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John Garfield shot to stardom in his first film, Four Daughters (1938), playing cynical musician Mickey Borden, who falls in love with upbeat Ann Lemp (Priscilla Lane), one of four sisters in a warm and loving family. The film, based on a story by Fannie Hurst, starred three real-life sisters, Priscilla, Lola, and Rosemary Lane, plus Gale Page, as a quartet of cheerful, cultured, and resolutely middle-class daughters of music professor Claude Rains. But it was newcomer Garfield, as the fatalistic outsider, who struck a chord with Depression-era audiences and introduced the rebel hero to American films. As B.R. Crisler wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Garfield is such a sweet relief from conventional screen types...so eloquent of a certain dispossessed class of people, that we can't thank [the filmmakers] enough for him." Four Daughters was a huge hit, got excellent reviews, and earned Oscar® nominations as Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Garfield. Audiences clamored for more Garfield, and he was immediately rushed into film after film, appearing in six movies in 1939.
The ending of Four Daughters, however, precluded a sequel including Garfield, so Warner Bros. adapted a play with similar characters -- a family of four sisters and the drifter one sister falls for -- and brought back most of the same cast and the same director, Michael Curtiz, for Daughters Courageous (1939). That film also received good reviews. Among his other films that year, Garfield and Lane co-starred in Dust Be My Destiny, with Garfield playing another rebellious loner, and Lane as the good girl he loves. Garfield attempted to display his versatility, but was miscast as Mexican general Porfirio Diaz in the historical epic Juarez. Between September 1938 and August 1939, Garfield worked non-stop six days a week. This grueling schedule only came to an end when he went on suspension for refusing to make any more inferior movies.
Meanwhile, screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein found a way to include Garfield in a sequel to Four Daughters, and at the end of 1939, Warner Bros. released Four Wives, again directed by Curtiz, and with most of the same cast as the original. The Lemp sisters are now wives, or about to become wives, and are looking forward to motherhood. Ann has recovered from the loss of her husband, Mickey, and is engaged to fellow musician Felix, again played by Jeffrey Lynn. Then she discovers she's pregnant with Mickey's child. The filmmakers included flashbacks using scenes from Four Daughters, with Garfield as the ghost of Mickey, giving his blessing to Ann's new marriage. Four Wives didn't do as well overseas as its predecessor, but domestically it performed well at the box office. Surprisingly, even the critics liked it. "It is a singularly happy film, well written, well directed and well played," wrote Frank Nugent in the New York Times. "And," he added presciently, "it reconciles us tranquilly to the vista it has opened of a 'Four Mothers'... 'Four Grandmothers,' and possibly a 'Four Granddaughters.'" Sure enough, another sequel, titled Four Mothers, appeared in 1941. But the magic was gone. A new director, William Keighley, and a new writer, Stephen Morehouse Avery, were unable to bring anything fresh to the series, and Four Mothers was the last of the Lemp sisters.
The Lane sisters' careers also faded in the 1940s. Priscilla had the most success, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942) and co-starring with Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). But by the late 1940s, all three Lanes, as well as Gale Page, had retired from the screen. John Garfield continued his rebellious ways on and off screen. He left Warner Bros. in the mid-1940s, and started his own production company. But he became a victim of blacklisting in the late 1940s, after he refused to name communist acquaintances to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Garfield died of a heart attack in 1952, at the age of 39.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, Maurice Hanline, suggested by the novel, Sister Act, by Fannie Hurst
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Editor: Ralph Dawson
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Claude Rains (Adam Lemp), Priscilla Lane (Ann Lemp Dietz), Rosemary Lane (Kay Lemp), Lola Lane (Thea Lemp Crowley), Gale Page (Emma Lemp Talbot), Jeffrey Lynn (Felix Dietz), John Garfield (Mickey Borden), Eddie Albert (Dr. Clinton Forrest, Jr.), May Robson (Aunt Etta).
BW-99m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri