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!
January 2015 Update: There's a lovely new article on MARGIE at Film Comment by Farran Smith Nehme.