the dancer who wears a red, white and blue outfit while entertaining World War II troops, something that wouldn't have likely happened during that war. The flag was sacred then. Such an act might have been considered desecration.

Midler also sings ''Stuff Like That There'' a few years before it was popularized, but, again, we quibble. For the most part, this is a film as big as its intentions.

Midler suffers tragedy during World War II and the Korean War. Caan escapes the same fate. He, however, is partly responsible for her tragedies. Gung-ho, he makes the mistake of filling her son's head with get-those-Reds talk. She never forgives him for that.

The war scenes in ''For the Boys'' are staggeringly real. They are difficult to take.

George Segal plays Dixie's uncle. He has made the mistake of signing things he shouldn't have signed. This portion of the film will bring Lucille Ball to mind, and other portions of the film will bring Ball, Desi Arnaz and Bob Hope to mind. ''For the Boys,'' in fact, brings a number of people and eras to mind. Sometimes that remembrance is joyous, sometimes it is sad.

''For the Boys'' opens here today.

Some help from a beetle:Some help from a beetle: Maryland's battle against the gypsy moth is apparently getting a welcome assist from a hungry green beetle called Calosoma sycophanta.

Scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture say the beetles were found this year in Baltimore and Allegany counties for the first time, working their way south. "It seems to be slowly following the gypsy moth's own spread," said USDA entomologist Paul Schaefer.

Introduced to New England in 1906, sycophanta specialize in snacking on gypsy moth caterpillars, unlike their smaller native Calosoma cousins. One beetle can kill as many as 150 caterpillars in a season, then burrow into the ground to await the next year's supply.

State budget cuts, meanwhile, combined with local budget cuts and losses in federal matching grants, mean aerial spraying next spring may drop from 150,000 acres to 100,000 acres, Robert H. Tichenor Jr., chief of Maryland's gypsy moth control program, said. Spraying on state-owned land will be halved.

''For the Boys''

*** Bette Midler and James Caan are a show business team that stay together through three wars.

CAST: Bette Midler, James Caan, George Segal

DIRECTOR: Mark Rydell

RATING: R (language, violence, sex)

RUNNING TIME: 147 minutes.

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