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By 1938, Michael Curtiz was one of Warner Brothers' top directors, who got first crack at all the "A" projects. And Four Daughters (1938) started out with "A" credentials. That it ended up with them was something of a miracle.
The film was based on Sister Act, a novel by Fannie Hurst, about four musical sisters and their widowed father. A script had been written by Lenore Coffee, and promptly forgotten. Then, in 1937, Rosemary and Priscilla Mullican, the younger sisters of a minor actress named Lola Lane, came to Warner Brothers' attention. Taking Lola's stage surname, Rosemary and Priscilla Lane had some success in a couple of Warners programmers. The studio liked the sister act, and had writer Julius Epstein revise Coffee's script for the trio, plus a young actress named Gale Page. To give the film importance, Errol Flynn was assigned to play the musician adored by all the girls, and Michael Curtiz, who had just directed Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), was assigned to direct. But when the role was not beefed up to Flynn's satisfaction, he dropped out. Jeffrey Lynn replaced him, and without a major star, the "A" project dropped to "B" status, to Curtiz's dismay.
Meanwhile, an actor from the socially conscious Group Theater in New York, recently signed by Warner Brothers, was waiting for his first film assignment. John Garfield got a look at the script for Four Daughters, and liked the secondary part of a cynical pianist who falls for Priscilla Lane's character. Michael Curtiz would later claim credit for getting Warners to sign Garfield, and choosing him for the part of Mickey Borden in Four Daughters. Other sources say Garfield was already under contract, and pestered Curtiz and the producers for the part, even though they wanted Eddie Albert. However it happened, Garfield was cast as Mickey, and played him brilliantly.
Four Daughters was a surprise hit, due largely to Garfield's portrayal of a brand-new screen type - the Rebel Hero. Garfield became an overnight star, and earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for best picture, director, screenplay, and sound recording. The success of Four Daughters would not only inspire three sequels (two of them directed by Curtiz), but an immediate follow-up, Daughters Courageous (1939), featuring the same cast and a similar story, but with a different setting and different names for the characters.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Lenore Coffee, based on the novel Sister Act, by Fannie Hurst
Editor: Ralph Dawson
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Claude Rains (Adam Lemp), May Robson (Aunt Etta), Priscilla Lane (Ann Lemp), Lola Lane (Thea Lemp), Rosemary Lane (Kay Lemp) Gale Page (Emma Lemp), Jeffrey Lynn (Felix Deitz), John Garfield (Mickey Borden).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri