Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tonight's Movie: You Were Meant for Me (1948)

Chuck Arnold (Dan Dailey) is the leader of a successful dance band touring the Midwest in the late '20s. One night at a dance the older, more worldly Chuck meets sweet young Peggy Mayhew (Jeanne Crain), and the two instantly discover they share a combustible chemistry. Within 24 hours, Chuck convinces Peggy that YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME and they marry.

Chuck and Peggy both work to adapt to life as a married couple on the road with the band. All goes well...until the stock market crashes and the band's bookings dry up just when they're on the verge of big-time success in New York. Chuck and Peggy move in with her parents, but Chuck struggles to adapt to a 9-to-5 life, while dreaming of reviving his musical career.

This is a very enjoyable movie. The first half hour of the film is a fairly close, but uncredited, remake of an earlier Fox film, ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942). After Chuck and Peggy marry, the plot then detours into fresh territory -- there are no other "orchestra wives" in this film -- examining the impact of the stock market crash on Chuck's career; a few plot incidents in the last hour of the film continue to echo ORCHESTRA WIVES, particularly the final scene. The film loses a bit of its fizz in the second half, as Chuck and Peggy struggle financially, but all in all it's a very good film.

Dailey and Crain are excellent, and their early romantic scenes are quite electric. Crain aptly conveys Peggy's youth and inexperience, as she nervously primps when called to the stage at the dance or attempts to take a drink because she thinks that's what Chuck will expect from a date. Peggy's also got nerve, whether it's taking the bus to Peoria hoping to see Chuck the night after they first meet, eloping, or attempting to get him to wake up to financial reality. This is a very strong performance by Crain which is up there with her best work in films like STATE FAIR (1945), MARGIE (1946), and APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948).

Dailey is likewise very good as Chuck, who is set in his ways but learns what it means to care for another person, rather than focusing solely on his career. Dailey always seems to have a hint of a dark undercurrent, which works well with his character. He has the opportunity to do some singing and dancing, and he and Crain have a very cute routine to "Ain't She Sweet" late in the film.

Oscar Levant works hard to steal the movie, and nearly succeeds. He plays the band's pianist-manager who is initially wary of Crain but comes to respect and care for her. Levant even sneaks in a bit of Gershwin's CONCERTO IN F in a late-night hotel scene. Levant's role appears to have been loosely based on Cesar Romero's role as the pianist in ORCHESTRA WIVES.

Barbara Lawrence, a very interesting actress whose career should have gone further, is sadly underutilized in a handful of scenes as Crain's hometown friend. Herbert Anderson (DENNIS THE MENACE) plays Lawrence's beau.

Crain's parents are played by Selena Royle and Percy Kilbride. Kilbride appeared in this movie the year after he first played Pa Kettle, in THE EGG AND I (1947); in 1949 he returned to the role in MA AND PA KETTLE. A Kettle film was released every year through 1955.

My only real criticism of the film is that it ends a bit abruptly, and Oscar Levant's final scene, while quite funny, is also baffling. A bit more exposition would have been a fine thing.

YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It was shot in black and white and runs 92 minutes.

This film can be seen periodically on Fox Movie Channel. It has not had a video or DVD release.

Fans of Crain, Dailey, or '40s Fox musicals will greatly enjoy YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME.

2012 Update: YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME is now available on DVD-R from Fox Cinema Archives.


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