Sunday, February 04, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Big City (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Margaret O'Brien and a deep cast star in BIG CITY (1948), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Last September I reviewed the Archive's O'Brien releases LOST ANGEL (1943) and MUSIC FOR MILLIONS (1944), and I enjoyed those so much I wanted to see more of her films.

Although my records indicate I saw BIG CITY as a kid in the '70s, I had no memory of it. In my reading over the years, I've gleaned the impression that BIG CITY is generally not thought of that highly among O'Brien's films, so it came as a pleasant surprise that I very much enjoyed it.

O'Brien plays Midge, an orphaned baby who is part of an unusual adoption arrangement. Midge was adopted by the three men who found her: David (Danny Thomas), a Jewish cantor; Philip (Robert Preston), a Protestant minister; and Patrick (George Murphy), an Irish Catholic cop. Midge lives with David and his mother (Lotte Lehman), but all three men play an integral role in her upbringing.

According to the terms of the adoption approved by the judge (Edward Arnold), whichever of the men who marries first will take Midge into his home and he and his wife will be her official parents. This plan is challenged when Patrick marries "Shoo-Shoo" (Betty Garrett), a saloon singer the other two men feel is an inappropriate influence on Midge.

Meanwhile David and Philip both have a crush on Midge's beautiful teacher (Karin Booth).

Sure, you could possibly say it's MGM hokum, but who did this type of movie better than MGM? It's enjoyable in so many ways, including the performances of the appealing cast and the diverse musical score. Music-wise you've got everything from Lehman to Garrett and the Page Cavanaugh Trio to Thomas singing gorgeous Jewish music; I'd forgotten what a lovely voice he had.

This was Garrett's film debut, noted in the opening credits ("Introducing to the screen..."). She's been a special favorite of mine since I saw her one-woman show at the Westwood Playhouse in the '70s. Her performance is quite touching, particularly her courtroom speech.

The movie reunited O'Brien with past costars Butch Jenkins (OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES), Thomas and Booth (THE UNFINISHED DANCE), and Murphy (TENTH AVENUE ANGEL). She was getting older, about 10 when this was filmed, but she's still cute and charming as ever.

Given that one of the film's themes is contributing to the community, it's interesting to contemplate what two of the film's leading men accomplished outside their notable show business careers. Murphy would later become a United States Senator from California, while Thomas founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

BIG CITY was directed by Norman Taurog and filmed by Robert Surtees. It runs 103 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD print looks and sounds fine, a nice crisp 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger mel said...

Your remark about Danny Thomas’ singing brought to mind something that has been troubling me lately.

Moviegoers now complain bitterly about producers who give roles for characters of certain ethnicity to actors of a different ethnicity, whining that “it’s not politically correct” and that they should have endeavoured to search for actors who matched the characters.

What a lot of nonsense.

Let’s take a look at Danny Thomas. Although he indeed looked Jewish, he was in fact a practicing Roman Catholic. He played the eponymous (Jewish) The Jazz Singer (1952), and in The Big City, as a cantor, he sang Kol Nidrei and Shalom Aleichem beautifully. I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone complaining about that.

What a strange world we are living in today, where the politically correct movement seems to have taken over...

1:06 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Big City came along a little late -- had it been produced some fifteen years earlier, no doubt in my mind, it would have been at least a mild success.

Mel, we are in an age of mindless revolution. Instead of t he guillotine they destroy you online, but I am on your side. And that should not be construed as another Me Too moment.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

A very good point, Mel.

While I think we all agree it's great to see actors who might not have had casting opportunities in the past have them in this current era, the pendulum now seems to have swung so far the other direction; those who are easily outraged by casting decisions, based solely on ethnicity, forget one key thing -- it's all about *acting*, which is pretending to be you're something you're not!

Mel, I can see BIG CITY's plot perhaps having roots in some of the '30s Warner Bros. films.
Interesting thought.

Best wishes,

10:01 AM  

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