Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
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What a great feeling to live back those far gone days when even though in war, America was united as ever, with natural sorrow and hardships, but full of dreams, commitment, proud of itself, with high hopes for a better world... Made me nostalgic? Yes indeed!
The story of the perky Deyo Sisters, a singing and dancing duo, working in the night clubs of the Manhattan of those years it at the center of the story. They were products of vaudeville, as shown in the sequence at the beginning of the story where Patsy and Jean are seen with the star, Billy Kipp, years before his downfall.
The sisters decide to invite to their humble apartment the young men they met on the streets after they finished performing. The idea was to give these boys a good time in a wholesome setting. Jean, falls for a sailor who follows the sisters' act every night. Little do the girls know about the identity of this innocent looking young man. When Patsy points out to John Dyckman Brown, the sailor, her ambition to fix the abandoned warehouse next to them, she never expected her dreams to come true. When they open the place, they are able to get some of the performers working in the night clubs to come entertain the boys before they go to war.
The film is highly entertaining because MGM made sure to give this project the priority it needed. Richard Thorpe, the director, did wonders with the material and the stars at his disposal in a truly inspired movie that is delightful to see anytime it's shown.
June Allyson, in her screen debut, is marvelous as the sensible Patsy. Gloria DeHaven, at the height of her beauty and freshness, is quite a sight to see. Van Johnson and Tom Drake, play the girl's love interests with charm. The fabulous Jimmy Durante is rescued by the girls from oblivion. The musical numbers are wonderful. We see some of the best talent of that era such as Lena Horne, Harry James, Xavier Cugat, Gracie Allen, Jose Iturbi, and others that contribute to make this a winning film that gives other generation a taste of what it was like to be young in those years. Viewers paying close attention will see a young Ava Gardner among the girls in the chorus.
Harry James (27) and orchestra are major players, as themselves. This was especially enjoyable for me, a trumpet player since I was 11. Harry James was one of my idols, and I consider him to have had the sweetest swing trumpet sound ever. He did 4 or 5 trumpet solos during the movie, and was a pleasant character playing himself.
The movie is filled with other stars. One of them is Jimmy Durante doing his stage comedy song & dance routine, and continuing as a character sharing issues with the sisters. Other 'names' include Xavier Cugat and band, Lena Horne, Gracie Allen (who plays her composition for index finger with orchestra), and a few others I am not familiar with.
This was war time and the movie includes lots of entertainment for the Army, Navy, and Marine servicemen honored here. The sisters have the servicemen come home with them one evening to serve sandwiches and refreshments. They comment that it would be nice to have a larger place, like the old Wigson's Warehouse, which turns out to be filled with theatrical props and supplies. They 'wish' for more cleaning staff and they appear. Durante 'wishes' for a baby grand and in it comes. The warehouse is turned into a canteen for soldiers, food, drink, entertainment.
SPOILERS FOLLOW. Much of the rest of the story is sisters trying to figure out who the benefactor was. They eventually find that it was the sailor himself, Brown III. Patsy knows her sister Jean is smitten with the sailor and assumes she will marry him. However Jean finds another love, and Patsy ends up with the rich sailor.
In the tradition of many other wartime musicals, the film is almost like sitting through a concert. A simple plot serves as an excuse for a parade of musical numbers that aim to entertain the cinema-goers as much as the in-movie club patrons. It's pure escapism. Throw in some romance, some comedy, and a dash of patriotism and you have a very pleasant movie indeed.
And TWO GIRLS AND A SAILOR is a very pleasant movie. Fluff, yes, but it's fun. June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven play showbiz sisters who sing at a nightclub and entertain servicemen at their apartment. Thanks to the generosity of a mysterious admirer, the girls are able to open their own canteen to put on shows for the men in uniform. But what happens when both sisters start falling for the same guy (Navy sailor Van Johnson)?
Both actresses are charming and do a nice job. Gloria DeHaven is very beautiful, but it is June Allyson as the protective older sister who wins us over. I've never considered myself much of a June Allyson fan, but she certainly was talented and her performance here (singing, dancing, acting, comedy) is great.
Jimmy Durante provides solid comic relief and even sings his hit "Inka Dinka Doo". Van Johnson plays an all-American good guy, a sailor who happens to be a multi-millionaire. Tom Drake is Johnson's rival for DeHaven's affections, an Army sergeant who's really kind of a jerk.
MGM showcases many of its top musical acts throughout the film, including popular trumpeter and bandleader Harry James, the exotic Xavier Cugat Orchestra, jazz vocalist Lena Horne, deadpan singer Virginia O'Brien, the singing Wilde Twins (sisters Lee and Lyn), and piano maestro Jose Iturbi. Even Gracie Allen shows up for a comedic piano number.
