Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Four Wives (1939)

FOUR WIVES seamlessly picks up where FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) left off, depicting the lives and loves of the musical Lemp family.

Just a short time has passed since the close of the original film. The two married Lemp daughters, Thea and Emma (Lola Lane and Gale Page), are hoping to be mothers; songstress Kay (Rosemary Lane) has a crush on Clint, a nice young doctor (Eddie Albert); and the widowed youngest sister Ann (Priscilla Lane) is recovering from her short-lived marriage to troubled Mickey Borden (John Garfield, seen in flashbacks) and celebrating her (re-)engagement to her once and future true love, Felix (Jeffrey Lynn). Of course, the family will find a few surprises along the way.

I actually liked FOUR WIVES better than the Oscar-nominated original film, which was weighted down by the depressive presence of Garfield's character. In this film, Ann struggles with feeling loyal to the dead Mickey, and guilt that he's gone and she didn't love him enough, but these scenes are well balanced with lighter moments, such as Kay's courtship with the forgetful doctor. The large cast all make the most of their characters and their time on screen.

The filmmakers did a good job with continuity from the first film, making nice use of memorable bits such as swinging on the gate, Ann's bracelet, and a family joke about who cooked dinner. Unlike some sequels, which use unfamiliar actors or otherwise disappoint, the viewer has the feeling of having simply rejoined the story in progress. Unfortunately, it appears from the trailer that some of Emma's scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, which is a shame. I thought as I watched that her story was glossed over too quickly. If any outtakes survive, it would be wonderful to have them preserved along with the three films in this series on a DVD.

There are some particularly striking moments in the film. An after-dinner musical scene, with Clint joining the family circle for the first time, is achingly beautiful. And the climactic performance of "Symphonie Moderne" is quite stirring. This piece, said in the film to have been written by the late Garfield, was composed by Max Steiner. The same year FOUR WIVES was released, Steiner wrote the unforgettable score for GONE WITH THE WIND.

FOUR WIVES, like FOUR DAUGHTERS, was directed by Michael Curtiz. It runs 110 minutes.

There is one more film in the Lemp Family series, FOUR MOTHERS (1941). All of the movies are well worth the investment of time.

Loosely related films previously reviewed here at LMM: DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939) and YES, MY DARLING DAUGHTER (1939).

Update: And here's a review of FOUR MOTHERS (1941).

May 2011 Update: FOUR WIVES is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive as a single-title DVD release or as part of the Four Daughters Movie Series Collection.


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