Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Creepy Margaret O'Brien

I hadn't seen Tenth Avenue Angel until TCM showed it this Christmas season. It's not on DVD, so I don't want to do too much of a recommendation of it. Suffice it to say that MGM child star Margaret O'Brien plays a generally charming, but slightly obnoxious girl who, among other things, is able to spot a man trying to bilk the locals out of their money.

O'Brien is generally thought of as not just sweet, but almost too sweet. Personally, I find this cloying nature somewhat creepy, to the point of turning melodrama into farce. But O'Brien isn't at her creepiness in Tenth Avenue Angel. I would pick the short You, John Jones! for a really creepy little Miss O'Brien.

James Cagney plays the title role as John Jones, a small-town man doing his part for the war effort by being the local air warden. He's got a wife (Ann Sheridan) and a daughter (O'Brien), who is practicing for the school pageant. This short was designed as patriotic propaganda in more ways than one. Obvious is when Cagney's John Jones has a fantasy of what it would be like if, heaven forbid, the air-raid sirens went off for real and his town were attacked by the Axis. He returns home to find everything is all right, and the second bit of propaganda: O'Brien reciting the Gettysburg Address as part of her practicing for her role in the pageant.

The short is more a curiousity than anything else. Cagney made this at MGM as part of the war effort, and got paired with O'Brien for the only time in their careers; Cagney of course spent most of the first two decades of his career at Warner Bros. The other notable thing is seeing O'Brien's reading of the Gettysburg Address, with a delivery that makes her come across more like a brunette version of the kids from the Village of the Damned rather than the sweet little girl she was.

If you want to see this curiosity, it's available as an extra on one of the DVD releases of Yankee Doodle Dandy. It's a fascinating historical document.

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