Thinly plotted musicals aren't always my thing, but there's something very likable about this production. Allyson, DeHaven, Johnson, Durante, and Henry Stephenson (as Johnson's grandfather) are all great. The musical acts serve as a 1940s time capsule. The story is sweet and innocent. Just sit back and be entertained.
June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven are the singing Devo Sisters who come from an old vaudeville family and who now sing and dance for money and then after the show hold their own informal cabaret at home. In 1944 there wasn't anything one didn't do for the service men and women.
One night they mention about that they'd really like to get a hold of an old warehouse down the street to open a really swanky nightclub/serviceman's center and the next thing you know there is Donald Meek knocking on their door with a deed in hand, signed over to them by a mysterious benefactor. And after that every time they need to pay a bill for construction, Meek's there with the money.
In between all this are a whole bunch of musical and comedy acts with songs from a variety of sources. Two Girls And A Sailor got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and if there's nothing terribly original in taking the plot from Great Expectations, the really creative part of the script was getting all that talent in and not disturbing the story too much.
This wartime musical was MGM's launching pad for Van Johnson where he was given billing over the title. He's the sailor in the title. In fact the film was a showcase for Allyson, DeHaven, and Johnson all of whom were among the newer stars in MGM's shimmering firmament.
The film also featured one of the best of the swing era bands led by Harry James featuring one of the best singers from the Forties, Helen Forrest. Latin American music has periodically invaded mainstream America from the Tango to the Macarena and here it's represented by Xavier Cugat with Carlos Ramirez and Lina Romay doing the vocals. Comedy is supplied in ample measure by both Jimmy Durante and Gracie Allen. Durante had a featured part as an old vaudevillian that the girls remember from their childhood who is actually living in the warehouse they are gifted with. I only wish MGM had the sense to put him and Gracie Allen in a scene together.
Gracie was put in a scene however with Jose Iturbi. Louis B. Mayer always considered himself a bit more highbrow than the other Hollywood moguls, hiring opera and concert performers. Still having Jose Iturbi and his equally talented sister Amparo playing double piano is always a treat in any film.
As for who the benefactor is, the identity shall remain nameless. It's not an escaped convict like in Great Expectations. But take a look at the character names the cast has and remember the times and I think you can figure it out. Actually a mammoth size clue is given almost at the beginning of the film. But see the film for the clue and the identity.
As the love interest of De Haven, Tom Drake is given very little to do here.
Jimmy Durante is charismatic as the guy they meet living in the warehouse after so many years of abandoning everyone when his wife took their young son and left him.
The entertainment at the canteen is excellent with Harry James, Xavier Cugat, Lena Horne and Jose Iturbi.
As the picture goes along, you know who the wealthy Johnson character will wind up, but the music, dancing and atmosphere make it all worthwhile.
June Allyson, Jimmy Durante, Harry James, and Gracie Allen have fine moments; and, it's nice to see "Inka Dinka Doo" and all of the other 1944 era acts preserved on film.
***** Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) Richard Thorpe ~ June Allyson, Van Johnson, Gloria DeHaven
More MGM stars than you can shake a baton at -- Harry James, Xavier Cugat, Gracie Allen, Jimmy Durante, Jose Iturbi, everybody. Most of the names will not be familiar to people who weren't around at the time but they were big ones in 1944. Every girl had a crush on Van Johnson.
All of the musical numbers are pleasant in their own quiet way but none are outstanding although they were popular at the time. Never entered the Great American Songbook. Sic transit gloria mundi. Exception: Harry James gets to play "Estrellita", a sentimental love song written around 1912 by the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce, which was immensely popular and never aspired to membership in the Great Songbook. You will probably recognize it.
June Allyson, in her first major role, already looks and sounds like the steadfast, loyal wife she would become in later movie. Gloria DeHaven, on the other hand, had a relatively short career and wound up hosting a TV program in New York. Don't know why her impact was so ephemeral. She has long, fluffy hair, the eyes of a gazelle, and a lower lip that droops sensually, invitingly. She should have gone on to erotic thrillers, the kind in which the babe is rescued from the murderer with her dress half ripped off and some of her underwear showing. What a waste.
Nothing much to the plot -- a series of coincidences and pedestrian interludes between musical numbers. But what a time capsule this is.
By the way, of the three films, the first, "Stage Door Canteen" is the best. And, after you've seen that one, you can pretty much imagine what the other two are like.
But I was on Christmas break and it was part of a Turner Classic Movies tribute to those in the film industry who died in 2016 - in this case Gloria DeHaven - so I thought I'd give it a whirl. This one pleasantly surprised me.
In a way the title does give the paper thin plot away - one sailor (Van Johnson as swabbie John Dyckman Brown III) in love with one of two girl performers (DeHaven and Allyson as the Deyo sisters, Jean and Patsy respectively). Complications ensue. But the fun is in the journey not the destination.
