Monday, February 15, 2021

Four Daughters

John Garfield is the Star of the Month on TCM for February, and that's given me a chance to watch one of his movies that I've had on the DVR for a while, Four Daughters. It's going to be on in tomorrow's prime time lineup, at 12:15 AM Wednesday Feb. 17 (or still Feb. 16 in more westerly time zones).

Garfield isn't the official star here, since this was just his first feature film. The nominal star is Claude Rains. He's Adam Lemp, a widower who teaches at a school of music and has the titular four daughters, in whom he's tried to instill his love of and ability for music. He's done this with varying degrees of success. Daughter Key (Rosemary Lane) has dreams of getting a music scholarship in Philadelphia, while the other three: Thea (Lola Lane), Ann (Priscilla Lane) and Emma (Gale Page) are strictly amateurs.

Thea is being pursued by Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh with a ridiculous mustache), a well-to-do banker who could provide her security. Emma has a suitor in local florist Erniest (Dick Foran), while Ann being the youngest doesn't have anybody quite yet. But a man is about to come into everybody's lives.

That man is Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn), an up-and-coming composer/conductor who is going to be living with the Lemps while he's working on a composition for a contest that, if he wins, would earn him a nice stipend. Ann and Emma both fall in love with him, although neither Ann nor Felix seem to realizes that Emma has any feelings for him.

And then another man comes into the movie, which shouldn't be surprising since we know this is being run for John Garfield's turn as Star of the Month. Garfield plays Mickey Borden, a friend of Felix's, an arranger responsible for creating good orchestrations for Felix. Unlike Dana Andrews in Night Song, he doesn't seem to have any interest in composing, or at least any expectation that he's going to be successful, since he thinks everything in life is stacked against him.

Despite Mickey's non-stop snarkiness, Ann seems to become friends with him. So much so that on what is supposed to be her wedding day to Felix, once she's found out the true depth of Emma's feelings for Felix, she decides to run off with Mickey and leave Felix at the altar! Ann and Mickey run off to New York and find out that life in the big city isn't a bed of roses, but don't want to let the rest of the family know that there's anything going wrong. This leads to the movie's dramatic climax, on Christmas Eve no less.

Watching Four Daughters, I found it easy to see why Garfield became a star, even though I wanted somebody to put some sense in his character. It's also easy to see why the movie was a big hit, as it's the sort of material that would have been homey and comforting to audiences in the second half of the Depression. (Warner Bros. didn't intend Four Daughters as a prestige picture, but it wound up with several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.)

That having been said, the nature of Garfield's character, combined with the sudden plot twist, do create some problems with Four Daughters that made it a bit less to my taste than some other people will probably find it. Even with its flaws, however, Four Daughters is definitely worth a watch.

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