This post is in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by The Moviola’s very own Jill Blake, and by Michael Nazarewycz and his website Scribe Hard on Film, which today is honoring the beautiful Jeanne Craine.
Henry King’s 1946 nostalgic slice of Americana, Margie, is the film equivalent to processed sugars: there’s little nutritional value, but dammit all, does it ever hit the spot.
An ode to the good ol’ days of yesteryear, this sentimental frolic is light on just about everything: plot, substance, dialogue, you name it. Pure escapist fluff that was sugary even in 1946, which makes it especially saccharine now, Margie is a film so sweet it may prove habit-forming. (At least, it has for me.) Taking place in the good old days of pre-Depression America, and filmed during the good old days of the studio system, it is a schoolgirl fairytale that puts even Disney to shame. Set to a jaunty, toe-taping 1920s jazz soundtrack, filmed in dreamy Technicolor, with a reliable cast of colorful characters, Margie requires a complete disconnect with reality in order to enjoy it—and once you let go, it’s a delightful ride.
(Warning: MAJOR Chick Flick Ahead)
We meet Margie (Jeanne Crain) as a mother, going through old boxes in the attic with her teenage daughter who is tickled at the strange fashions and music of her mother’s youth during the roaring 20s. This neatly segues back to 1928, where Margie is an ambitious academic at high school being raised by her stern, politically progressive grandmother (Esther Dale, channeling Elenor Roosevelt). Her father is too busy running his business to have time for things like, you know, raising his own daughter. Her best friend is the slightly tarty, popular blonde Marybelle (Barbara Lawrencey), who goes around with the slightly douchey, raccoon-coat wearing “Johnnykins” (Conrad Janis) who Margie has a terrific yen for—that is until Mr. Fontayne (Glenn Langan), a French teacher direct from Central Casting, comes to town. Needless to say, every girl in school is hot for teacher, especially Margie who becomes his favorite student. (Which is more than slightly annoying to the jealous Marybelle.) To make a long story short, a comedy of errors ensues—thanks largely in part to elasticity issues with Margie’s bloomers (don’t ask)—culminating at the big High School prom where it becomes clear that Margie’s feelings for Mr. Fontayne are far from unrequited.
I must admit that Fontayne’s yen for Margie has a definite creep factor, but hey, it’s 1928 and there’s obviously no such thing as pedophilia in this make-believe world, so there’s nothing in the least bit weird about the fact that Fontayne and Margie end up getting hitched. (And I really do wish that Cornel Wilde had accepted the role of the French teacher, because to be perfectly honest, Langan is about as exciting to watch as drying paint.)
It’s simple, it’s sweet, and like those refined sugars that make it impossible to stop after just one bite, the formula at work in Margie is more or less irresistible.
So if we’re not watching Margie for complex performances, a clever plot, or rich dialogue…what are we watching it for? Well, for one thing, Jeanne Crain. She is not necessarily remembered as a great actress, which is rather unfair since Crain admirably held her own in a string of critical dramas such as Joseph Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives, Leave Her to Heaven, and an especially commendable turn in Elia Kazan’s race film Pinky. In Margie she is an engaging, highly likable heroine. Henry King musters out of her complete authenticity: Crain is 100% believable as the bookish, wide-eyed, idealistic girl-next-door. Crain totally sells the role, and she sells the movie.
The film is also a curious time capsule. Catchy jazz age standards like the titular “Margie” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” tell us the year is supposed to be 1928, but there’s no doubt for even a moment that this film is a product of postwar America, at a time when people were more than ready to forget the horrors of war, and the sweet comforts of nostalgia were more than welcome. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “we are homesick most for the places we’ve never known.” Well, that’s most certainly true of Margie which is entirely of its time and therefore offers a vision of an America that has long ceased to exist—that is, if it ever really existed in the first place.
Margie also stars Hattie McDaniel and Alan Young in his first film role and is currently unavailable on DVD. Hopefully FOX is working on that!