Friday, May 29, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Gentle Annie (1944)

GENTLE ANNIE is an unexpectedly lovely little film about a family of kindhearted train robbers. Marjorie Main, in the film's title role, is the head of the clan, and her sons are played by Henry (Harry) Morgan and Paul Langton.

James Craig plays a federal marshal searching for the train robbers who finds himself torn between duty and friendship. Donna Reed plays a homeless waitress taken in by Annie's family who is attracted to the marshal.

The performances are uniformly excellent. I particularly liked Morgan's understated performance as the devoted son who also happens to be a train robber and who proves to have his own unique kind of honor. The entire cast is solid.

James Craig has been somewhat overlooked for the fine work he did in MGM's superb mid-'40s Americana films THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). He also appeared to good effect in LOST ANGEL (1943) and LITTLE MISTER JIM (1946). Craig notably appeared in KITTY FOYLE (1940) prior to signing at MGM. Although his acting career stretched over 35 years, his time at the top of the profession was relatively brief.

IMDb has the interesting information that GENTLE ANNIE began filming in 1942 with Robert Taylor and Susan Peters in the leads, and James Craig playing a different role. The cast also included Van Johnson and Spring Byington. Filming was suspended when director W.S. Van Dyke became ill and the movie was ultimately recast. As much as I liked the finished product, I can't help wishing for an alternate universe where we could see how the movie would have turned out with the excellent original cast!

GENTLE ANNIE runs 80 minutes. It was shot in black and white. IMDb says that some of the exteriors were filmed in Agoura, California. MGM's Western street is also used in a number of exterior scenes.

The film was based on a book by McKinlay Kantor, whose writing also inspired the films HAPPY LAND (1943), THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947), and the great postwar classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).

The movie was directed by Andrew Marton, who filmed several Stewart Granger pictures including one of the great adventure movies of all time, KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), as well as THE WILD NORTH (1952) and GREEN FIRE (1954). Martin was one of the directors on THE LONGEST DAY (1962) and worked on many outdoor adventure TV series including SEA HUNT, FLIPPER, and DAKTARI.

GENTLE ANNIE has not had a DVD or video release, but it is part of the library at Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen at TCM here.

You can read more about the film at Screen Savers, where John Di Leo describes the film as having "a surprising depth of feeling."

GENTLE ANNIE is an unusual little movie which is worth taking the time to check out.


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