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  Four Daughters There's A New Man In Town
Year: 1938
Director: Michael Curtiz
Stars: Claude Rains, John Garfield, Priscilla Lane, Gale Page, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, May Robson, Dick Foran, Vera Lewis, Tom Dugan, Eddie Acuff, Donald Kerr
Genre: Drama, Romance, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Adam Lemp (Claude Rains) is a widower who lives with his sister Etta (May Robson) and his four daughters, Ann (Priscilla Lane), Emma (Gale Page), Kay (Rosemary Lane) and Thea (Lola Lane), who are all musicians just like their composer father. He has brought them each up to be musical, and they often play together in a quartet with Adam either conducting or accompanying them on the flute, but they have grown into young women now and their thoughts turn to romance and considering settling down and flying the nest. They will have mixed fortunes as far as that goes, none more so than Ann, the baby of the family who is about to have the most troubled time...

Pity poor Leota Lane. There were four Lane sisters, just as in this adaptation of once-popular author and philanthropist Fannie Hurst's source material, and it was suggested that as this was being designed as a vehicle for Priscilla, Warners could cast her three siblings as her screen sisters. Great idea, right? They could all act, were perfectly presentable, and it was a good gimmick, but for some reason while Rosemary and Lola were hired, Leota was deemed "unsuitable" and let go, thus denied her chance at screen immortality. Make no mistake, Four Daughters was a huge, surprise hit, classed as a "weepie" or a "woman’s picture", often dismissively, but it struck a genuine chord.

Nowadays, if it is remembered at all, it was because of what it started, and a star whose naturalistic performing style echoed down history and can still be detected in the stars of the twenty-first century. Before John Garfield, screen acting was something of a show, even artificial in some cases, but nothing like his rebel persona was to be seen; with this film, which he is only really in around half of, he was responsible for inspiring a host of actors like Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, James Dean and everyone who arrived after, whether dedicated to the Method or reacting against it. It's difficult to assess the impact the tragically shortlived Garfield had, and is still having, on the art of motion picture acting.

Before his Mickey Borden character shows up, this film is mostly sweetness and light, all very cute with the titular daughters bright as buttons in their various ways, though it is easy to see why the studio had high hopes for the delightful Priscilla, who is truly engaging and a compelling contrast to Garfield. We get the sisters' soap opera-style love and family lives, the banter with Rains and Robson sparkles thanks to the wit of screenwriters Julius Epstein and Lenore Coffee, already much sought after thanks to their sure way with words, and it is all very middle class - bourgeois, you would observe - and safe. By this stage, you may be thinking, this is nice enough, and everyone is appealing in it, but it is kind of difficult to see why this was such a blockbuster when it's not really doing anything the Andy Hardy series was not.

Ah, but then Garfield appears, dishevelled, unshaven, all sharp edges and attitude, and you can well imagine audiences of 1938 suddenly sitting up in their seats. Mickey is nothing like the other characters: introduced as a friend and associate of Adam's assistant Felix Dietz (Jeffrey Lynn), a dashing, amusing but slightly superficial chap typical of the era who is supposed to be Ann's future husband, Mickey is meant to be helping out on Mr Lemp's latest project, but he is such an obvious outsider to this cosy world that while they try to accommodate him, he is a disturbing presence. He's not a criminal element, but he has a perspective on this bubble that the family live in that prompts them to question themselves, just as we question the value of the contentment when it is disrupted. When Ann falls for him, they make such a sympathetic couple - don't count out Priscilla, who truly sells the premise and makes a moving match for Garfield - that the conclusive Christmas scenes are unexpectedly hard-hitting. Assuredly a film of two halves, but worth remembering. Music by Max Steiner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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