Monday, September 30, 2013

Sisters in Love with the Same Man

When the AFI Silver opened in 1938, their premier film was Four Daughters.  As part of their anniversary festival, this was one of the three films we viewed. 

The Lemps are a musical family - father Adam (Claude Rains) is a conductor, instructor, and flutist; his daughters Thea (piano, played by Lola Lane), Ann (violin, played by Priscilla Lane), Emma (harp, played by Gail Page), and Kay (vocalist, played by Rosemary Lane) accompany him on classical recitals in their home; their audience is their Aunt Etta (May Robson).  Their home is a happy one, and the girls have a busy social life.  Emma has a beau, Ernest (Dick Foran), and Thea has just met someone (Frank McHugh as Ben Crowley).  Young Ann, however, has no interest in a beau; she has decided to be an "old maid", and live always with her beloved sister Emma.  But that is before Felix Dietz (Jeffrey Lynn), a young composer enters their lives.  In short order, all four girls are smitten with the young man.  He however, only has eyes for Ann.  And while it seems there will be a happy ending for Felix and Ann, the arrival of  Mickey Bordon (John Garfield), and Ann's realization that Emma loves Felix will have devastating results.   

From a novel by Fannie Hurst, Four Daughters is certainly a woman's picture in the traditional sense.  In some sense, the men (Felix, Ernest, Ben) are merely objects for the women to discuss.  But the character of Mickey, as portrayed by Garfield is far more than that.  Garfield's intensity (which he brought to all of his film roles), makes Mickey a force of nature that blows violently into the lives of all around him.  Mickey is both selfish and caring at the same time.  He loves Ann passionately, is able to see the pain of those around him (he and Aunt Etta are the only ones that realize how deeply Emma cares for Felix), but he is also willing to destroy the lives of Ann and Felix so he can have Ann. 

The Lane Sisters and Gail Page are flawless as the Lemp girls.  Their love for one another and for the family unit is true - watch the scene as the girls rummage through each other's closets to compile an appropriate date outfit.  Ann's decision to be with Mickey rather than Felix is as much about sparing Emma pain, as it is her need to bring some joy into Mickey's life.  We quickly realize that Ann DOES love Mickey - not in the way she does Felix; she feels an almost motherly responsibility for Mickey that she cannot escape. Ann's extreme youth is further demonstrated by her decisions.  She is unable to differentiate between love of a spouse and love of family.  Mickey should be family, but Ann can't quite see it.

The film resulted in two sequels, Four Wives and Four Mothers, as well as a companion film, Daughter's Courageous.  While neither is quite as powerful as the first film, the chemistry among the Lemp family is emphasized in this continuing series.  The impact of Garfield as a performer is highlighted in this clip.  Enjoy!


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