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Donna Reed made her movie debut at age 20 in MGM's The Get-Away (1941), playing the long-suffering sister of an imprisoned mobster (Dan Dailey, then billed as Dan Dailey, Jr.) who is tricked into making a jailbreak by the FBI. The agents' plan is to follow the escapee back to his old gang and make a mass arrest. Matters get complicated when the Fed who has posed as a fellow inmate (Robert Sterling) falls for the sister.
The movie is a remake of Public Hero #1 (1935), which starred Chester Morris, Joseph Calleia and, in Reed's role, Jean Arthur. The remake borrows generously from stock footage used in the earlier film. In the updated storyline, Dailey's crimes include the robbing of U.S. defense payrolls.
Reed, a beauty queen from Denison, Iowa, attended Los Angeles City College and drew the attention of Hollywood talent scouts when she was elected Campus Queen and her picture appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Three studios approached her with offers of screen tests, and she chose MGM, she later said, because it was the only one she had heard of. She tested with Van Heflin, already an established star on Broadway, winning a $75-per-week contract and her role in The Get-Away.
When The Get-Away was screened at a sneak preview in Inglewood, California prior to its release, Reed decided to attend incognito with Lou Hurtitz, a friend from college. In the biography In Search of Donna Reed by Jay Fultz (University of Iowa Press), the actress "described the experience of seeing herself on the screen: " Lou and I hung on to each other, we were so excited. I started to laugh and cry at the same time. It was the biggest thrill of my life!"
The biography also added that "the preview audience liked Donna and said so on sheets handed out in the lobby. "Miss Reed a comer," read one. Donna thought The Get-away was "a fair B" and her work satisfactory for a beginner. "I have very much to learn," she wrote to her confidante in Iowa...The most encouragement came from Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times: "Donna Reed arrives in spectacular fashion as an ingenue heroine with potentialities of a Janet Gaynor, as one remembers from her debut."
Producer: J. Walter Ruben
Director: Edward Buzzell, Richard Rosson (uncredited)
Screenplay: W.R. Burnett, Wells Root, from story by Root and J. Walter Ruben
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof, Earl K. Brent (uncredited)
Editing: James E. Newcom
Cast: Robert Sterling (Jeff Crane), Charles Winninger (Dr. Josiah Glass), Donna Reed (Maria Theresa "Terry" O'Reilly), Henry O'Neill (Warden Alcott), Dan Dailey Jr. (Sonny Black, aka "Dinky").
BW-90m. Closed captioning.
by Roger Fristoe