Sunday, July 24, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Juke Girl (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

JUKE GIRL (1942) is another in my ongoing series of reviews of older Warner Archive DVD releases.

The movie was first made available as part of the Warner Archive Collection in July 2009, shortly after the company came into being in March of that year. The film continues to be readily available today as a "manufactured on demand" disc.

JUKE GIRL stars Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan, who costarred the same year in the much better known KINGS ROW (1942).

It's a story of poor migrant workers which calls to mind not only THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) but William A. Wellman's Depression-era film WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933), with a touch of THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) on the side.

Reagan and future director Richard Whorf play Steve and Danny, who as the film begins are looking for work in Cat Tail, Florida.

Steve, whose family lost its farm, goes to work for independent farmer Nick Garcos (George Tobias), while Danny joins up with wholesaler Henry Madden (Gene Lockhart), who controls most of the local produce market. Madden does his best to put Garcos out of business, and with Steve and Danny essentially working in enemy camps, their friendship suffers.

Steve also meets Lola (Sheridan), a "juke girl" whose job at the local bar is to sing a little, dance a little, and convince the workers to spend their money on drinks. Her roommate in the local migrant shanty town is fellow employee "Murph" (Faye Emerson).

Steve wants Lola to marry him, but while she's attracted to Steve, she believes she's a poor bet for a long-term relationship and resists making things permanent.

Then there's an unexpected death and things go south for Steve and Lola in a big way...

Overall I enjoyed this Warner Bros. film, which has a top cast and an interesting story. For the most part it's a compelling watch. I did think the story went off the rails somewhat towards the end, with what was already a fairly tough story going a bit over the cliff with melodrama, but it does pull things back together in the final scenes. I liked the final fadeout.

Sheridan is always compelling as the tough, world-weary Lola; she and Reagan's idealistic charmer Steve are a pair of opposites who are interesting to watch together. The screen presence of both actors does a lot to keep the viewer interested.

Whorf (BLUES IN THE NIGHT) had a propensity to play edgy if rather colorless characters, and I've always felt that switching to directing was probably a good move for him careerwise. Emerson (DANGER SIGNAL) -- later married to Elliott Roosevelt and then Skitch Henderson -- is a striking actress who always makes an impression, though her role here is relatively small.

The cast is filled with additional familiar faces, including Alan Hale (Sr.), Howard Da Silva, Donald MacBride, Willie Best, Spencer Charters, and Fuzzy Knight.

Betty Brewer (seen below) plays a young orphan in the migrant camp, Skeeter. Her self-sufficient, optimistic character is strongly reminiscent, in both looks and personality, of the character played by Dorothy Coonan Wellman in the previously mentioned WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD. It's a bit odd, however, that Brewer's initially prominent character almost completely recedes into the background in the second half of the movie.

JUKE GIRL runs 90 minutes. It was directed by Curtis Bernhardt and filmed in black and white by Bert Glennon. The film was partly shot in nearby Buena Park, California, which I assume stood in for agricultural Florida.

The unrestored print isn't flawless, with minor speckles and wear, but it was perfectly acceptable viewing, with a strong soundtrack. The lone extra on the disc is the trailer.

For more on this film, please check out a review by Steve at Mystery File.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive DVDs may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where DVDs are sold.


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