Saturday, June 14, 2014

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Wasted on the Young

Some musical numbers remind one why some people detest musicals; here, I suspect, we have one of those.

"Youth Must Have its Fling," a gala moment from 1943's The Hard Way, showcases the many talents of Warners' house ingenue at the time, Miss Joan Leslie.  The only problem with that on a conceptual level is that whatever Miss Leslie's talents, few if any of them are musical.  She's dubbed, and she can't really dance (although, as you'll see, she nonetheless manages to have a memorable signature move).  Since she's playing a "good girl" part, she's not even showing much in the way of flesh (Orry-Kelly couldn't have covered her up more without actually adding a poncho).

Fretting offstage is Miss Ida Lupino, who manages to capture more interest in her couple of brief shots than all of Warners' musical unit could on stage.  She plays the cold, driven older sister intent on making her baby sister a star (to rescue them from their impoverished home in an industrial wasteland), and this number apparently represents the moment at which her efforts bear fruit.  With its glittering backstagers only a memory, by '43 even Warner Bros musicals were noir, and here the whole story unfolds in flashbacks explaining Lupino's suicide attempt - something unimaginable in a musical over at Fox, say.

Miss Leslie, remarkably enough, is still with us, living out what one can only hope is a contented retirement after many decades spent mostly as the wife of a successful obstetrician and as a philanthropist.  While she's worked on and off since her heyday, she never really found a niche after the War ended.  By 1950, Doris Day had taken over as Warners' good girl (the only actress this side of Shirley Temple to parlay that narrow fach into being Queen of the Lot, although that came later, at Universal), and Leslie's attempts to noir herself up were less than convincing.

Still, she had her moment, and like Joan Crawford's Jenny Stewart,* who had "that line!," she at least has that move...

* Speaking of ridiculous Hollywood invocations of Broadway stardom...


  1. I rewatched this just the other day on TCM so having seen it before was prepared for Joan's bizarre cartwheel dancing and thin singing voice.

    Ida tore into her role as if it were a banquet and she the only guest, remarkably this is the only role she was ever rewarded with any kind of major prize for, the New York Film Critics Award. While I enjoyed it the film has a major flaw and that's it representation of Joan Leslie taking the world by storm. Based on the scene above and the few other snippets forced upon the audience the best you would think she could manage was a spot in the chorus, probably back row. However the movie needs her to be a sensation for the ages, as it is Ida's Helen seems seriously misguided. The idea of Doris Day taking the part if this had been made a few years on is intriguing since her gifts would justify Ida's drive although I don't know how they would mesh as sisters.

    It's a pity that Warners didn't or weren't able to borrow one of the two actresses working at the time this was made who could have met the requirements of the role, Judy Garland or Deanna Durbin. This film is certainly better than the respective films they made in 1943 and both would have been fascinating screen partners for Lupino especially since Katie is a much darker character than she appears on the surface. It's a supporting part so that knocked them out but the picture would have really been a unique experience with either.

    One last thing, Joan's Katie is supposed to be the poor put upon sister pushed by Ida's Helen but to me she is just as bad if not worse. She travels right along while Ida mows down every obstacle in their climb to the top, looking the other way even allowing, it's suggested, Helen to prostitute herself. Then when she's wants something else, Dennis Morgan(in his career best performance) who's pretty much a bastard himself until almost the end, she pretends ignorance and leaves Helen flat.

    1. I have to say I haven't seen it, yet, but it's on the list. Not unusually for the time, the script apparently went through several editions, each one taking it further from its supposed inspiration (Ginger Rogers and her remarkable mother, Lela). One point, it was supposed to be a vehicle for Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant!

      Once Ida was on board, it was slipping slightly B-ward, a state of affairs not helped, as you note, by the studio not having anyone on contract (or it seems otherwise available) suitable for the Good Sister part assayed at last by Leslie (who was still a minor and had to spend four hours a day in studio school!).

      According to one biography, Lupino more or less fell apart during filming (in part because of the death of her father), and much of the tension and anxiety she brought to her role was very real.

      One wonders what Miss Leslie herself remembers of it - I suppose she's the last one around who could tell us anything at all.

    2. It would be fascinating to hear her thoughts on it. I don't mean to suggest that Joan is bad in the film. The acting portion of her performance is just fine and she can't be blamed that she didn't possess the musical skill required but that doesn't help while you're watching her cartwheel herself across a stage.

      I had read that it had been proposed for both Rosalind Russell and Olivia de Havilland but had never hear that Cary was being considered as the male lead. All would have been wonderful I'm sure but Ida is amazing so at least they got that right. Her performance in The Man I Love is my favorite of her work but this is without question one of her top performances.