There are some possible dark sides to this film. It starts out with Jean as an infant and Patsy a toddler watching over her backstage while mom and dad perform in vaudeville. A few years pass and now Jean is the toddler and dad is performing alone. It is said "mom made the big time" but you wonder - did mom run out on dad and her daughters? Is mom actually dead and dad just doesn't want to tell them? You're never told.
The scene skips to present day - 1944 - and the girls are a sister act in a night club and then run a canteen for soldiers out of their apartment after that. But those childhood years of Patsy watching Jean have taken their toll, because now Patsy watches Jean like a hawk, making sure she doesn't take up with the wrong man while she doesn't seem to have time for a man at all. Is this a residue of what happened as children? Does Patsy not want Jean or herself to end up like mom? Again, nothing deep is ever said, but you have to wonder.
And then somebody starts sending orchids to Jean. This alone has Patsy watching the nightclub audience wondering which one is the secret admirer. But when this (probably) same anonymous person gives them an old abandoned warehouse so they can enlarge their canteen - what they thought was a secret wish - and supplies all of the food and manpower to transform it, Patsy really goes into PI mode because now she is afraid some rich guy is out to make Jean a sadder but wiser girl. And the misunderstandings just go from there.
In the meantime there is plenty of great music from Harry James,Jose Iturbi and orchestra, Lena Horne, Xavier Cugat and orchestra, and even Gracie Allen comes over from Paramount for a comical bit - minus George. Jimmy Durante performs here, but he also has a bit of drama and tragedy that figures into the plot - he's living like a hermit in the warehouse when the girls take possession - and he really surprised me with his dramatic range.
Then there are those weird outfits Allyson and DeHaven wear. A couple of times one is wearing what appears to be the top to a dress with a particular pattern and the other is wearing the skirt. Is this some visual way of saying that one is pretty on the inside while the other is pretty on the outside? Jean is LOOKING for a rich guy and is pretty naïve yet mercenary, so Patsy has reason to worry. Meanwhile Patsy is not at all interested in the trappings of wealth. Or maybe I'm reading way too much into what was just meant to be some MGM musical fluff.
I'd recommend this one. It was released right before D-Day, so things were looking optimistic on the homefront for the first time in a long time and the mood of this film rather goes along with that. It's almost an early "welcome back" film for all of the guys and gals in the service at the time.
Directed by Richard Thorpe, the plot involves two sisters, played by June Allyson and the lovely Gloria DeHaven, whose parents had been stage actors, that start their own free nightclub for those in military service during World War II. Van Johnson plays the titled sailor, who becomes involved in a love triangle with these "girls"; Tom Drake plays another soldier who's in the Army. Johnson's character is also very rich, a fact he keeps secret from the sisters while, through his assistant Mr. Nizby (Donald Meek), he fulfills their wishes and bankrolls their charity enterprise. Henry Stephenson plays Johnson's grandfather, Henry O'Neill his father. Jimmy Durante plays a now washed up comic the girls knew when they were two years old (Gigi Perreau, uncredited, plays one of them).
Every night, after their performance at an urban (New York?) nightclub, Patsy (Allyson) and Jean (DeHaven) Deyo invite military personnel from all three branches of service (the Army, the Navy, & the Marines) back to their humble flat where they make sandwiches and entertain them with song. It's their way of saying thanks and participating in the war effort by boosting morale. Jean is a bit too flirtatious for her sister Patsy's liking; Patsy has had to look after her younger sister since their actress mother left their actor father (Frank Jenks) years ago. When Jean spends a little too much time with any one admirer, Patsy pinches her to effectively end the courting. For the past few nights, Jean has received orchids from a person who signs the cards "Somebody".
Of course, John Dyckman Brown III (Johnson), known to the girls as a sailor named Johnnie, is the secret admirer. One night, he is one of the lucky ones hanging around the nightclub who gets invited back to the Deyo's apartment, along with Army Sergeant Frank Miller (Drake), Marine Private Adams (Frank Sully, uncredited), and many others. While there, he learns from Patsy about a deserted warehouse, around the corner, and the girls' desire to open a canteen. The next thing you know, John's agent Mr. Nizby (Meek) is giving them the deed. Upon inspection, the sisters discover that the bum living in it is their old acquaintance Billy Kipp (Durante), who'd quit the business when his wife up and left him with their son.
