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Steeped in nostalgia for another time, the Twentieth Century-Fox Technicolor comedy Margie (1946) opens in 1946 in a suburban Ohio home. Mother Margie MacDuff (Jeanne Crain) and daughter Joyce (Ann Todd) are in the attic of their home, sorting through mementoes of Margie's teenage years. The scene triggers a flashback to the movie's heart and soul, the Roaring Twenties adventures and misadventures of Margie, a smart, spirited, sensitive, romantic and occasionally daffy Central High School student. At her daffiest, Margie has a propensity to lose her bloomers at inopportune moments, while ice skating or dancing or otherwise trying to attract the attention of a handsome beau. Pining for her own romance, Margie is especially envious of her vivacious blonde next door neighbor Marybelle (Barbara Lawrence). Marybelle's boyfriend Johnny "Johnikins" Green (Conrad Janis, who would go on to play Pam Dawber's father on the '70s TV show Mork and Mindy) is the ne plus ultra of 1928 teendom in his raccoon coat and hepster manner.
Margie follows its heroine through good times and bad and is peppered with the popular songs of the Twenties including renditions of "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You," "Your Time Is My Time," "I'll See You In My Dreams" and "Ain't She Sweet." She is triumphant at her high school debate where she delivers a rousing argument as to why American Marines should not be in Nicaragua. And she is despondent when her poetry-spouting high school suitor Roy Hornsdale (Alan Young, also destined for TV stardom as Mr. Ed's Wilbur) cancels the day of the prom after coming down with a cold. A uniquely quirky film character, Margie lives in a large home with her suffragist Grandma McSweeney (Esther Dale) who proudly displays the chains she used to secure herself to the White House to advocate for women's right to vote. Grandma McSweeney even encourages the brainy Margie, telling her she could be the first female president of the United States. Rounding out the all-female household is their sassy black maid Cynthia (Hattie McDaniel from the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind). Her undertaker father Angus MacDuff (Hobart Cavanaugh) lives across town and takes an on again off again interest in his daughter. Margie often craves his attention and is over the moon anytime it is offered.
In what might strike contemporary viewers as a slightly icky romantic story line, Margie harbors a serious crush -- along with the rest of the female student body--on the Central High School's handsome new French teacher Mr. Fontayne (Glenn Langan). Most of the female students assume Fontayne is only interested in the glamorous school librarian Miss Isabel Palmer (Lynn Bari). "Well I don't know what he sees in her" Marybelle sniffs to Johnikins. "She's old. She must be twenty-five at least." But in fact, Mr. Fontayne only has eyes for the innocent, adorable Margie. Neither Margie's grandmother nor fellow students seem to think it odd when Mr. Fontayne shows a distinct romantic interest in his student.
The movie poster for Margie used the letters of her name to spell out: Marvelous, Adorable, Romantic, Glorious, Inspiring, Enchanting. Former beauty queen Jeanne Crain carried Margie on her path to stardom following important roles in the Twentieth Century-Fox productions State Fair (1945) and Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Her role in Margie garnered Crain her first of two Life magazine covers. "Jeanne Crain in the title role acts and looks as fresh as a daisy, and brings just the right amount of wistfulness to her part," said The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther. He also added, "Seeing Margie is like turning back the pages of an album on a quiet Sunday afternoon."
Also groomed for matinee idol stardom, co-star Glenn Langan played a role first offered to Cornel Wilde and then Richard Jaeckel. F. Hugh Herbert's screenplay was based on a series of stories by the husband and wife team of Richard Bransten and Ruth McKenney for which Twentieth Century-Fox paid $12,500 in 1945.
Margie was directed by Henry King (The Song of Bernadette, 1943; The Gunfighter, 1950). The brother of director Louis King, Henry King began his career in the silent era and went on to co-found the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The film proved to be a hit at the box office.
Margie was filmed on location in Reno, Nevada. King was rumored to have dismissed the University of Nevada students who doubled as Central High School extras in the film, because he felt they looked too old compared to Crain. King reportedly replaced the co-eds with Reno High School students instead.
Producer: Walter Morosco
Director: Henry King
Screenplay: Richard Bransten, Ruth McKenney (story); F. Hugh Herbert
Cinematography: Charles Clarke
Art Direction: James Basevi, J. Russell Spencer
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Marjorie 'Margie' MacDuff), Glenn Langan (Prof. Ralph Fontayne), Lynn Bari (Miss Isabel Palmer), Alan Young (Roy Hornsdale), Barbara Lawrence (Marybelle Tenor), Conrad Janis (Johnny 'Johnikins' Green), Esther Dale (Grandma McSweeney), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Angus MacDuff), Ann Todd (Joyce, Margie's daughter), Hattie McDaniel (Cynthia).
by Felicia Feaster