Four Daughters (1938)

“So they flipped a coin: heads he’s poor, tails he’s rich.”

Four Daughters Poster

Synopsis:
The four grown daughters — Thea (Lola Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), Emma (Gale Page), and Ann (Priscilla Lane) — of a musician (Claude Rains) struggle to find romantic happiness with the right partner. Emma resists overtures from the boy next door (Dick Foran), while Thea aspires to marry a wealthy banker (Frank McHugh) and Kay remains primarily focused on her career as a singer. Ann, the youngest, is determined not to marry — though she soon falls for a handsome musician (Jeffrey Lynn) whose charms sway her sisters as well; but when his troubled, cynical friend Mickey (John Garfield) arrives in town and falls for Ann, romantic entanglements become even more complicated.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a story by Fannie Hurst, and designed as a vehicle for Priscilla Lane and her two sisters (Lola and Rosemary), Four Daughters — directed by Michael Curtiz — was originally intended as an “A”-level picture, before Errol Flynn dropped out of the cast and Jeffrey Lynn signed on. It’s primarily notable today for affording John Garfield his memorable screen debut — indeed, Garfield’s Oscar-nominated supporting performance as a philosophizing cynic who plucks Ann’s pity strings is likely why Peary includes this title in his GFTFF, and was enough to make the New York Times’ reviewer take note:

As the most startling innovation in the way of a screen character in years — a fascinating fatalist, reckless and poor and unhappy, who smokes too much, who is insufferably rude to everybody, and who assumes as a matter of course that all the cards are stacked against him, Mr. Garfield is such a sweet relief from conventional screen types, in this one character, anyway, so eloquent of a certain dispossessed class of people, that we can’t thank Warner Brothers, Michael Curtiz, the director; Mr. Epstein and Miss Coffee, the screen playwrights; and even Miss Fannie Hurst, the original author, enough for him.

Otherwise, the film remains a fairly straightforward product of its era — a tearjerking romance full of conveniently implausible twists and turns, all taking place within the idyllic white-picket borders of a happy small-town household, presided over by avuncular Rains (in a throwaway role) and no-nonsense May Robson as “Aunt Etta”. With that said, the script is surprisingly well-written for its genre, and contains quite a few lines of thoughtful and/or amusing dialogue (see examples below) — you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised if you decide to check this one out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Garfield as Mickey Borden
    Four Daughters Garfield
  • Ernest Haller’s cinematography
    Four Daughters Cinematography
    Four Daughters Cinematography2
  • Some surprisingly effective dialogue:

    “Do you think that’s right, to leave a song dangling in mid-air — no face, no feet?”
    “My name came first — then the curtains.”

Must See?
No, though it’s of interest simply for Garfield’s debut screen performance.

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One Response to “Four Daughters (1938)”

  1. Not a must.

    As a rewatch (after many years) of this unfolded, I soon realized all over again that this film was eventually remade in 1954 as ‘Young at Heart’, with Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. Aside from some songs added for Doris and Frank, the remake is rather faithful to ‘Four Daughters’.

    Neither one is a bad film but neither one is must-see. They are both fairly conventional, commercial, homespun tales with a welcome (if slight) dark edge by way of the Mickey character.

    Curtiz does his usual top-notch job calling the shots so everything looks good and efficiently handled – but most of his job here has been as a traffic cop, creating thoughtful visuals of the family members as a group as they (often) traipse around the house and each other at a clip. Perhaps Curtiz was aware that the script, though a bouncy one, is a tad over-written, with people often going on and on in a flippant manner without taking many breaths.

    That said, the film is solid enough as entertainment – just not all that memorable, really, after it’s over.

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