With generous assistance directed by Mr. Nizby, and funded anonymously by Johnnie, Kipp and the Deyo sisters get the warehouse fixed up, furnished, and catered such that they can open their dream canteen. Entertainment is provided by various well-known performers who donate their time such as Ben Blue, José Iturbi, Gracie Allen, Lena Horne, Virginia O'Brien, Lee & Lyn Wilde, trumpeter Harry James and His Music Makers, Helen Forrest, Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, and more. Meanwhile, Frank and Johnnie are courting Jean but, simultaneously, Patsy is falling in love with Johnnie herself (there is a dream sequence which includes Ava Gardner). For his part, Johnnie begins to recognize that Patsy has more to offer and admires her selfless devotion to her sister and the canteen. There are some sweet, sentimental, even tear-jerking moments, and the scene during which Patsy discovers Johnnie's identity, through his grandfather (Stephenson) and father (O'Neill), and subsequent sequences are keepers.
Predictably, all works out well in the end for both sisters, each get engaged. There is also a funny bit involving Durante's character as well.
Dancing: I loved the dancing of the dark haired young man whom June dragged out on the dance floor, who was first shy and awkward then later a dancing pro and even leaped over June's head. I kept thinking he was Jimmy's missing son, but even he wasn't that ugly or goofy looking as the baby in the picture.
More star turns. Great bandleaders: Xavier Cugat, Jose Iturbi, Harry James. Wonderful to see the late, great Ms. Lena Horne, and I did catch short glimpses of Ava Gardner. Gracie Allen was wonderful, as always. It was good to see her without her sidekick, George Burns.
I really loved the Jimmy-doll, complete with his black top hat and black tuxedo. I loved the little girl actresses in the beginning, including the baby, portraying the two Deyo sisters.
I think most people would agree that the musical highlights of the film include the following:(1) the "Sweet and Lovely", followed by "A-Tisket-a-Tasket", duet by the girls, backed by the Harry James Orchestra (2)a series of closely spaced performances, beginning with another duet by the girls: "A Love Like Ours", backed by the James Orchestra, quickly followed by the Xavier Cugat Orchestra, first featuring Lina Romay doing the "Rhumba Rhumba", then backing Carlos Ramirez's excellent rendition of "Granada". (3) The June-James collaboration in "Young Man With the Horn" and (4)Durante's classic "Inka Dinka Doo". Helen Forrest's "In a Moment of Madness", James' "Estrellita", and Lina Romay's all too brief "Babalu" were also good, as was Lina's somewhat comical dance with Ben Blue. If you would like to see more of Lina, she did several stage numbers, as well as being a significant part of the drama, in the complex Randoph Scott western "The Man behind the Gun". Columbian Carlos Ramirez would again be the featured singer in the elaborate "Begin the Beguine" production in the Porter biop "Night and Day". The "Take It Easy" number briefly featured several singers, but mostly focused on Virginia O'Brien. I would have much preferred focusing on the gorgeous Wilde twins and skipping the signature wide-eyed deadpan performance of O'Brien. For a better look at the Wilde twins, check out "Andy Hardy's Blonde Troubles", or "Twice Blessed", as well as a very brief song bit in "'Til the Clouds Roll By".
Why, oh, why was Lena Horne given a song with lyrics obviously meant for a man (like Nat Cole) to sing??. To see her at much better advantage, check out the Technicolor "Broadway Rhythm", released the same year, "'Til the Clouds Roll By", or the B&W "Stormy Weather". Why was famous comedienne Grace Allen just given an idiotic sour note piano recital to do??. Why wasn't she teamed with Durante(in the absence of George Burns) for a comedic skit or scene?? Why weren't Van Johnson's vaudevillian talents exploited in his interactions with the girls, instead of his being presented as a rather faceless sailor?? Perhaps we could then better understand the girls' sudden infatuation with him. To me, Jose Iturbi's diverting inclusion in the drama and musical performances didn't really add anything significant. Check out "Anchors Aweigh" or "Music for Millions" for a much more favorable presentation of his piano talent. I would much rather have listened to another of Helen Forrest's better songs, or another classic Latin song by Carlos Ramirez, or perhaps a duet by Carlos and Lina Romay, or a number by Van and one or more of the Deyo or Wilde sisters.
In summary, while this B&W musical-variety show hybrid includes some classic musical performances, and the stars provide a generally good time, given all the talent included, it could have been much better. Also, it would have been nice if MGM had splurged and filmed it in Technicolor, as they had the previous year with "Best Foot Forward", which also featured June and Gloria, among others. Gloria was also featured in two other MGM musicals in '44: the B&W "Step Lively", with Sinatra and George Murphy, and the Technicolor musical-variety show hybrid "Broadway Rhythm". I can't tell you which of the 3 is best, they are all so different. June was reunited with Durante and Jose Iturbi that same year in the wartime drama-musical "Music for Millions". A few years later, she would again be teamed with Durante, with Kathryn Grayson replacing De Haven as her sister, in the B&W musical comedy "Two Sisters from Boston". I haven't seen either these, but reviewers generally say they are good.