Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Repost: Tonight's Movie: Margie (1946)

Note: This Christmas Eve Turner Classic Movies has a special gift for classic film fans. Tucked amidst the holiday films, Robert Osborne's Christmas Eve Picks include the beloved MARGIE, starring Jeanne Crain. This 20th Century-Fox film has never had a video or DVD release and has long been unavailable; in fact, I've never seen a copy uninterrupted by commercials. What a wonderful surprise that TCM licensed the film and Mr. Osborne chose to showcase it on Christmas Eve! Don't miss this evocative slice of Americana, airing at 7:00 Pacific/10:00 Eastern this Saturday evening.

My 2009 review, based on a videotape recorded from local television many years ago, is below:


MARGIE is one of my very favorite Jeanne Crain movies, along with STATE FAIR (1945) and APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948). It's the charming story of an awkward teenager turning into a lovely young woman during the Roaring '20s.

Margie (Crain) lives with her maternal grandmother (Esther Dale); Margie is anxious for the attention of her widowed father (Hobart Cavanagh), who lives elsewhere in town, although she's a bit embarrassed about his profession as an undertaker. Margie is friendly with fellow student Roy (Alan Young), but she has a secret crush on her high school's new French teacher (Glenn Langan).

That's pretty much all there is to the plot of MARGIE, which is a series of vignettes somewhat in the style of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. My favorite scene, and one of the best-remembered sequences in the movie, is when Margie and her friends go ice skating. It makes the viewer wish one could step right into the scene and be a part of it.

When I was younger, I used to wish I had Margie's bedroom, with a friend next door to chat with window-to-window, and Hattie McDaniel to bring me milk and cookies as a bedtime snack. It looks so cozy!

The merest hint of a romance between teacher and student is considered scandalous today, but it's handled with restraint and seems perfectly in place for the times depicted in the film.

In his 3-1/2 star review, Steven Scheuer says the film "sustains its charm without compromising its artistry... Henry King's direction is at its best."

I think one of the things that makes MARGIE so memorable is that the pangs of awkward adolescence it depicts are at times almost painfully palpable, and those feelings transcend the time period depicted in the movie. Anyone who has ever been a teenager has probably felt like Margie at one time or another, and issues such as "fitting in" are timeless.

The film also reassures younger viewers that, for better or worse, the teenage years of joy mixed with angst are transitory and a happy future lies ahead; parents will like the way the film indirectly answers whether it's ultimately better to be the racy "popular" girl with the hot boyfriend or the shy, brainy girl who's a good student and a great debater.

The film's other strengths include the brilliant Fox color of the era, the location shooting (including at the University of Nevada at Reno) which makes the outdoor scenes look genuinely cold, and the score. While not precisely a musical, MARGIE is filled with music of the era which does a great job helping to set the mood. Louanne Hogan, who dubbed Crain's singing in the previous year's STATE FAIR, doubles again for Crain in MARGIE.

The cast includes Ann E. Todd as Margie's daughter in opening and closing scenes which frame the film. (Crain does an excellent job believably playing the older Margie.) Lynn Bari is the high school librarian, and Barbara Lawrence plays Margie's neighbor; Bari and Lawrence are always interesting actresses and they bring a little extra something to the movie. Vanessa Brown and Conrad Janis play high school students.

As noted above, MARGIE was directed by Henry King. I wrote a little more about King's career in a post on I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951). The film runs 94 minutes.

The costumes are by Kay Nelson; I love Margie's sailor dress!

Unfortunately, MARGIE is very hard to obtain, but there's always a chance it will show up on Fox Movie Channel in the future. I was able to watch a copy recorded off commercial TV many years ago. This is a film which very much deserves a DVD release.

Update: Coincidentally, today I received a copy of Doug McClelland's FORTIES FILM TALK: ORAL HISTORIES OF HOLLYWOOD which includes interviews with MARGIE cast members Vanessa Brown and Alan Young. In 1985 Conrad Janis set up a 40-year reunion which was attended by most of the MARGIE cast; the party had 1928 decor, in keeping with the film's setting, and the movie was screened.

Both Brown and Young mention their experiences shooting in Reno and filming the skating scene at Sonja Henie's ice rink. The cast members received skating lessons; I noticed while watching the film that the actors weren't faking it, but were seen in full-body shots. Young recounts that he accidentally skated into a pole but didn't break character and the shot was left in the movie!

December 2011 Update: Great news, MARGIE will be shown on Turner Classic Movies this Christmas Eve as one of "Robert Osborne's Christmas Eve Picks." Be sure to watch or record it!

8 Comments:

Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Laura, I appreciate that you have reposted your sensitive piece with the movie coming on Christmas Eve, and as I promised you recently (and even though, as I'd expect, you've gotten up a few new pieces since) I am here to back up your strong recommendation of MARGIE,
and to add a few things that might be of interest.

Actually, I don't think your regular readers need will need any extra encouragement--given what you've already said (and covered the movie beautifully in what you've said about it), I'm guessing they know to trust you on this one and already have their DVRs and VCRs set if not taking the time to actually watch on Christmas Eve, though it would be a great choice for that evening.

But I just want to emphasize that MARGIE--definitely a charming and affecting portrait of adolescence in the 20s as remembered in the character's maturity--may seem more modest than it is if simply described, no matter how well it's described. This is in fact one of the best movies ever made on every level. Captivating and delightful in its surface narrative, it is also profound, piercingly so, about what the changes in passages of one's life can really mean.

And this is also one of the most beautiful Technicolor movies ever made--in the 40s, only MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, CANYON PASSAGE, THE PIRATE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON rival it as Technicolor masterpieces in my book and MARGIE is perhaps the most beautiful in its use of color, infinitely more subtle than most in the way its used, especially in the scenes in Margie's room, which gravitate to contrasting shadows climaxing in the most dramatic moment in which she is seen in silhouette--it's just breathtaking.

