Monday, July 06, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Banjo (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BANJO (1947) is a well-done family film released on DVD in June by the Warner Archive.

Pat (Sharyn Moffett) is being raised in an old Southern home in Georgia. Her widowed father (Lester Matthews) drinks too much, but housekeeper Aunt Lindy (Louise Beavers) lavishes attention and affection on the little girl.

When Pat's father dies suddenly, she's sent to live with her snooty Aunt Elizabeth (Jacqueline White) at her mansion in Boston. Elizabeth has recently broken up with her fiance, Dr. Bob Hartley (Walter Reed), and she's unreasonably unfeeling toward the little girl. Pat maintains a positive attitude despite her aunt's coldness, and housekeeper Harriet (Una O'Connor) gives Pat some of the affection that she should be receiving from her aunt.

Aunt Elizabeth's attitudes toward both Pat and Bob gradually improve, but Elizabeth still can't stand Pat's beloved dog Banjo and banishes him back to Georgia, an action she'll soon regret, as Pat runs away to find her dog.

I was drawn to this film as it stars Jacqueline White and was directed by Richard Fleischer, who would later team for one of my favorite movies, THE NARROW MARGIN (1952). When I saw White speak at the TCM Classic Film Festival a couple of years ago, she told a funny story about working with Fleischer on BANJO; there's a scene where the dog jumps on her, and to accomplish that there was some meat hidden in her dress!

I was a bit worried going in that there would be too much "orphaned girl parted from her dog" pathos, but the story is handled well; Pat has enough positive people in her life, including Dr. Bob, to help offset the loss of her father and the unfeeling attitudes of her aunt.

The brisk 68-minute pace also helps, as problems must be solved quickly, whether it's Aunt Elizabeth's bad attitudes or Pat running away to find her dog. I also liked the matter of fact way that characters such as Bill (Harry Harvey), the baggage clerk on the train, advise and help Pat.

The movie has some nice atmosphere in its early scenes of carefree children playing with Banjo, and I was especially touched by Louise Beavers, who breaks down in tears when little Pat is sent to Boston.

Sharyn Moffett, who plays the resilient Pat, was a fine actress who also appeared in films such as THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948). As I wrote in my post on THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO, Sharyn ultimately became an Episcopal priest. A Classic Images interview with Sharyn's brother Gregory, who was also a child actor, is available online.

The supporting cast includes Herbert Evans, Ernest Whitman, and Jason Robards Sr.

BANJO was filmed in black and white by George E. Diskant. Pat's Georgia home, incidentally, looks suspiciously like Tara -- and since Tara was built on the RKO lot and BANJO is an RKO film, I think it's safe to say that Pat lives in Scarlett O'Hara's famous former home!

The opening credits of BANJO are a bit speckled, but all in all it's a fine print. There are no extras.

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 Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Sharyn Moffett also stars in Richard Fleischer's first film (just before BANJO)--the remarkable CHILD OF DIVORCE. It's quite a stunning B movie, very unusual and dramatically riveting and beautifully handled by Fleischer. Hope it gets a DVD release if there hasn't been one yet.

10:21 PM  
Blogger John G. said...

Jacqueline White...sign me up! :-)

3:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for that recommendation, Blake! I didn't think I had that one but double-checked and what do you know, I recorded it from TCM. Will have to pull that one out. Moffett is a special actress and I'd like to see more of Fleischer's work. I'll be taking a fresh look at his THE CLAY PIGEON soon when I review the Warner Archive DVD.

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

3:25 PM  

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