Cinema Classics: “Four Daughters” (1938)

What a crazy couple weeks it has been! The last article I posted was my review of “Onward,” the last film I saw in theaters about two weeks ago. Since then, movie theaters have closed and most major theatrical releases have been postponed until further notice. While that is absolutely the right thing to do right now, the situation has left me wondering what to do with this blog in the meantime, since I primarily devote it to reviewing new releases. And I’ll still be able to do that somewhat; I plan on reviewing some new movies that have made the jump to VOD in the near future, and my monthly streaming recaps are still happening. But I wanted to do something a little more.

I love classic film. I spend so much time going between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Channel. The only reason why I don’t write about it regularly is because I don’t normally have the time, and with the amount of movies I watch (not to mention my day job and other projects) I have to draw the line somewhere. But for the time being I’d like to share some brief insights and reviews on classic films I enjoy, and where you can watch them yourself. This article is the first of those (a review of the delightful drama “Four Daughters”). I might also dig up some older reviews I’d written before this blog came about and share them here, maybe of some contemporary films that I particularly enjoy or that have flown under the radar. I’ll try to come up with some other fun things to share if I have time (I enjoy making lists, so that might be fun).

At this time I’m not committing to a specific frequency at which I will publish these; probably one or two a week, but we’ll play it by ear. In the meantime, if there is anything you’d like to see me cover- whether a review of a specific film, or a certain kind of content- let me know in the comments, or send an email my way!

Now, on to “Four Daughters”:

Four Daughters” was never intended to be a big Warner Brothers production. It was rather meant to be a modest romance based on a book by Fannie Hurst, and to serve as a vehicle for Priscilla Lane. Michael Curtiz was assigned to direct it while things were being sorted out on for the much more hyped “Angels with Dirty Faces”. So pretty much everyone was surprised when “Four Daughters” turned out to be a much more dramatic and emotional film than anyone expected, became a huge box office hit, and was nominated for five Academy Awards.

The film revolves around a family of musicians: dad Adam (Claude Rains) and his four daughters, Emma (Gale Page), Thea (Lola Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), and Ann (Priscilla Lane). Each daughter has a different concept of romance and what she wants out of her life. Things get complicated when composer Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) becomes a tenant in their home and each sister develops feelings for him. But as if that wasn’t enough, the story throws another curveball with the introduction of another boarder, Felix’s friend, the grudging Mickey Borden (John Garfield). Both men end up vying for Ann’s hand.

Ann’s (Priscilla Lane) memorable first encounter with Mickey (John Garfield)

“Four Daughters” is notable for being the film debut of John Garfield. He sets up his screen persona with this role, giving an outstanding first performance as Borden, who gradually alters as he gets to know Ann but can’t entirely change his ways. His sequences are the film’s most memorable, and the entire tone of the movie becomes much darker when his character is introduced.

The entire cast is great too, with Rains imbuing Adam with tons of personality despite not having as much screen time as the daughters do. Priscilla Lane has great chemistry with both Lynn and Garfield as the carefree Ann. It’s a testament to the richness of the characters that, when watching the film, it’s impossible not to be as torn as Ann is regarding which one she should marry.

Curtiz achieved something almost unheard of with this movie. In 1938 he was nominated for two Best Director Academy Awards, for both “Four Daughters” and “Angels with Dirty Faces”. He lost to Frank Capra, but no other director replicated this feat until the year 2000.

The success of “Four Daughters” also resulted in two sequels, 1939’s “Four Wives” and 1941’s “Four Mothers,” in which most of the original cast reprised their roles.  In 1954 “Four Daughters” received a musical remake titled “Young at Heart” starring Doris Day, with Frank Sinatra in the Garfield role.

WHERE TO WATCH: You can watch “Four Daughters” online here, and can also rent it from Amazon Prime Video.

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