Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Four Wives

John Garfield was TCM's Star of the Month back in February, which gave me the opportunity to blog about the movie Four Daughters. That movie was popular enough that two sequels were made, the first of which was Four Wives.

In the first movie, Garfield played Mickey Borden, a hard-luck case who married one of the four Lemp daughters, Ann (Priscilla Lane), only to commit suicide because he couldn't support Ann. Now, Warner Bros. didn't realize at the time that John Garfield was going to become a star, since Four Daughters was his first movie, which presented a bit of a problem since they killed off his character in the first movie. So Mickey appears here briefly as a ghost in a couple of scenes.

Ann is disconsolate at having lost her husband, and composer Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) has returned from a work engagement to propose to Ann. But there's a pretty big complication, which is that Mickey got Ann pregnant before killing himself. The movie actually handles the material pretty tastefully for a 1930s movie, without the plot devices that seem like they were introduced to deal with the Production Code.

Meanwhile, sister Emma Lemp (Gale Page) married florist Ernest Talbot (Dick Foran). The two were hoping to have a baby, but it turns out that Emma is unable to get pregnant. That fact and Ann's pregnancy are discovered at the doctors' offices of the Forrests, Clinton Sr. and Clinton Jr. (Eddie Albert). Clinton Jr. talks to sister Kay (Rosemary Lane) about Ann's pregnancy and the need to handle Ann with care. She needs a psychologist, but not somebody who's obviously trying to treat her, so Forrest is brought in to handle those duties. It's fairly obvious from the beginning that he and Kay are going to fall in love.

The fourth sister is Thea (Lola Lane), who, as you may recall from the first movie, married banker Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh). Thea decides, seemingly with no input from her husband, to adopt a child, something that I woudn't have thought possible if the husband hadn't known is wife was planning it -- wouldn't they need both parents' signatures on the application?

But the movie focuses most on Ann, with Felix trying to make a success of it as a composer and conductor. He gets a very lucrative job offer, but it's going to require his going off to New York while his pregnant wife stays behind. Ann wants him to go since she's still thinking about Mickey, while Felix is willing to forgo career advancement for the sake of his wife.

Claude Rains reprises his role as Adam, the patriarch of the Lemp family, with May Robson around as well as Aunt Etta.

Four Wives works well as a sequel, at least if you've seen Four Daughters already. If you haven't, you might be confused by some of what's going on and think that some stuff is explained too quickly. A lot of people in current-day audiences will probably find the movie old-fashioned, and to be honest, even back in 1939 when the movie was released I don't think it would have been considered anything groundbreaking, just a feel-good movie for the audiences of the day. In that regard it definitely succeeds.

Four Wives is more drama than comedy, but it's a fairly light drama with a fair amount of comedy mixed in, especially in scenes dealing with the students at the music school Adam runs. Claude Rains is given a lot less to do here than in a lot of his movies, but looks like he could have done the role in his sleep. Frank McHugh looks ridiculous with a moustache, and May Robson adds energy as the octogenarian who just won't quit.

People who like classic Studio Era movies will really like Four Wives.

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