“So they flipped a coin: heads he’s poor, tails he’s rich.”
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.
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:
No, though it’s of interest simply for Garfield’s debut screen performance.