Thursday, April 22, 2010

Too bad it's not Jean

Friday, April 23 is the 82d birthday of Shirley Temple, and TCM will be spending the day with several of her later movies. (The very young Temple was under contract to Fox, so TCM has trouble getting most of those movies.) One of the lesser-seen movies that TCM is showing is That Hagen Girl, at 1:00 PM ET.

Temple stars as the title character, a young woman who is the black sheep of the town because the townsfolk see her as the town's bastard child. (Why everybody would badmouth her so is never really explained. And, of course, they couldn't actually use the word bastard, as it would have given Joseph Breen a fit of apoplexy.) Into all this walks Ronald Reagan. He had lived in the town earlier, and is coming back because he's inherited the house and legal practice of one of the town's more prominent citizens. He's one of the very few people in town who has sympathy for Little Miss Hagen, and his closeness to her scandalizes the town, as they think he's the long-lost father -- and she's developing a crush on him! Eventually, Temple becomes suicidal, Reagan saves her, and reveals all in an ending that's really more of a deus ex machina than a satisfying plot conclusion.

That Hagen Girl is oh so wrong in so many ways. I argued a year ago when Reagan was TCM's Star of the Month that his optimistic nature suited him well to the B-movies he did in the 1930s, and that he also fit into westerns and military movies well. However, after World War II, Warner Bros. tried to put him into some more serious roles, such as this and Night Unto Night, neither of which really fit Reagan. Also, it's not Reagan's fault, but in both of those movies, he was saddled with decidedly subpar and muddled material. There are a lot of better actors who would have come up short with That Hagen Girl. Then there's Shirley Temple. She too is really badly miscast here. It's understandable that she would want to do more grown-up material after getting away from Fox, but this isn't really the right material. That, and I don't think she had the acting chops of a Judy Garland: Shirley Temple wouldn't have been able to pull off a version of The Clock, for example.

In short, That Hagen Girl is a mess, but one that has a lot of interesting reasons for watching it at least once. It's not on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing.

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