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You Were Meant for Me

You Were Meant for Me(1948)

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teaser You Were Meant for Me (1948)

Flappers! Flagpole sitters! Chickens in every pot! Two cars in every garage! The Roaring Twenties were still roaring in 1929, and few suspected that a stock-market crash and Great Depression were just around the corner. That's the happy historical moment when You Were Meant for Me, a 1948 release directed by Lloyd Bacon, kicks off.

The setting is the peaceful Indiana town of Bloomington, where young folks hang out at malt shops and dance to the tunes of their favorite swing orchestras. The opening scene finds Chuck Arnold and His Sophisticates on the bandstand, delighting the crowd with lively jazz. Chuck (Dan Dailey) is a quite a heartthrob in Midwestern circles, the narrator tells us, pleasing admirers "from Kokomo, Indiana, to Keokuk, Iowa" with his "silver megaphone and golden smile."

He's not the brightest star in the musical firmament, though, so he relies on gimmicks to boost his audience. Tonight it's a "lucky-number drawing," and the lucky winner turns out to be pretty Peggy Mayhew (Jeanne Crain), who wins a bonanza of prizes including a book of trading stamps, a jar of face cream, and a flimsy lingerie item. After bestowing these treasures and serenading Peggy with the movie's title tune, Chuck asks if she has a prize for him, and she impulsively gives him a kiss. Her boyfriend scowls, Chuck sighs, and the story leaps into high gear. A few scenes later, Chuck and Peggy are husband and wife, and she starts learning that life can be very demanding for the spouse of a touring bandleader, especially when the bandleader is more confident of his popularity than the facts warrant.

You Were Meant for Me was meant as a timely follow-up to a pair of period musicals that had performed well for Twentieth Century Fox in the past two years: Henry King's Margie (1946), starring Crain as a 1920s teenager, and Walter Lang's Mother Wore Tights (1947), starring Dailey as a vaudeville star who marries a chorus girl. You Were Meant for Me is a relatively low-key picture, relying on the low-key charisma of Crain and Dailey to keep the story engaging and the rhythms infectious. Both are fully up to the task.

Still in the early stage of her career, Crain had chalked up solid musical experience in Lang's State Fair (1945) and Otto Preminger's Centennial Summer (1946), and she has more than enough ingnue beauty and acting smarts to make Peggy genial and persuasive as both a girl with a crush and a woman with growing responsibilities. Her performance is all the more impressive considering that she was just returning from a year and a half of maternity leave. Dailey was a decade older than Crain, and he looks it, but his toothy smile and lightweight personality make him a perfectly good partner for his up-and-coming costar, who steals the picture anyway.

Bacon was a versatile director who worked in many genres, but he's best remembered for backstage musicals made during his long stint at Warner Bros., where he worked from 1925 until his move to Twentieth Century-Fox in 1944. His most celebrated achievement is the 1933 classic 42nd Street, which reaped huge dividends from Busby Berkeley's phenomenal choreography. You Were Meant for Me is a modest remake of 42nd Street in some ways. Again there's lots of music and dance; again the story centers on entertainers under pressure; and again their biggest challenges are financial ones, sparked by the same Great Depression that cast a dark shadow over show business in the earlier film.

You Were Meant for Me is actually a semi-remake of another Fox musical - Archie Mayo's Orchestra Wives, released in 1942 - and it differs from 42nd Street in important ways. For one thing, the choreographers of the dance routines - Les Clark, in his only shot at the job, and Dailey, busy starring in the film - fall laughably short of Berkeley's lofty standard. For another, 42nd Street has fabulous production numbers bunched in the last part of the picture, whereas there are no production numbers in You Were Meant for Me, just small-scale bits scattered through the story. For yet another, 42nd Street takes place in the depths of the Depression, and the characters all know that if the big show flops, it may be a mighty long time before they work again. By contrast, the crash of 1929 sneaks up on Chuck, who heads straight for Deep Denial and needs to be dragged out by his increasingly concerned wife, his long-suffering manager, and even his father-in-law, another stubborn escapist who'd rather play with his stamp album than think about money. The shock of the crash and the escalating woes of the Depression provide the picture's dramatic undertone, capped with a happy ending when Chuck turns into a real grownup at last.

Along with Crain and Dailey, the main attraction of You Were Meant for Me is Oscar Levant, the famously eccentric pianist, wit, and character actor who enlivened a dozen movies of the 1940s and 1950s. He delivers a wry, touching performance as Oscar Hoffman, the band's manager, and gives an electrifying rendition of an excerpt from the Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra by George Gershwin, a composer he loved. Percy Kilbride, famous as Pa Kettle in later years, is also memorable as Peggy's unsophisticated dad. (Some claim that Marilyn Monroe is visible in a crowd scene, but my eagle eyes haven't spotted her.)

The movie's music is irresistible, even if standbys like "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "Ain't She Sweet?" rank pretty low on the originality chart. "Crazy Rhythm" has craziness and rhythm galore, and a high-octane performance of "Ain't Misbehavin'," the unforgettable Fats Waller hit, is downright thrilling. Amiable standards like "I'll Get By" and "Good Night, Sweetheart" add additional toe tapping, and if you love the Roaring Twenties you'll enjoy them even more.

Director: Lloyd Bacon
Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Screenplay: Elick Moll and Valentine Davies
Cinematographer: Victor Milner
Film Editing: William Reynolds
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Richard Irvine
Musical Director: Lionel Newman
Choreography: Dan Dailey and Les ClarkWith: Jeanne Crain (Peggy Mayhew), Dan Dailey (Chuck Arnold), Oscar Levant (Oscar Hoffman), Barbara Lawrence (Louise Crane), Selena Royle (Cora Mayhew), Percy Kilbride (Andrew Mayhew), Herbert Anderson (Eddie).

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