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In the dark days of World War II, Americans were hungry for escapist entertainment. And nothing provided a better escape than musicals, especially nostalgic musicals. Warner Brothers' Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), a musical biography about early 20th-century entertainers Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth fit the bill admirably, in spite of the fact that the historical details were less than accurate. The real-life Bayes and Norworth were vaudeville and Broadway stars. As songwriters, their most famous collaboration was "Shine on, Harvest Moon," which they wrote and introduced in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908. They got married that same year (the second marriage for both), and divorced in 1913. Each married three more times, and Bayes died of cancer in 1928. Instead of facts, Shine On, Harvest Moon substituted a fanciful and cliched backstage story about a devoted couple's struggle to succeed in show business. Director David Butler later recalled the attitude of studio executives during the war: "Never mind the story. Just give me 8,000 feet of film."
What Shine On, Harvest Moon lacked in veracity, however, it made up in entertainment value. The musical numbers were plentiful and well performed. Like Nora Bayes herself, Ann Sheridan had an appealing contralto singing voice. But she wasn't allowed to use it in Shine On, Harvest Moon - her vocals were dubbed by Lynn Martin. Still, David Butler recalled that Sheridan's lip synching was "perfection," and that Lynn Martin's voice matched Sheridan's quite well. Dennis Morgan, an experienced musical performer, did his own singing, even though his tenor voice was nothing like Jack Norworth's. Irene Manning, playing a rival of Sheridan's, also contributed some good musical numbers, and Jack Carson and Marie Wilson were standouts in a comedy routine, "So Dumb but So Beautiful." The production cried out for technicolor, but because of wartime restrictions, the film was shot in black and white, with only the finale - the title number - shot in color. Because of the profusion of greenery in the number, critics had fun mocking it, with comments like "Warner Brothers must have traded in the script for a seed catalog."
Co-star Jack Carson was familiar with the era portrayed in the film. Early in his career, Carson was half of a vaudeville team which satirized the music of that period. A talented comedy and musical performer, Carson also proved himself in dramatic roles in such films as Mildred Pierce (1945) and A Star Is Born (1954). He and Dennis Morgan would make several "buddy" pictures together, including Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), and Two Guys from Texas (1948).
The reviews for Shine On, Harvest Moon were decidedly mixed at best. Variety's was typical, praising the musical numbers, and noting that director David Butler "gets plenty out of the cast members, despite script deficiencies." Unfortunately for the cast, many critics still remembered the real Norworth and Bayes fondly (Norworth, in fact, was still alive when the film was released, and still performed occasionally). Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was, alas, also typical: "As for the performances of Miss Sheridan and Mr. Morgan in the pseudo-biographical roles, we can only say that history does not repeat itself." But finally, enough time has now gone by that the performances in Shine On, Harvest Moon can be appreciated on their own, without any comparisons to the long-gone originals.
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Sam Hellman, Richard Weil, Francis Swann, James V. Kern, based on the story by Richard Weil
Art Direction: Charles Novi
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Costume Designer: Milo Anderson
Editor: Irene Morra
Music: Leo F. Forbstein, Music Director; Songs by Jack Norworth, Nora Bayes, and others
Cast: Ann Sheridan (Nora Bayes), Dennis Morgan (Jack Norworth), Jack Carson (The Great Georgetti), Irene Manning (Blanche Mallory), S.Z. Sakall (Poppa Karl), Marie Wilson (Margie), Robert Shayne (Dan Costello), Bob Murphy (Police Sergeant).
BW & C-113m. Closed Captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri