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  • Warning: Spoilers
    We have 5 featured singers or singing groups, plus the often zany dance team of teenage Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan, sometimes billed as Universal's answer to MGM's Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland team. As singers, besides Don and Peggy, Ray Eberle was occasionally on hand with his orchestra, which backed up some of the other musical numbers. Ray had been a soloist for Glenn Miller, while brother Bob was a soloist for the Jimmy Dorsey and some other bands.Frank Sinatra had great respect for his singing talent and feared that Ray would get ahead of him as a solo pop singer. Here, Ray sings Sinatra;s big hit of the previous year "All or Nothing at All". According to Sinatra, his rendition was recorded and released in '39, but went nowhere. Rereleased in '43, it became his first big hit as an independent singer... Also on hand is the all African American Bobby Brooks Quartette to sing "At Sundown". Bobby's soprano-like voice sounds like it should be coming out of a woman! Another member of the quartette with a deep base voice sometimes chimed in for contrast. This group also had a song in the '43 Universal films "Top Man" and "Honeymoon Lodge"

    The fifth featured singer is blond Suzanna Foster, who also serves as Don's reluctant love interest. Under contract with Universal since '41, she had starred in the Technicolor "Phamtom of the Opera", which showcased her remarkable coloratura soprano voice.But, from there it was downhill, in her mind, as she was included in a series of low budget, mostly B&W, films in '44 and '45, including this one.She walked out in '45. Ironically, here, she plays an 18 year old infatuated with a man probably 20 years her senior, who's not interested in her. Ironically, a few years later, she would marry a singer 20 years older. Despite 2 children, this didn't work out very well and her life continued to spiral downward until she was homeless, living in her car, for a while .She seems to have suffered from a degree of mental illness in her later years, as did her alcoholic mother and drug-addicted son. Her other son has posted a partial biography and some of her films, including the present one, on You Tube.

    The film begins with Don(Jimmy) carrying a cake for Angela's(Suzanne) 18th birthday. It ends with Angela finishing "It's a Girl", on stage, begun by Don, symbolizing their long delayed romantic union. The last note of this song tests Suzanna's high range, thus the title of this review. Here and there, Suzanna sings several other songs, the most familiar being "With a Song in My Heart", my favorite. Through most of the film, Angela's heart flutters for Major Hilary Jarret(Patrick Knowles), established army surgeon, divorced from his professional photographer wife. Problem is the Major is not interested in marriage, especially with such a young woman, who wants a house in the country with a white picket fence and, no doubt, a couple of kids. The Major has long been hooked on an adventurous life, traveling to various parts of the world, and is in no mood to settle down. Nonetheless, Angela eventually weasels an engagement ring out of him. Meanwhile, Jimmy(Don), is in love with Angela, but she considers him too young and immature. Sally (Peggy Ryan) has fun dancing and singing with Jimmy and wants him for her boyfriend. But, she can't shake off his lust for Angela. Jimmy eventually meets the Major's ex-wife, Harriet(Louise Allbritton): a striking -looking blond. Jimmy tries to weasel his way into her life to try to rekindle a romance between her and the Major, to get Angela away from the Major. It's a very hard sell, but persistence eventually pays off, and he eventually convinces Angela that Harriet is the right woman for the Major, despite their problems. At the end, Angela is beginning to warm up to Jimmy, and thus presumably a happy ending for two couples is in the offing, but still leaving Sally in the cold.

    Given the prior dialogue, one has to suspect that the Major and Harriet were mostly play acting their apparent reconciliation. Perhaps Harriet had been a demure nobody when they married. But now she was a head-strong bossy traveling professional. Marriage seemed as impractical for her as for the Major.

    One gets the impression that the message of this film is that young women shouldn't be tempted to marry men more their father's age. Well, my wife is 21 years younger than I, and we've been together 24 years now. It all depends on the personalities and circumstances of the individuals.

    One of the highlights of this film is the informal "You're a Lollapalooza". Peggy starts out singing in her somewhat squeaky voice, joined by Don, with his rich mellow voice. Then they do a wild bebop-style dance. Lollapalooza means an extraordinary or very interesting person or thing, which Don was. Peggy later initiated a stage number "Yippee-I-Voot"('the hepcat cowboy's melody') in cowgirl attire and Betty Hutton-exuberant style.Don later joins her in song and dance. Peggy has one more stage number: "Gremlin-Walk", in which supposed gremlins, in clown suits, eventually appear, to dance with her, as she is trying to sleep. Yes, Peggy shines in this one.

    I recommend this film primarily for its musical highlights. The romantic melodrama gets a bit tedious after a while: the downfall of many musicals of this era.
  • "This Is the Life" is one of Universal's early films in the studio's effort to get in on the popularity of musicals that MGM had cornered since early in the previous decade. Other studios also got on the band wagon, so to speak. This is a nice cross between the very early revue type of musicals that resembled vaudeville productions, and the rich musical plays that various studios would make.

    The plot is a familiar one and good for the performances - a young girl falls for an older "hero" while she looks on the boy her age as immature. But her attraction and the stringing out of the older male's possible attachment gets a little tedious after awhile That stretches the credibility of the actors, when one wants to yell at Patrick Knowles (Major Hilary Jarret) to just tell Angela (Susanna Foster) that he isn't interested, "and stop bugging me." He's more than double her age (18) older. Of course, then there would have to be some other avenue for the various scenarios that follow. And, it's in those that this movie is very good.

    With the mixed-up attractions - Jimmy Plum (Donald O'Connor), then Harriett West Jarret (Louise Allbritton) and Sally McGuire (Peggy Ryan), the best of the comedy takes place. The screenplay is not great, but the writers came up with some very funny stuff in the dialog. O'Connor especially has some lines that evoke hearty laughter. And that is then capped off with some very good songs and dance numbers - from lively jitterbug, to romantic pop tunes, to operatic numbers. The latter is provided by Foster who was noted for her ability to reach a B above the high C. Foster only had a dozen films to her credit when she left Hollywood after 1945.

    O'Connor was just 19 when this movie was made. He had already been in several films, from childhood on, and he would go on to have a long film career. He would be in the smash hit musical of 1952, "Singin' in the Rain," and won the best actor Golden Globe for that film. But through the mid-20th century O'Connor was most known and recognized as Peter Stirling, the human friend and owner of Francis the talking mule. He made half a dozen movies with Francis from 1950-55.

    This movie has some wonderful entertainment in the dancing talent and singing of Peggy Ryan - including a couple numbers with O'Connor. She made several films with O'Connor - always as an older teenager, but never the sweetheart of Donald. O'Connor said that Ryan was the best dancer he ever danced with. And that's saying something when Vera-Ellen was second best. Ray Eberle sings a popular song of the day with his band, and the Bobby Brooks Quartette sings

    The movie is set in real time, during World War II. This was one of half a dozen films that Universal rushed O'Connor through before he was drafted and spent two years in the Army Air Corps overseas. Universal spread out the releases over this time. When this film came out in June 1944, O'Connor had already been in the Army four months.

    In one very funny scene Angela is daydreaming that she's on the big stage concluding a great song and in the wings watching her is her hero, Maj. Hilary Jarret. Only his entire Army uniform is draped with medals from neck to waist. Angela's a terrible cook - her pancakes are rubbery and not all cooked through. The major and others know this but Jimmy scarfs them down, and later comments about giving her recipe to someone else.

    The very good comedy writing and musical performances are the reasons for my eight stars for this film. Here are some favorite lines.

    Jimmy Plum, "Are you gonna believe me, or are you gonna believe what you just saw?"

    Sally McGuire, "Oh, Jimmy all my life I've wanted a man. A man who'd make my hair stand on end; who'd send chills up and down my spine; who'd bring tears to my eyes." Jimmy Plum, "You don't want a man. You want a shampoo, a massage and a bottle of horseradish."

    Jimmy Plum, "Anyway, everybody in town's talking about you two." Angela Rutherford, "They are? What do they say?" Jimmy, "Well, there's two schools of thought. Either you're robbing the grave or he's robbing the cradle."

    Angela Rutherford, "A boy at 18 is still a child. A girl at 18 is a mature woman."

    Angela Rutherford, "And I won't even cook, if you don't want me too."

    Aunt Betsy, "Yes, you can't control fate." Jimmy Plum, "No, but sometimes you can give it a little push in the right direction."

    Angela Rutherford, "What a disagreeable woman." Jimmy Plum, "From a man's point of view, she's a very glamorous woman."

    Angela Rutherford, "I don't blame you a bit for getting rid of her." Maj. Hilary Jarret, "I didn't. She got rid of me."

    Jimmy Plum, "Her mind's an open book to me. Most of the pages are blank."

    Sally McGuire, "Hello, glamour boy." Jimmy Plum, "Hello Sally." Sally, "What's dragging you down?" Jimmy, "Well, I was out with my girlfriend and her boyfriend and we bumped into his wife and she said..." Sally, "Wait a minute. Say that again and say it slower."

    Jimmy Plum, "She certainly is sophisticated." Sally McGuire, "Who, Angela?" Jimmy, "No, the major's wife. I didn't even get to first base with her." Sally, "You mean the major's wife?" Jimmy, "No, Angela." Sally, "Oh, I see, heh. I was a little mixed up at first, but now I'm becoming confused."

    Harriet West Jarrett, "When you've been burned once, you don't go out looking for fire to play with."
  • Watch out Gloria Jean-Susanna Foster has a huge set of pipes on her! Susanna is caught in a wonderful love triangle: her funny, adorable childhood friend Donald O'Connor and the older, mature, handsome army doctor Patric Knowles. To complicate matters, Donald is the object of Peggy Ryan's affections. She claims they've been involved for ages and ages, and when he says they just met the night before, grins and says, "Yeah, but how I've grown up since last night." If you think that's funny, you'll like the rest of This Is the Life.

    Chock-full of quips like, "I was out with my girlfriend and her boyfriend, and we ran into his wife," Wanda Tuchock's adaptation of Sinclair Lewis and Fay Wray's play is hilarious. Five minutes don't pass without a laugh, which in the middle of WWII, was no doubt appreciated by audiences. There is some drama to the movie, though, even among the cast. This was filmed before Donald O'Connor was sent overseas, and released while he was fighting to maintain his popularity with American audiences. While it was true that he was able to return and pick right up where he left off, it is a little eerie to watch the movie knowing that the scrawny kid was fighting while we were watching him dance the jitterbug. In the plot, Donald's character is expecting his draft letter any day, and in real life, he was drafted on his eighteenth birthday.

    But, to end on a light note, This Is the Life is very funny, as well as sweet and romantic. When Peggy describes her ideal man, Donald quips back, "You don't want a man, you want a shampoo, a massage, and a bottle of horseradish." Check out this teenie-bopper flick; it's one of the good ones.
  • donwc199631 January 2012
    Enjoyable/cute musical comedy from Universal in 1944. It's the story of an 18 year old girl ( Susanna Foster) who gets a serious crush on an older Army officer ( Patric Knowles ) and the efforts that Donald O'Connor goes thru to keep them apart as he is in love with her. Susanna sings 3 songs--one being "A Song in my Heart". She has an operatic voice and I had to lower the sound whenever she hit a high note--which she often did! Peggy Ryan also sang some numbers. Her voice is a tad squeaky. She was nutty for O'Connor, but he had eyes only for Foster. Patric Knowles looked great and his scenes with Louise Albritton worked well--she being his former wife with whom he is still in love with.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    So sang Donald O'Connor in "There's No Business Like Show Business" and here, he chases the girl with no interest (Susannah Foster) who thinks that she's in love with an older man, army officer (Patric Knowles) who is obviously in love with his career driven ex-wife (Louise Albritton). O'Connor is sought after by juvenile entertainer Peggy Ryan whom he considers as fun as a bratty younger sister. What he sees in the spoiled, often temperamental soprano Foster is beyond me as Foster often has "look at me!" style tantrums that often presents her as a shrew in training.

    Excruciatingly painful specialty numbers between O'Connor and Ryan proves them not to be the Rooney and Garland of the mid 1940's, and as talented as they are, the numbers are pointlessly dated. The musical highlight is Foster singing "With a Song in My Heart" which was once Knowles and Albritton's favorite song to dance to, so it at least has a point in the plot. A specialty number by the Bobby Brooks quartet is another pleasing moment. I rank this as second rate in spite of those few good songs.
  • Even though they made lots of musical comedies for Universal during World War II, this is the last of the Donald O'Connor-Peggy Ryan movies I'm reviewing on this site since the studio blocked many of the others from being uploaded on YouTube. As in many of them, Peggy has a torch for Donald but he has it for someone else, here being Susanna Foster. She in turn, has the hots for a medical Major (Patrick Knowles) who ends up being turned down for another service round because he's no longer physically able enough. Then there's his former wife (Louise Albritton) who's an independent photographer to deal with. But never mind all that and just enjoy Donald and Peggy in their dances and songs and even Ms. Foster when doing her operatic numbers. There's also a handsome young male singer (Ray Eberle) singing "All or Nothing at All" and an African-American quartet (Bobby Brooks Quartet) warbling a song in falsetto with one of them then talking in baritone! So on that note, This Is the Life was a very enjoyable B-musical for the era. P.S. Jonathan Hale, playing O'Connor's father, was in between playing Mr. Dithers from what was originally supposed to be the final entry of the Blondie movie series-Footlight Glamour-to the new beginning one of a year later called Leave It to Blondie. And I just watched again on YT, Peggy's number-"Let's Play House"-from Here Come the Co-eds which was a wonderfully comic number with Lou Costello in which he says, "I feel just like Donald O'Connor!"