Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: That Hagen Girl (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Earlier this year the Warner Archive released a trio of 1940s Shirley Temple films. Two of those titles, KATHLEEN (1941) and HONEYMOON (1947), have previously been reviewed here, with the third, ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE (1949), still to come.

Having enjoyed two of these films, I also became interested in checking out a Temple film released by the Archive a while back, THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947). THAT HAGEN GIRL is a rather odd but absorbing film with a very interesting cast including Ronald Reagan, Rory Calhoun, and Lois Maxwell (aka "Moneypenny"). I enjoyed it.

Shirley plays Mary Hagen, brought up by Minta and Jim Hagen (Dorothy Peterson and Charles Kemper) in the small town of Jordan, Ohio. Mary is lovely, sweet, and smart, but she's also the subject of gossip because Mrs. Hagen came home with Mary after visiting her sister in Chicago. It's widely suspected that Mary is the illegitimate daughter of attorney Tom Bates (Reagan), who left town shortly after Mary was born, and wealthy Grace Gately (Kyle MacDonnell).

Although the gossips do their best to make Mary's life unpleasant, she's surrounded by supportive friends including her boyfriend Ken (Calhoun), her best friend Sharon (the always-bubbly Jean Porter), and her English teacher, Miss Kane (Maxwell).

However, when Tom returns to town after an absence of 18 years, things start to go downhill for Mary quickly; the school board doesn't think it's appropriate for Mary to be the star of ROMEO AND JULIET, Ken's parents pressure him to marry a girl from the "right kind of family," Christine Delaney (Penny Edwards), instead of Mary, and Mary's mother becomes seriously ill. It's a very difficult time in the life of a young girl, but Tom and Miss Kane do their best to see Mary through the hardships.

This was a rather fascinating film, in part as the stigma of possible illegitimacy is hard to fathom in this day and age, when the child obviously has nothing to do with her parentage. The movie is also a wild ride simply in terms of how the story evolves; it seems to be going one direction and then goes another. The film may not always know completely what story it wants to tell, but it's never dull.

The movie reminds me a bit of GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936), when teacher Herbert Marshall seemed well-matched with peer Ruth Chatterton but ended up with young student Simone Simon. Here Temple and Calhoun seem well-matched agewise, with Maxwell and Reagan also being an appealing, age-appropriate pairing, but next thing you know the writers find excuses to break up both couples -- and it turns out Tom's been carrying a torch for Mary. Obviously, he isn't her father!

Temple is lovely as Mary, and Maxwell is particularly charming as her forthright teacher. This was one of the Canadian actress's very first films. Reagan and Calhoun are both handsome, and Reagan is particularly winning as a man not given to caring what others think, unless it means Mary will be hurt.

In addition to the cast members listed above, there are other interesting faces on hand including Conrad Janis (MORK AND MINDY), who had played a supporting role in another "coming of age" film, MARGIE (1946), the previous year. Harry Davenport has a single scene as Tom's mentor. Nella Walker, Moroni Olsen, Douglas Kennedy, Barbara Brown, Frank Conroy, and Kathryn Card are also in the cast.

THAT HAGEN GIRL was directed by Peter Godfrey, who later directed Reagan in THE GIRL FROM JONES BEACH (1949). It was filmed in black and white by Karl Freund. Charles Hoffman's screenplay was based on a novel by Edith Roberts. The film runs 83 minutes.

For the most part THAT HAGEN GIRL is a good print, although there are a couple brief scenes which are darker or spotted. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.

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