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April Showers

April Showers(1948)

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teaser April Showers (1948)

Ann Sothern and Jack Carson star in the 1948 musical drama April Showers in which they play a vaudeville couple whose act takes off when their talented young son leaves boarding school to join them on the road. But the successful family begins to unravel, thanks to child labor laws, a shifty theatrical manager and dad's oversized ego, fueled by booze. In addition to a couple of new songs written for the film, Sothern and Carson also run through a handful of old-time standards in this adaptation of a story by ex-vaudevillian (and later historian of the genre) Joe Laurie, Jr.

Sothern had just come off a long run as MGM's "Queen of the Bs," a title earned largely through her work in the popular Maisie series. The daughter of a traveling vaudevillian herself, she occasionally made it into a big-budget picture at the studio, but her stardom was mostly confined to 10 films between 1939 and 1947 playing the role of a brassy adventuress originally intended for the late Jean Harlow. As Maisie, she ran the gamut of adventures based on whatever genre or setting happened to be most popular at the time: a retread of Harlow's Red Dust (1932), a boxing drama (with then husband Robert Sterling), as a defense plant worker during WW II, etc. But by the late 40s, the series had played itself out, and Sothern's contract was dropped by an ungrateful studio.

To top it off, the actress suffered a debilitating bout of hepatitis. This was her first picture after her illness, and although not a huge hit, Sothern fared much better in the years to come. She gave what many consider her finest screen performance in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949), enjoyed TV success with two hit series in the 1950s, and finished out her long career with a run of unglamorous but critically acclaimed character roles, the last of which, as Tisha in The Whales of August (1987), earned her the only Oscar® nomination she received during her sixty year career with close to 100 performances.

Sothern's co-star in this picture, Jack Carson, also rarely had the chance to shine in major leading roles, although he made a number of memorable supporting appearances in major films, most of them at his longtime home studio Warner Brothers. Among his best known were the henpecked Hugo Barnstead in the James Cagney comedy The Strawberry Blonde (1941), the sleazy realtor Wally Fay in Mildred Pierce (1945), and frustrated studio publicist Matt Libby in A Star Is Born (1954).

A couple other performers in this picture should be familiar. S.Z. Sakall, affectionately known as "Cuddles," made a career as the jowl-jangling, English-fracturing, easily frustrated but lovable old fellow in more than 40 Hollywood films between 1940 and his death in 1955. Before that, the Hungarian-born former song composer and comic gag writer appeared in about 60 films in his native country and primarily in Germany.

The sleazy manager who almost rips the family apart is played by Robert Alda, no stranger to this kind of screen heavy (his villainous turn as a mobster in The Man I Love, 1947, is particularly memorable). Also a former vaudevillian, he made an impressive screen debut as George Gershwin in the biopic Rhapsody in Blue (1945) but was quickly relegated to mostly supporting parts. He was the father of actor Alan Alda.

In one scene, Robert Ellis, as Sothern and Carson's young son, impersonates a midget. His voice was supplied by famed voiceover artist Mel Blanc, who created the voices for all the great Looney Tunes cartoon stars, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, and Porky Pig.

This was the fourth film directed by former actor and screenwriter James Kern. Although he helmed only four more pictures over the next 20 years or so, he enjoyed much greater success on the small screen, directing such shows as My Three Sons, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, and Ann Sothern's second TV series.

Director: James V. Kern
Producer: William Jacobs
Screenplay: Peter Milne, based on the story "Barbary Host" by Joe Laurie, Jr.
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Editing: Thomas Reilly
Original Music: Ray Heindorf, original songs by Walter Kent
Cast: Ann Sothern (June Tyme), Jack Carson (Joe Tyme), Robert Alda (Billy Shay), S.Z. Sakall (Mr. Curley), Robert Ellis (Buster Tyme).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon

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