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Janie

Janie(1944)

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teaser Janie (1944)

In an effort to compete with the popular family pictures being produced by MGM during the World War II era, like the Andy Hardy series, studio mogul Jack Warner charged his staff with creating a wholesome entertainment which would incorporate patriotism, small-town Americana and romance into an audience-pleasing film. The result was Janie (1944), a light romantic comedy about a 16-year-old year who decided to support the war effort by opening her home to every enlisted man stationed nearby.

A previous hit on the Broadway stage, Janie was similar in some ways to Four Daughters (1938), with its middle-class setting and numerous romances. But the accent was on humor in Janie with the central premise of adolescent girls developing crushes on visiting soldiers being treated in a charmingly naive way, devoid of any lewd suggestiveness. If anything, Janie certainly depicted the extreme reversal of author J.D. Salinger's take on Forties youth, remaining for its fans a fascinating and entertaining document of that era's innocence.

Determined to find an actress with the same youthful, all-American appeal of Judy Garland and Lana Turner (in the Andy Hardy series), Warner cast the little known Joyce Reynolds as Janie, but wisely surrounded her with such beloved character actors as Edward Arnold, Alan Hale, Robert Benchley and Hattie McDaniel - the latter particularly exuberant during the production when, at 49, the veteran character actress announced she was pregnant (sadly, her condition would soon be revealed as a false pregnancy). Hardcore movie buffs should take special delight in the early appearances of B-Western icon Sunset Carson (as a sergeant), singer Andy Williams (with his brothers) providing entertainment at a party scene, and, very briefly, the original Mickey Mouse Club's host Jimmie Dodd. In addition, former screen child stars Jackie Moran and Ann Gillis were also tossed into the package while newcomer Robert Hutton was signed as Reynolds "true" romantic interest. Best of all, Michael Curtiz, one of Warner Brothers' most reliable directors, was tapped to helm the project and he had just recently completed Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and Casablanca (1942). He had also scored a hit with the aforementioned Four Daughters.

Under Curtiz's direction, Janie became one of Warner's biggest hits of 1944 (grossing nearly two million dollars domestically!), and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Editing (by Owen Marks); the award would go instead to the lavish Technicolor biography, Wilson). Pleased with Janie's success, Warner reassembled most of the cast for the inevitable follow-up, Janie Gets Married (1946), but replaced the engaging Reynolds with the studio's favorite all-American girl, Joan Leslie. The result paled next to its predecessor and Reynolds went on to appear in Wallflower (1948), a tired retread of the Janie formula (which also re-cast Edward Arnold and Robert Hutton in similar roles). The actress concluded her Warners tenure the following year with Always Together (once more opposite Hutton), appearing not as Janie, but as a character named Jane!

As is often the case in Hollywood, Paramount, searching for a similar property to Janie, optioned Dear Ruth(1947), another Broadway comedy, and made it into a film starring William Holden and Joan Caulfield. This dose of deja vu was further sweetened by the casting of Arnold in essentially the same role of the flustered father. It went through the roof, siring two sequels, and, presumably, much Warner wrath. It also proved to be too much for the author J.D. Salinger, who, in the final process of assembling his notes for what would become one of the most influential novels of the 20th century - Catcher in the Rye - sardonically eyed Ruth's marquee - vengefully jotting down the last names of its two leads.

Producer: Alex Gottlieb
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, Agnes Christine Johnston
Based on the play by Josephine Bentham and Herschel V. Williams, Jr.Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editing: Owen Marks
Music: Heinz Roemheld, Franz Waxman, Sammy Cahn, Lee David, Jule Styne
Cast: Joyce Reynolds (Janie Conway), Robert Hutton (Pvt. Dick Lawrence), Edward Arnold (Charles Conway), Ann Harding (Lucille Conway), Robert Benchley (John Van Brunt), Alan Hale (Reardon).
BW-103m. Closed captioning.

by Mel Neuhaus

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