Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Three Hearts for Julia (1943)

THREE HEARTS FOR JULIA is a silly but agreeable romantic comedy set against the backdrop of World War II. I suspect I liked this better than some reviewers, simply because I enjoyed spending 90 minutes in the company of Melvyn Douglas, Ann Sothern, and some pleasant orchestra music.

The plot is a fresh spin on the old plotline of a couple divorcing and reuniting. Jeff Seabrook (Douglas) has spent much of his marriage to Julia (Sothern) traveling throughout Europe, chronicling the war in newspaper columns and books. Julia, the concert master of an all-female orchestra, is tired of a long-distance marriage.

When Jeff returns home from Europe anticipating a happy reunion, Julia springs the news that she wants a divorce. The rest of the movie chronicles Jeff's attempts to dispatch Julia's other suitors (Lee Bowman, Richard Ainley) and win her back.

It's all been done before, but Douglas and Sothern make the most of their roles. Sothern is stuck with a part where her character lacks sufficient motivation; her husband having a job that takes him away doesn't seem like a good reason to split up, and she's downright rude when he returns and finds a bunch of women have taken over his home. Sothern does her best to keep Julia likeable, and Douglas is fun as the frustrated husband.

Julia's desire for her own career is lightly touched on; it still resonates as an issue today. The women's orchestra is an interesting aspect of WWII, when women filled many roles for men who were away at war; the conductor (Felix Bressart), a war refugee, is sometimes frustrated by the women's multi-tasking but ultimately comes to appreciate them.

The orchestra added a fresh twist to the story which made it more interesting for me. I also enjoyed hearing various familiar pieces of music, especially the concluding folk medley. How the actresses did "faking" playing, I'm not so sure, but the MGM Orchestra made it sound good!

Look closely and you can spot Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White, leads of the 1952 film noir classic THE NARROW MARGIN, as members of the orchestra.

Another face from THE NARROW MARGIN is Jeffrey Sayre, who plays a man in the balcony at the opera; Sayre had 324 credits in bit parts over the course of four decades.

Personable Marietta Canty plays Julia and Jeff's maid, Mattie. Some viewers may remember her as Dora in DEAR RUTH (1947) and DEAR WIFE (1949) or as Delilah, the Banks family maid in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) and FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND (1952). Canty was in 40 films including SUNDAY DINNER FOR A SOLDIER (1944)and DREAMBOAT (1952); her final film was REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), after which she retired. She passed away in 1986.

The supporting cast also includes Marta Linden, Reginald Owen, Eve Whitney, and Ann Richards. Perennial butler Robert Grieg shows up for a couple brief scenes towards the end of the film.

A random comment: Why is it that so many movies show eggs stored in bowls rather than egg cartons? I've been trying to find out when cartons came into widespread use but haven't found a date yet. Melvyn Douglas pulls a bowl of eggs out of the fridge in this film, and even in films of the '50s, such as THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1953), the eggs are refrigerated in bowls. The foodie in me is wondering whether the bowls were used for asthetic reasons, simply because they were more attractive on film, or if cartons weren't used at that point in time.

This movie was directed by Richard Thorpe. It was shot in black and white.

THREE HEARTS FOR JULIA is not available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

As noted at IMDb, the TCM print is 90 minutes long. Other prints -- referenced by IMDb, Leonard Maltin, and others -- run just 83 minutes. My educated guess is that the shorter prints edit out a couple concert sequences.

The trailer is available at TCM here.


Blogger panavia999 said...

Any movie with Anne Sothern is worth at least one viewing. Egg cartons: I think eggs in a bowl makes for less business in a scene. It may reflect cinematic efficiency and aesthetics more than real life. The actor doesn't have to fuss with the flap etc. The pressed paper carton and flat was invented in the early 1900's to prevent breakage during transport and delivery. I don't know when egg cartons became a normal part of shopping and fridge storage, but back in the day when people had milk delivered, that dairy service also included other dairy products and eggs. Know any elderly people you can ask? I have chickens and ask the people to whom I give eggs to give me all their empty cartons. Sometimes they put the eggs in a bowl and return the cartons right away. Maybe people used to do things like that with dairy service?

10:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree re Sothern! :)

You make a number of good points about the egg cartons. And how wonderful you have your own source of fresh eggs!!

I've got a query in to my father, who might have some insights due to a background in the grocery business. I love learning more about daily life in the era which produced my favorite movies.

Best wishes,

10:27 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Here's some input from my father:

"I started working in a grocery store in 1951 and the markets I worked in sold eggs in cartons similar to today. I think smaller neighborhood stores might have sold them individually though from a basket on the front counter. That would need to be confirmed but it might be why they were stored in bowls in a home. There might have even been regional differences as California tended to do things 'new ways' first."

Thanks, Dad!


10:56 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

I agree with Panavia. A movie with Ann Sothern always gets my attention. She is underrated today. I have some of what used to be called "egg money" put aside for 2 boxed sets of several minor motion pictures that I have been waiting for lo, these many years: One would be all the Maisie movies and the Other would be her musicals (such as Lady Be Good, April Showers, and Words and Music). Not the best, perhaps, but charming as showcases for Sothern's independent spirit, vocal gifts, and warmth.

Re: Three Hearts for Julia
I was willing to like it and enjoyed the portions of the movie that dealt with the all girl orchestra, but had the feeling that this movie was a dry run for Music for Millions (1944). Unfortunately, Melvyn Douglas seems to have been an actor whose real appeal becomes evident to me only when he became an character actor. Starting with Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House he started to be a more adventurous actor on screen. By the time he made Hud, I Never Sang for My Father and The Candidate, the man--formerly mostly known for his comedic touch--brought such depth to his portrayals. Long story short, I didn't think he was really interested in this role in this movie, which didn't help the laggard pacing once we shifted to the domestic scenes (which wasn't the fault of the actors, but the script).

Re: Eggs
I can attest that people who live in farm country may still place their eggs in bowls. If you live near a chicken farm as I do, eggs can be purchased there in very fresh form but without cartons. We use a basket coated with soft rubber to hold the eggs on the trip home. Some people store them in used cartons. Others use bowls, though it is generally recommended to keep them in a container of some kind in the fridge. I think that many more people used to receive their eggs directly from farms in the old days and that the eggs sold in grocery stores in the mid-century period--even then, may not have had cartons all the time but may have arrived at the grocers on pallettes, or even in straw. Btw, cases of eggs still arrive on cardboard pallettes in much of the food service industry . Supermarkets, not to mention the overheated packaging industry in our country in the last part of the 20th century are also probably responsible for our now common egg cartons.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Moira,

Many thanks for all your interesting thoughts. Wouldn't Sothern boxed sets be wonderful? Incidentally, I watched LADY BE GOOD last fall and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I found your take on Melvyn Douglas of interest. I have seen him in several films over the years, including MR. BLANDINGS (he was great in the supporting role) and NINOTCHKA, but never paid particular attention to him; coincidentally I found myself watching two or three of his movies in a short time frame earlier this year, then I sought out more to take a deeper look at his career. It's been fun as he was in numerous movies that are of interest to me -- many light comedies, and even a Deanna Durbin film! I wouldn't classify him as a particularly favorite actor, but I'm enjoying catching up on his work. It's kind of interesting, too, that my younger children are quite taken with him as a comedic actor.

MUSIC FOR MILLIONS is on my list of films to watch in the future --

Thanks for you input on the eggs! (You and Panavia are fortunate to have fresh eggs so readily available!) Very much enjoy these anecdotes. I appreciate your contribution on this topic.

What a fun conversation on multiple levels. :)

Best wishes,

1:15 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

If you'd like to try more Melvyn Douglas, check him out in "The Old Dark House". One of James Whales greatest films. Terrific ensemble including Raymond Massey, Karloff, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stewart, Edward Thesiger, Eva Moore (mother of Jill Esmond, Olivier's first wife.) A great film to watch on a stormy night.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I suspect my kids in particular would love any movie with Laughton, Douglas, and Karloff all in the same film. :) Sounds like fun.

Best wishes,

6:45 PM  

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