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Hattie McDaniel was back in uniform, not as a servicewoman but as a domestic, in this 1946 sequel to the popular wartime comedy Janie (1944). As leading lady Joan Leslie's family maid, she was one of many seasoned pros -- including Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Robert Benchley, Margaret Hamilton and Donald Meek -- providing strong support in what was basically a showcase for up-and-coming Warner Bros. stars Leslie, Robert Hutton and Dorothy Malone. Though the film is hardly a comedy classic, it provides a fascinating glimpse of family values as World War II was winding down and the GIs were coming home to new brides and new careers. In particular, it captures a very human situation at war's ends as parents were adjusting to the fact that the boys they had sent off to war were coming home as men.
The original film starred Hutton, Arnold, Harding, Benchley and McDaniel in an adaptation of the hit Broadway play by Josephine Bentham and Herschel V. Williams. It was a simple family comedy about a small town thrown into a tizzy when a training camp opens up nearby, particularly when young Janie and her girlfriends go gaga over the arrival of hundreds of handsome young GIs. Joyce Reynolds took the title role in the original, which did so well the studio was planning a series of Janie films. Then she retired briefly from the screen to be with her husband, a U.S. Marine stationed in Quantico, VA, so series plans were dropped. By 1946, however, Warner's was looking for postwar stories and decided to bring back Janie and her friends. For the sequel, the studio dealt with how Janie, now played by Joan Leslie, adjusted to married life as her husband (Hutton) was facing a new career working for her father's newspaper. Adding complications were their meddling in-laws and Janie's jealousy when an old army buddy turns out to be a beautiful WAAC (Dorothy Malone). It all comes to a head at a family business dinner as Janie tries to keep a prospective buyer for the paper happy while also getting an old beau to help make her husband jealous.
Janie Gets Married (1946) gave the studio a chance to showcase younger talent like Leslie, Hutton and Malone, who were being groomed as possible replacements for bigger but aging stars like Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis. Even though Leslie had started out strongly, with an early role as the heartless girl with whom Bogart is obsessed in High Sierra (1941), she was quickly typed in nice girl roles that never really showed off her talents. Instead, she specialized in playing the sweet young thing the leading man wanted to come home to, leaving stars like Gary Cooper and James Cagney to do all the heavy lifting in the acting department. The original Janie was only Robert Hutton's third film. A perfect on-screen match for Leslie, he would co-star with her three times, with each film capitalizing on his "boy-next-door" image. The role of Sgt. Spud Lee marked only the second time Malone had won screen billing, although she had started in films at RKO in 1943. Janie Gets Married was her first 1946 film at Warner's, but it was her third that year, The Big Sleep, that brought her to prominence. Ironically, her scene as a book-store clerk who enjoys an afternoon tryst with Bogart, was one of the first she shot at Warner Bros., but the film was kept from release for over a year as the studio expanded leading lady Lauren Bacall's role.
Warner Bros. surrounded these three young players with a cast of experienced character actors, many of whom had also appeared in Janie. Along with the 10th-billed McDaniel, at the time the only Oscar®-winner in the cast, the supporting cast included Edward Arnold, on loan from MGM, Ann Harding, queen of the RKO lot during the early days of talking films, and humorist Robert Benchley, in his last film appearance (the picture was released posthumously). New to the fold were Warner's stalwart Meek as the conservative businessman considering buying Arnold's newspaper and Hamilton as Leslie's new housekeeper and the source of many of her domestic woes. In an unbilled supporting role is jazz great Mel Torme as one of Hutton's Army buddies.
Warner's sold the film with a trailer featuring stars like Bogart, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson extolling the title character's sparkling personality, then being disappointed to learn that Janie was now off the market. Carson refers to her as "the girl who was a glint in the eye of every GI" to remind viewers they had loved her in the earlier film before scenes show the proposal, the honeymoon and problems to come for the newlyweds. Sadly, that wasn't enough to draw in audiences. Reviews were far from kind. E.H.M. in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggested the film "isn't a turkey, it just flies off in too many directions at once. Ostensibly a light comedy, it gets tangled up in the problems of returning veterans, the eternal in-law question and then interrupts all of these departures with interludes of slapstick." Bosley Crowther in the New York Times was even less favorable, calling it "childish and bromidic" and suggesting that it might "please the juveniles -- but not sufficiently, we hope, to warrant a sequel. We shudder to think what that would be."
There was little danger of a sequel, nor was there much danger of the film's threatening the more acclaimed post-war drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) at the box office or in the year-end awards. Yet seen from a distance of seven decades, the picture provides a fascinating, light-hearted look at social conventions of the war years. And for fans of its strong supporting cast, including McDaniel, it's another chance to see some of Hollywood's most accomplished players at work.
By Frank Miller
Producer: Alex Gottlieb
Director: Vincent Sherman
Screenplay: Agnes Christine Johnston
Based on the characters created by Josephine Bentham & Herschel V. Williams, Jr.
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Score: Friedrich Hollaender
Cast: Joan Leslie (Janie Conway), Robert Hutton (Dick Lawrence), Edward Arnold (Charles Conway), Ann Harding (Lucille Conway), Robert Benchley (John Van Brunt), Dorothy Malone (Sgt. Spud Lee), Richard Erdman (Lt. 'Scooper' Nolan), Donald Meek (Harley P. Stowers), Hattie McDaniel (April), Margaret Hamilton (Mrs. Angles), Mel Torme (Dick's Buddy)