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Two Girls and a Sailor

Two Girls and a Sailor(1944)

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teaser Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)

During World War II, Hollywood contributed to morale with a string of patriotic all-star musicals with formulaic plots. Since MGM had "more stars than there are in heaven," their all-star musicals were starrier than most. And no producer did them better than the Hungarian-born Joe Pasternak.

Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), one of the year's most profitable musicals, was a typical Pasternak extravaganza. It was a pastiche of classical piano by Jose Iturbi, the big band sounds of Harry James, Xavier Cugat's Latin rhythms, comedy from Jimmy Durante and Gracie Allen, plus assorted cameos and appealing young newcomers in the leading roles. June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven play a sister song-and-dance team who open up a servicemen's canteen filled with big-name musical acts. Along the way, they get involved with sailor Van Johnson and soldier Tom Drake, and romantic complications ensue before each girl gets the right boy. The plot was MGM's second remake of the backstage story, The Broadway Melody (1929).

June Allyson had appeared in a few film shorts in the late 1930's, but it wasn't until she had a featured role in the Broadway show Best Foot Forward (1941) that MGM signed her to a one-year contract and brought her to Hollywood to appear in the 1943 film version of that show. After six months, unimpressed studio boss Louis B. Mayer was about to drop Allyson, when producer Joe Pasternak came to her rescue. According to Allyson, Pasternak urged Mayer to look at her screen test. "Look at her eyes and listen to her voice. Don't pay attention to anything else about her. Those are distractions we can iron out." Mayer did, and was convinced. After a couple of featured roles in other films, Allyson was given one of the leads in Two Girls and a Sailor. Allyson claims in her autobiography that she was originally supposed to play the glamorous sister, but that her boyfriend (and later husband) Dick Powell told her to ask to play the plain sister, since it was a better part. It was good advice because the film made her a star.

Like Allyson, Gloria DeHaven was also being groomed for stardom though she would never become as popular. The two actresses had already appeared together in two films, Best Foot Forward and Thousands Cheer (1943). But they were similar types, and whether it was the roles they played in Two Girls and a Sailor, or some indefinable quality, most critics agreed with Bosley Crowther in the New York Times that "It's a tossup to which is the lovelier girl. But since Miss Allyson is made the more appealing - and makes herself so - she deserved the favored nod."

Van Johnson, a former chorus boy who had also been in Best Foot Forward on Broadway, was the studio's newest leading man, having just scored a big hit in A Guy Named Joe (1943). With Two Girls and a Sailor, he began an on-screen romance with June Allyson which would last through five films. They were the ideal couple, the boy next door and the girl next door. Nearly 60 years later, Johnson and Allyson, along with fellow MGM alumna Gloria DeHaven, remain close friends. And Two Girls and a Sailor remains a delightful (and for all its star power, unpretentious) time capsule of the top musical entertainment of the era.

Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Joe Pasternak
Screenplay: Richard Connell, Gladys Lehman
Editor: George Boemler
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Costume Design: Irene, Kay Dean
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse
Musical Director: Georgie Stoll
Principal Cast: Van Johnson (John Brown III), June Allyson (Patsy Deyo), Gloria DeHaven (Jean Deyo), Jimmy Durante (Billy Kipp), Tom Drake (Frank Miller), Henry Stephenson (John Brown I), Henry O'Neill (John Brown II).
BW-125m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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