Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Margie (1946): The Roaring 20's, High School Style

When studio heads at 20th Century-Fox cast Jeanne Crain in State Fair and Leave Her to Heaven in 1945, they were continuing a two year process of grooming the actress for stardom. At 20 years-old, the former beauty queen was making a big splash at Fox and early in 1946 she began production of the first film she would carry on her name alone, Margie. It was enough to garner her, and the film, a Life magazine cover later that year (above).

Margie is an utterly charming period piece which pays homage to the Roaring Twenties in small town America. References are made to flag pole sitting, gold fish eating and raccoon skin coats, all set to background music via Rudy Vallee, who according to an older Margie, relaying stories of her youth to her teenaged daughter, "was the Frank Sinatra of his day." Margie MacDuff is a naive, socially awkward, painfully shy (and quite pretty, though strangely unaware of it) Ohio teen, coming of age in the 1920's. Shot in glorious crayon coated Technicolor, the story chronicles Margie's angst regarding high school, boys and the senior prom. Although not technically a musical, the film is scattered with great songs of the era, used as background or sung in a way to set the mood, not as mere performance.

Crain is lovely as the title character. The Cinderella story projects her for more than three quarters of the movie in pigtails and/or a knit stocking hat, wearing sailor suits only to blossom in the final scenes as the flower that classic film lovers know as Jeanne Crain. The actress' youth and lack of long term screen experience are evident but work in her favor as the bashful youngster. Filmed in and around Reno, director Henry King is said to have dismissed the University of Nevada co-eds hired as extras because next to Crain they looked too old to be students at Central High. He replaced them with Reno High School kids.

Rich in character and visual detail, Margie is filled with solid performances and touching vignettes, both tender and sweet as well as funny and familiar. Jeanne is supported by a host of marvelous actors, including the grumpy and frumpy Esther Dale as her no-nonsense, independent minded grandmother, a former suffragette who encourages Margie to become the first woman president of the United States. Blonde and leggy Barbara Lawrence is pretty and svelte as high school vamp Marybelle Tenner, one of "those girls" who rouges her knees and according to Margie's grandmother, uses "too much lip goo." As the high school's dime store Romeo and Marybelle's boyfriend, Johnny "Johnnykins" Green, is Conrad Janis. Slim and with a full head of hair, Janis is many years away from his role as Pam Dawber's father on the 70's sitcom "Mork and Mindy." Also an actor with a future in television, Alan Young makes his film debut as Roy Hornsdale, Margie's nerdy, poetry reading suitor. Young would become famous as the ever suffering Wilbur on T.V.'s "Mister Ed." Rounding out the particulars are Glenn Langan and Lynn Bari. Langan, as the new French teacher oogled by all the female students, was being groomed by Fox as a new heartthrob, but his career never really jelled. Bari on the other hand, had been a staple on the Fox lot for over a decade and was actually in the last stage of her career at that studio when the film was produced. As Miss Palmer, the school librarian, she offers just the right mix of glamour and sultry (wish my librarian had looked like her).

As stated earlier, music plays an important role in Margie. Lawrence gives an enthusiastic rendition of "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You" while spooning with Johnnykins on her front porch. In a wonderful bit of direction, King cuts the scene to Margie's dimly lit attic bedroom next door, where the music can be heard drifting in through the open window (these people were constantly opening their windows with snow on the ground). As our heroine is studying, she hums the tune and the scene is allowed to take its time to unfold at a slow, leisurely pace, so the viewer is able to savor the color and comely Crain in soft, low key lighting and silhouettes.

A definite box office winner for Fox, Margie advanced Jeanne Crain's career even further. The sentimental nostalgia evoked by the film was a boon to the studio with immediate post war audiences ready for the warm fuzzies it relayed.


  1. Nice! I love the photo at the top! I haven't heard of this film before, but I certainly need to look it up now - the flapper era is my favorite after all. Well done!

  2. Dagnab it, Rupert! Just when I think I've got my rental queue finally down to something manageable, you come along with another great film that needs to be added! Oh, well...can't complain...especially since it's a movie starring the lovely Jeanne Crain. Always did have a sweet spot for her. Thanks for another good write up. I'm off to rearrange my queue...again.

  3. Margie is my favorite Jeanne Crain movie. Very charming with a good ensemble. Thanks for your nice post - I hope other people will be inspired to watch this and enjoy it like I do.

  4. Thank you for your post! I love this movie and hadn't thought about it for years until another classic film blog was talking about Jeanne Crain movies and, remembering it from my childhood, I suggested they look it up. I loved reading about it again.


  5. This is one of my most favorite of movies! My favorite song aside from "A Cup of Coffee.." is "April Showers"

    1. Do you know the name of the songs played at the prom scene. I know all the songs, but I can't remember the names. Bob R. (

  6. 5/16/2010. I want to see this movie again so badly. And I want my daughter and my niece and grandniece to see it. The story is such a great escape. Jeanne Crain exudes a porcelain-like femininity that veils a movie screen. Although this is not a musical genre in the truest sense, Jeanne Craine's melodious voice injects us here with some really sweet music, like "April Showers" and "A Cup of coffee, a sandwich and you. A cozy corner, a table for two." Someone please take me there again. Where is it? I have not been able to find it.

  7. I just discovered your blog, and since I am a classic-movie addict, I have decided to become a follower. Although my own blog is very feminine and revolves around home decorating, teatime, tablescaping, and other girly pursuits, I do a classic movie review every Friday because I LOVE LOVE LOVE classic movies and just HAVE to talk about them. Not very many of my readers are into the classics, so it's great to find your blog.

    I haven't seen this Jeanne Crain movie. I enjoyed her in Pinky and in Leave Her to Heaven (among others), so I'll have to look for this one.

    Have a good day!!

  8. I have been looking for this movie for quite awhile! I had forgotten the actual title, but remembered the story line and having loved it!! Today I found out the title and year of release. And found your blog!
    I love the classics. Would also love to find and watch again Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, which I enjoyed (even if you didn't like classical voices, you had to appreciate watching and listening to them!) with my mother many years ago--now they could sing!
    Thank you! Loved reading about Margie!

  9. "Margie" also sings "I'll See You In My Dreams", a wonderful song from the 1920's

  10. I am having trouble locating a title for the "Rah Rah" fight song you hear at the beginning of the ice-skating sequence. It has funny lines like "red-hot flannels." Does anyone know what it's called? Thank you. I love this movie and have watched it numerous times since its TCM premiere.

  11. Just watched this film yesterday, which I had taped off of TCM a while back. It is absolutely charming, and Jeanne looks ever-so gorgeous in it (the best-looking actress in Hollywood history, sez me). AND she even gets to show off to her fans by doing some very impressive backwards ice skating and frenetic dancing. Supposedly very popular in its day, this is most assuredly a film that deserves a new audience in the 21st century. Hello, Fox...DVD NEEDED!!!

  12. It's been a long time since I saw this movie. I know a lot of the songs, but there was a couple that I do not remember the name of although I can play them. Does anybody know the name of the songs, especially those played at the prom.

  13. I have considered this classic movie my favorite. I'm glad to see you also enjoy this actress. I saw this movie at a young age. Today's movies cannot compare to the acting seen in the classics. Where can we find and rent Margie?

  14. I recently saw this movie on TC. It is my favorite movie and I also love Jeanne Crain in this role. Where can we rent Classic movies?



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