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Four Wives (1939)

A few months after the events of 1938’s Four Daughters, things are as lively as ever at the Lemp household.  All of Adam Lemp’s (Claude Rains) daughters all come back home to help out with his spring cleaning, but they all have other things on their mind.  Emma (Gale Page) thinks she might be expecting her first child and Ann (Priscilla Lane) is now engaged to Felix (Jeffrey Lynn), who has just returned from a concert tour.  However, the mood changes when Emma finds out she isn’t pregnant and will probably never have children.  Ann, on the other hand, is pregnant, but Felix isn’t the father — her recently deceased husband Mickey Borden (John Garfield, footage of him from Four Daughters is used in flashbacks) is.

Everyone thought Ann had moved on from Mickey, including Ann herself, but news of her pregnancy has stirred up a lot of feelings in Ann.  All she can do is think about Mickey and his music.  She can’t stop feeling guilty about the tragic nature of Mickey’s life.  Kay (Rosemary Lane) is worried about her sister and asks Doctor Clint Forrest, Jr. (Eddie Albert) to have dinner at the Lemps’ home that night so he can give Ann some advice.  Well, that and Kay wants to date Clint.  Clint’s best advice to Ann is to move on with her life and not let this tie her to the past.  She takes his advice to heart and decides to quietly elope with Felix.

Thea (Lola Lane) hosts a dinner party for the newlyweds, but also has some news of her own  — she will be adopting a baby!  Even though Ann wants to move on with her life, it’s really hard for her when Felix decides to finish an unfinished piece of music Mickey had written and she breaks down during the party.  The ghost of Mickey continues to come between Ann and Felix, and they get into a big fight just before Felix is to leave on another tour.  Just as he’s about to leave, Ann goes to the train station to stop him, but not only does she miss his train, she starts to go into premature labor.

Four Daughters was one of my favorite discoveries during last year’s Blogging Under the Stars, so naturally, I was very eager to see Four Wives this year.  Four Wives wasn’t quite as good as Four Daughters, but it is a pretty decent sequel nonetheless.  Claude Rains was still perfect as the Lemp family patriarch, but Priscilla Lane proves to be the strongest link in Four Wives.  I’ve really been becoming a big fan of Priscilla Lane lately and her performance here makes me think she is very underrated as an actress.  The strength of her performance really carried the movie through a sometimes-weak screenplay.  Ann’s storyline is pretty compelling, but the subplot about Thea’s adoption process was completely ridiculous and pushed my ability to suspend disbelief to its breaking point.  Plus it is a bit heavy-handed on the sentiment.  But, even for its faults, I still really enjoyed the movie and I’m looking forward to seeing the other sequel Four Mothers sometime.  It’s a really enjoyable film series, I’m not sure why it isn’t better remembered today.

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Four Daughters (1938)

The Lemp family is a family of musicians.  Adam (Claude Rains), the family patriarch, is a music professor and his daughters Emma (Gale Page), Ann (Priscilla Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), and Thea (Lola Lane) are all talented musicians as well.  But despite all the talent the daughters have, Kay is the only one truly interested in pursing a career in music.  Thea has her sights on marrying Ben Crowley, who she is only marrying for his money.  She swears up and down that marrying for love is overrated, but we soon see that she’s having a hard time making herself believe that.  Emma has been seeing a guy named Ernest, but doesn’t appear to be in any rush to get married.  Then there’s Ann, who just doesn’t get the appeal of marriage and makes a pact with Emma that neither of them will ever get married and they’ll be a couple of old maids together.

Ann starts singing a different tune when she meets Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn), a young composer who has come to town for a music competition.  All the girls in the family have a bit of a crush on Felix, but Felix and Ann quickly fall in love with each other.  Things get even stickier when Felix’s friend Mickey Borden (John Garfield) comes to town to help him work on his music.  Mickey’s a pretty rough guy, but Ann realizes he’s not a bad guy underneath it all.  She manages to break through his tough exterior and a mutual attraction builds between the two of them.  But despite her new attraction to Mickey, she accepts Felix’s marriage proposal.

When Mickey hears the news, he’s heartbroken and tries telling Ann that he thinks Emma is in love with Felix.  She doesn’t believe it at first, but on the night before their wedding, Ann spies on Emma and Felix through a window and worries that Mickey was right.  After giving it some thought, Ann decides the best thing she can do is marry Mickey instead and let Emma have Felix.  Mickey and Ann move to New York, but married life isn’t everything they thought it would be.  When they go back to the Lemp homestead for Christmas, they find Felix is also visiting for the holiday.  Ann also finds out that Emma is engaged to Ernest, not Felix and Mickey realizes that there are still feelings between Ann and Felix.  Feeling guilty for what he’s done, Mickey offers to give Felix a ride to the train station and on the way back, drives into a tree.  Mickey doesn’t survive, but a few months later, Felix comes back to start again with Ann.

Four Daughters is the kind of movie that made me glad I decided to make myself watch something new every day during Summer Under the Stars this year.  I don’t know if I would have watched it if it weren’t for this scheme, but I am so happy I did watch it.  Even though this was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it’s not a very talked about movie and that’s really too bad because it’s fantastic.  I loved the writing, it’s got plenty of drama but it’s also got just the right amount of humor.  The cast is just top-notch.  Claude Rains made the perfect patriarch, Jeffrey Lynn was totally endearing, and John Garfield was a flawless choice for the part of Mickey.  Four Daughters was actually John Garfield’s first movie and he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.  I just loved every minute of it.  If you’ve never seen it before, keep an eye out for it on TCM.  It’s one of those totally underrated gems that really delivers.