Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, and intelligently beautiful Elizabeth McGovern shine in their early performances in Richard Benjamin's nostalgic look at youthful romances in World War II California.
It has always struck me as ironic that Vaughn Monroe's 1941 hit tune from which this film takes its title was never played during the course of the movie.
But the title does represent the fast-paced lives of two buddies headed for wartime service in the Marines, the pranks they pull, their train jumping, and the girls they encounter.
Sean Penn had one of his best roles as Henry ("Hopper") Nash, a small-town kid who works at a bowling alley and is forced to take piano lessons by his mother (Rutanya Alda). His friend Nicky (Nicholas Cage) has led a life defined by loss, as he has had to bury numerous relatives, including his parents.John Karlen was simple and straightforward as Nash's caring, gravedigger father.
The two young men live in a world that Norman Rockwell could have captured on canvas, which appears perfectly wholesome on the surface, complete with an irascible old man named Elmer (Al Hopen)who habitually whacks Henry with a cane. Presumably, the name "Elmer" was taken from the then-popular song, "Elmer's Tune". It has occured to me that the Italian shoe store owner may have been inspired by another popular Glenn Miller tune, "Papa Niccolini (The Happy Cobbler)".
As Henry acquaints himself with the beautiful newcomer to the town, Cady Winger (a role in which Elizabeth McGovern is mostly calm, serious, but pleasant) they have a magical moment playing "Heart and Soul" at the piano of an abandoned tap room. But Henry is unaware of the fact that although she lives in the large house on the hill that she is the daughter of a maid in that house and not a member of the wealthy family who own it, which causes problems in their relationship later on.
As things heat up between Nicky and his girl Sally (Suzanne Adkinson), we are slowly led into the unseemly underbelly of this Rockwellian facade. Ever since I first saw this movie, I have always felt, however that I could have come up with the name, "Cady Winger" if I'd written the script for it.
Carol Kane has a cameo as the local prostitute, Annie, Schawn Schepps plays Cady's bubbly friend and co-worker, Gretchen, Crispin Glover, a year away from success in the film, "Back to the Future" is an obnoxious rich kid who provokes Henry while he's at work, and David Madsen has a poignant solemnity in his role as the amputee, Frank.
The dark side of an era known for more conservative values reaches its nadir when Henry, Nicky, and Cady take Sally to get an illegal abortion when the irresponsible Nicky refuses to marry her. Hopper, Nicky, and Cady reach a turning point in their relationship afterwards. But soon, all is resolved, and as we watch the two rogues travel out of sight and into an unknown future, we somehow feel that they will look out for each other.