Yes, that summary does sound like one of those oh so silly jokes where race is used to create a pun-filled tag-line. But in this case, it is true. Danny Thomas is the cantor, Robert Preston the minister, and George Murphy the cop. The three of their lives are forever tied when Thomas finds an abandoned baby (who grows up to be Margaret O'Brien), and passers-by Preston and Murphy offer their advice as to what they should do. But Thomas's kindly mother (Lotte Lehmann) won't hear of them taking the toddler to the police station, insisting that "She'll never become a police officer", and the three men decide to try and raise her on their own. Judge Edward Arnold hears their case and decides to allow them to collaboratively raise the baby together until the first man gets married. So the race is on....
Yes, this is from the Louis B. Mayer/Andy Hardy way of thinking, but in today's world with children having two fathers or two mothers (a different situation of course), it's rather ironic. Of course, Thomas, Preston and Murphy are all searching for wives, and when they meet O'Brien's pretty school teacher (Karin Booth), both Preston and Thomas are instantly smitten. Booth doesn't like the untraditional manner in which O'Brien is being raised, so it's up to the three fathers and Lehmann to show her how wrong she is. Murphy stumbles across a fight in a bar, and after meeting its old-style saloon singer (Betty Garrett in a fabulous film debut), he too is smitten. Will the entrance of a possible mother into their lives spoil their friendship and end this family structure? That's for me to know, you to find out, and judge Arnold to decide.
A semi-musical with both comic and dramatic elements, this will both tickle the funny bone and tug at the heart, even get your toe tapping. The over usage of "God Bless America" gets frustrating after a while, but Thomas does get to sing a touching version of "What'll I Do", the Irving Berlin song which Bea Arthur later brought out of the woodwork on an episode of "Golden Girls". Of course, the fact that Thomas sang that also brought out ironic laughs from me in the fact that on another episode of "Golden Girls", dim-witted Rue McLanahan confused Danny Thomas's being Lebanese with him being lesbian. To further the "Golden Girls" connection, Betty Garrett had a memorable guest starring role on that show, and although they didn't share any scenes together, both Bea Arthur and Robert Preston had major roles in the movie version of "Mame".
While overly sentimental and ultimately silly at times, this does have its moments. Garret's outwardly tough bar singer escorts both Murphy and O'Brien to Coney Island, and thanks to Garrett's indulgence of O'Brien's sweet tooth, the young girl gets sick off an overabundance of hot dogs, cotton candy, various other sweets and sodas, even smelling like she's on fire because of the perfume she's wearing thanks to Garrett's generosity. Another irony is to see the notoriously liberal Garrett (a victim of the Communist scare just a few years later) paired with notoriously conservative Murphy. Her five films at MGM showcased her musical and comedy talents, and audiences would have to wait more than 20 years to see her rise again in supporting roles on T.V. sitcoms and in a late career return to the Broadway stage in "Meet Me in St. Louis" and the 2001 revival of "Follies" where she was indeed one memorable "Broadway Baby".
One thing that gets me too is that it is obvious from the start that the ethnic looking Thomas will be the one to end up alone, Hollywood's obsession with glamor not allowing him to get the girl in the end, only the laughs. "Always an uncle, never a dad", seems to be his sad quiet realization here, but of the three men, he is the one with the biggest heart. Of course, he doesn't get any help from his mama either, with her taking his bouquet of flowers and making three of them with each of the men's names so they'll each have an equal chance of winning Booth. While the MGM New York street sets might look realistic, their vision of the "big city" is about as realistic as the Hardys were as representing the all-American family.
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