One recent rainy/chilly Sunday afternoon, I sat down on the couch and made the decision as to what movie I should watch on the DVR. Well, I ended up choosing a black & white romance that I had never heard of before taping it on TCM.
Four Daughters (1938) was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct some of the biggest movies of all time, including Casablanca (1942), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), and White Christmas (1954). The movie stars three of the four Lane Sisters (Priscilla, Lola, and Rosemary) and Gale Page as the Lemp sisters. The Lemp girls are the daughters of Adam Lemp (Claude Raines), a serious but loving father who is the dean of the Briarwood Music Foundation. They live with Adam’s witty sister, Etta (May Robson).
Adam’s daughters inherited his talent and love for music and their house is rarely silent because of it. Along with the girls’ zest for music, they have men on their brains.
The first to be formally courted is Thea (Lola Lane). Thea is one of the sisters who appears not to be interested in letting romance come in the way of a good marriage. She catches the eye of Mr. Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh), a well-meaning older man well on his way to making good money. What Thea wants in life is stability and she knows she can get it in marrying Mr. Crowley.
The eldest daughter, Emma (Gale Page), knows that kind and sensitive neighbor Ernest (Dick Foran) is in love with her, but she doesn’t really feel the same about him. Ernest works as a florist and often makes a detour to personally give her a bouquet of flowers at her doorstep.
Youngest daughter, Ann (Priscilla Lane), not interested in getting married, vows to Emma that they will become old maids together. Soon after making her vow, a young man named Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) makes his way to the neighborhood. Felix, a composer of popular music, is the son of one of Adam’s old friends. He is cute, charming, and knows how to craft a witty sentence. He even bewitches Aunt Etta (their interactions are adorable). The Lemp family take him in as a border, where he continues his work in music. Felix, being the charming man that he is, accidentally leads on all of the daughters. (That’s not sarcasm; he sincerely doesn’t mean it.) Ann is the one who truly loves him, but her sisters also temporarily fall under his spell.
Kay (Rosemary Lane) is the only daughter who takes a different path. As the most talented daughter, she has been offered a scholarship for a music school but has not decided if she wants to attend or not.
Enter Mickey Borden (John Garfield, in his first movie role). Mickey is a cynical orchestral arranger who believes that everything bad that has happened to him in life has been dealt by fate and that there’s no getting around his misfortunes. Ann makes an effort to cheer him up and look at life more lightheartedly. Through this, Mickey falls for her.
At the same time, Felix has been in love with her and proposes marriage to her. Will she choose one or the other or neither…?
So, yeah, things begin to get tangled up, the girls get jumbled up in their feelings, and feelings get hurt. A tragedy occurs near the end of the movie, but overall it’s a sweet and lighthearted story.
Four Daughters was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actor in a Supporting Role for John Garfield’s performance. Claude Raines gives a good performance as always, but his part is overshadowed by most of the other characters. Priscilla Lane is a darling and plays the part of the optimistic kid sister well. Besides P.L., Jeffrey Lynn’s character was my favorite. I see why all of the sisters fell for him. The movie isn’t the greatest, but I really did enjoy it. Because of its sentimentality and lovely winter scenes, I’d be okay with watching it around Christmas every year. Oh, and I’ll definitely be watching the sequel, Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941). More to come on those.
RATING (out of four): ★★★