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As you watch Seven Sweethearts (1942) in the comfort of your home, imagine what it must have been like to see it in a wet rain forest under threat of aerial bombardment. That's exactly how one Army private saw it. In a 1944 fan letter to Kathryn Grayson, recounted in a newspaper article that is on file at the Academy library in Beverly Hills, the private described his experience: "We tramped through a jungle to attend your picture, Seven Sweethearts," he wrote. "A screen was propped up on the side of a hill and logs had been arranged as seats for the boys. Occasionally, the screen was washed out by rain which drenched your audience, and once we had to hit the fox holes because of enemy planes."
The incongruity of watching a picture like Seven Sweethearts in the middle of a war-torn South Pacific jungle is at once bizarre and delicious. The silly romantic storyline of the film must have felt like true, wonderful, and all-too-brief escapism to the weary soldiers.
Seven Sweethearts was directed by Frank Borzage, and while it is definitely a minor film for the great romantic director, it's still a pleasant one. A reporter (Van Heflin) arrives in a small Michigan town to cover the annual tulip festival, and he gets involved with the eccentric Dutch family that runs a local inn -- a father (S.Z. Sakall) and his seven daughters. None of the girls is allowed to marry until the oldest (Marsha Hunt) does, and while most of the younger ones are secretly engaged, the oldest doesn't even have a boyfriend. Heflin falls for the youngest daughter, played by Kathryn Grayson.
Grayson was on the verge of stardom here. She had appeared in three movies within the previous year, starting with Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941), and continuing with The Vanishing Virginian (1942), also directed by Frank Borzage, and Rio Rita (1942), an Abbott and Costello vehicle. Producer Joseph Pasternak, who had already made Deanna Durbin into a star for Universal, then took Grayson under his wing and placed her in Seven Sweethearts. She made such an impression that he was able to place her next in Thousands Cheer (1943) and Anchors Aweigh (1945), both opposite Gene Kelly. Pasternak continued to mold Grayson's screen image in four further titles.
Seven Sweethearts generated a bit of legal trouble seven years later. In 1949, Hungarian playwright Ferenc Herczeg sued MGM, Pasternak, and screenwriters Walter Reich and Leo Townsend for $200,000, claiming they had plagiarized his play Seven Sisters, which he had written in 1903 and which Paramount had adapted into a 1915 movie starring Madge Evans. Herczeg was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Hungary when Seven Sweethearts was produced and released, and consequently he didn't learn of the film's existence until years later. The suit was settled out of court.
Look for Kathryn Grayson's real-life sister, Frances Raeburn, as one of the sisters in Seven Sweethearts -- the one named "Cornelius."
Producers: Frank Borzage, Joseph Pasternak
Director: Frank Borzage
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Leo Townsend; Ferenc Herczeg (play, uncredited)
Cinematography: George Folsey; Leonard Smith (uncredited)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Franz Waxman; Earl K. Brent, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Blanche Sewell
Cast: Kathryn Grayson (Billie Van Maaster), Marsha Hunt (Regina 'Reggie' Van Maaster), Cecilia Parker (Victor Van Maaster), Peggy Moran (Albert 'Al' Van Maaster), Dorothy Morris (Peter Van Maaster), Frances Rafferty (George Van Maaster), Frances Raeburn (Cornelius Van Maaster), Van Heflin (Henry Taggart), Carl Esmond (Carl Randall), Michael Butler (Bernard Groton, Peter's Beau), Cliff Danielson (Martin Leyden, Victor's Beau), William Roberts (Anthony Vreeland, Cornelius' Beau).
BW-98m. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold