2 January 2017 | AlsExGal
I've been avoiding this one for years...
...because...I dunno... there were just bad signs everywhere. An MGM musical in black and white? I was afraid of even more of "the Nazis are eeeeeevil" pronouncements that get overdone in WWII films. Believe me, I get that they were evil. And plus I have just never gotten the allure of June Allyson and that husky voice.
But I was on Christmas break and it was part of a Turner Classic Movies tribute to those in the film industry who died in 2016 - in this case Gloria DeHaven - so I thought I'd give it a whirl. This one pleasantly surprised me.
In a way the title does give the paper thin plot away - one sailor (Van Johnson as swabbie John Dyckman Brown III) in love with one of two girl performers (DeHaven and Allyson as the Deyo sisters, Jean and Patsy respectively). Complications ensue. But the fun is in the journey not the destination.
There are some possible dark sides to this film. It starts out with Jean as an infant and Patsy a toddler watching over her backstage while mom and dad perform in vaudeville. A few years pass and now Jean is the toddler and dad is performing alone. It is said "mom made the big time" but you wonder - did mom run out on dad and her daughters? Is mom actually dead and dad just doesn't want to tell them? You're never told.
The scene skips to present day - 1944 - and the girls are a sister act in a night club and then run a canteen for soldiers out of their apartment after that. But those childhood years of Patsy watching Jean have taken their toll, because now Patsy watches Jean like a hawk, making sure she doesn't take up with the wrong man while she doesn't seem to have time for a man at all. Is this a residue of what happened as children? Does Patsy not want Jean or herself to end up like mom? Again, nothing deep is ever said, but you have to wonder.
And then somebody starts sending orchids to Jean. This alone has Patsy watching the nightclub audience wondering which one is the secret admirer. But when this (probably) same anonymous person gives them an old abandoned warehouse so they can enlarge their canteen - what they thought was a secret wish - and supplies all of the food and manpower to transform it, Patsy really goes into PI mode because now she is afraid some rich guy is out to make Jean a sadder but wiser girl. And the misunderstandings just go from there.
In the meantime there is plenty of great music from Harry James,Jose Iturbi and orchestra, Lena Horne, Xavier Cugat and orchestra, and even Gracie Allen comes over from Paramount for a comical bit - minus George. Jimmy Durante performs here, but he also has a bit of drama and tragedy that figures into the plot - he's living like a hermit in the warehouse when the girls take possession - and he really surprised me with his dramatic range.
Then there are those weird outfits Allyson and DeHaven wear. A couple of times one is wearing what appears to be the top to a dress with a particular pattern and the other is wearing the skirt. Is this some visual way of saying that one is pretty on the inside while the other is pretty on the outside? Jean is LOOKING for a rich guy and is pretty naïve yet mercenary, so Patsy has reason to worry. Meanwhile Patsy is not at all interested in the trappings of wealth. Or maybe I'm reading way too much into what was just meant to be some MGM musical fluff.
I'd recommend this one. It was released right before D-Day, so things were looking optimistic on the homefront for the first time in a long time and the mood of this film rather goes along with that. It's almost an early "welcome back" film for all of the guys and gals in the service at the time.