Charles Clarke was the cinematographer who collaborated with director Henry King on this and it's just stunning. I have to add that I was fortunate enough to see an original Technicolor nitrate the first three times (on the big screen) and wish everyone could have had that experience. Hopefully the transfer for the TCM showing will do it some justice.

In your piece on I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN, you rightly acknowledge that King is an underrated director today. I agree with that--for me, he is the most underrated of all American directors now, and hopefully will be rediscovered.

MARGIE is his greatest film for me of the many I've seen and he does have his share of other great films. So it's interesting to know how he came to direct it, something I heard him talk about when he came to the Los Angeles County Museum (Fox series) in the early 70s. King was then especially a preferred director of Zanuck and given big films to direct like SONG OF BERNADETTE and WILSON. He was not assigned to MARGIE--rather, Zanuck gave him the script to read, simply asking his opinion if there was enough in what he (Zanuck) felt was very slender material to even make a film at all. King, especially attracted to the relationship of Margie and her father and its resolution in a moving moment of the climax (won't give this away), told Zanuck that he (Zanuck) didn't know how great this movie could be and not only should it be made but that he, King, wanted to direct it himself. So that's how he came to make it.

As well as King's best movie, I believe this is also Jeanne Crain's best--and I know she once wrote in the Saturday Evening Post that it was her own favorite of her roles. Whether one likes her a lot or a little, there's no doubt she thrives under King's direction and is so memorable here.

(over words allowed--to be continued)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Finally, I want to share something about the 1985 MARGIE party to which you refer, which Conrad Janis organized. Because I was there for this, and can say with some pride that apparently I had something to do with it happening. I don't know exactly how it came about, but I had written a piece on MARGIE for Magill's Survey of Cinema (Series II-English Language), which was actually included on my suggestion because if you think it's not well-known enough now, it was even more forgotten then. I believe my editor Patricia King Hanson knew Conrad Janis and that's how he came to read the piece and was then inspired to set up the party (it happened on the Paramount lot and not at Fox for some reason), where he played songs from the movie with his band (though MARGIE is not a musical, it has a lot of songs and music from the period that play an important part throughout the movie). Most of the surviving cast was there--I distinictly remember Jeanne Crain, Glenn Langan, Alan Young, and Barbara Lawrence as well as Janis (not sure now about Lynn Bari). Sad to say, Henry King had died by then, but it was still a great tribute to a master director and a beautiful remembrance of a wonderful, special movie. Of course, the screening of the movie delighted everyone and the party was a joy--it was romantic and remains a vivid and special memory for me and my soon-to-be wife Linda.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, Thanks so much for these really thoughtful and informative comments on a wonderful film. I thoroughly enjoyed it and even Tweeted a fresh link to this post alerting folks to check back and read your comments. :)

I like what you write about the film's portrayal of life passages. And what a great story about how Henry King came to direct it. I wish I'd seen him at LACMA -- my parents took me there many times as I was growing up.

How extraordinary that you helped inspire and were at the reunion party!! (I would love to read the piece you'd written on MARGIE back then!) Jeanne Crain is a particular favorite of mine so seeing her would have been a particular thrill, but the entire event sounds amazing! Thank you so very much for sharing your memories of it here at my blog. I'm sure many others will enjoy reading about it!

I'm very much hoping that TCM shows a good print, as I've only seen this in faded copies.

I really wish that when we were in Reno a couple of years ago we'd visited the University of Nevada campus there, where some of the location filming for MARGIE took place. (It was also a location for Crain's APARTMENT FOR PEGGY.) I found a clipping about the Nevada premiere of MARGIE which fans may enjoy perusing.

Best wishes and thanks again,
Laura

5:55 PM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

It's sad how some films become lost in the process of becoming a staple on TV to an almost forgotten film. It was a programmer in the '60s and even early '70s, then vanished pretty much. I haven't seen it since then, it'll be interesting to catch up on it.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Thanks, Laura, for your kind reply and for calling attention to my comments in the way you did.

Of course, I would be glad to share the MARGIE piece with you sometime. I'll contact you directly at some point, or contact me--lukethedealer@juno.com

I want to use this reply to amend an oversight in the 40s Technicolor films I named. The six I named were all Hollywood--made. I consider on a par the British-made Powell & Pressburger LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, BLACK NARCISSUS (especially) and THE RED SHOES but forgot to say so. MARGIE holds its own with these as well.

I wish you could have been at the MARGIE party and met Jeanne Crain, who seemed warm and friendly and glad to be there, like all the cast members. I have to say Barbara Lawrence looked especially good and very much as she had in the film, though it was 40 years later.

I kind of envy anyone seeing MARGIE for the first time.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Let's definitely touch base on that article, Blake, I'd love to read it!

I know just what you mean about rather envying someone seeing the film for the first time. I've been known on occasion to delay watching a longed-for film just because there can be only one "first time" seeing it. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

12:56 AM  
Blogger Crista Quinn said...

Laura,
I found your blog through google, when tonight, I happened to think of the movie, Margie. I had taped it off of AMC years ago, but it wasn't a good copy. I decided to google the movie tonight to see whether it might finally be available on DVD, and ran across your reposted blog post on the movie and the announcement of it being played again tonight. Of course, I didn't discover this till midnight, when the movie just ended, and they're not replaying it. Auggh! Any chance you are able to make a dvd copy to share, or are willing to post the movie in bits and pieces over on youtube? Thanks for reading!

9:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Crista,

Welcome!

I'm so sorry to hear you missed seeing MARGIE on Christmas Eve! Please contact me by email; there is a "Contact Me" button on the upper left side of my blog page.

Happy New Year,
Laura

3:47 PM  

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