“Daughters Courageous” (1939) starring John Garfield & Claude Rains

As they have done for many summers, San Fran-based fashion designer, Nan Masters (Fay Bainter), her 4 single/young adult daughters, Cora (Gale Page), Tinka (Rosemary Lane), Linda (Lola Lane), and Buff (Priscilla Lane), and their long-time/sassy/elderly housekeeper, Penny (May Robson), are spending time in Carmel, renting the house of a local businessman, Sam Sloane (Donald Crisp). ALL the daughters are at various stages of courtship w/ a local man. The highlight of this summer is Buff’s aspiring playwright bf, Johnny Heming (Jeffrey Lynn), mounting a community play, w/ a small role for Cora (an aspiring actress). Suddenly, Nan makes the announcement that she plans imminently to marry Sam- ONLY w/ her daughters’ blessing, which they provide! Sam is the opposite of the girls’ father, the charming/outgoing Jim Masters (Claude Rains), who abandoned the family 20 yrs ago. On this same day that the Masters welcome Sam into their family, telling him to sit at the head of the table for dinner, Jim returns! He is wanting to resume his place in the family after traveling the world. Buff becomes interested in Gabriel, a young con, the son of Manuel Lopez (George Humbert), an immigrant/fisherman.

Penny: [as Tinka, who along with her sisters is giving Sam a shave, dips a towel into the kitchen sink filled with hot water] Hey, hey, hey! That hot water’s for my dishes.

Tinka: This towel is for Sam’s face.

Penny: These dishes have been in the family much longer than Sam’s face!

After Garfield made a FAB debut in Four Daughters the previous year, there was a LOT of demand for a sequel; sadly, his character (Mickey) had died at the end. Jack Warner (studio head) remedied that w/ acquiring a play by Dorothy Bennett that ran 247 performances during the 1935 season on Broadway- Fly Away Home. It’s the story of a family on the eve of the matriarch’s (2nd) marriage to a businessman. Out of the blue, her 1st husband shows up, and wants to be part of the family. This film is often (mistakenly) considered a sequel to Four Daughters (1938), as it has the same primary cast (in somewhat similar roles), most specifically Page and the Lanes portraying 4 sisters to Raines’ father) and the same director, Michael Curtiz. However, the actors play different characters in this film than in the earlier film. Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941) are 2 sequels to Four Daughters.

Nan: [after the Judge and Nan have dealt with the problem that is Gabriel Lopez] I’m very sorry, Henry. Could you come to dinner tomorrow night?

Judge Hornsby: I’m afraid not. I’m contemplating having a stroke.

Does the fact that Gabriel is Hispanic have an impact here? I’d have to say NOT too much, aside from adding to his “outsider” status. His father acts humble, is V hard-working, so seems to have gained respect in the community. Gabriel acts sassy to Judge Hornsby, though he’s NOT wrong- LOL! Afterwards, Manual exclaims to his son: “I try to make you a gentleman and this is how you repay me?” He is echoing the frustration of immigrants who want better for their (American-born) children than they had themselves. Since Garfield was playing a Mexican general in Juarez (1939) when Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein were writing the screenplay to this movie, they made his character Hispanic (as a joke). Manuel (when V upset) speaks in Italian; Humbert is an immigrant from Sicily. The vendor (down the road from the courthouse) chastises Gabriel (also in Italian) when he grabs 2 bags of peanuts from the cart w/o paying.

Penny: [sternly] When are you going to stop sliding down the banister?

Buff: [excitedly] When they stop making ’em.

This is a much more interesting story than Four Daughters; there are serious themes underneath. Though the cast is quite large, each character gets a chance to add to the story. Priscilla Lane and Garfield continue to have good romantic chemistry; it’s a case of opposites attracting (yet again). He convinces her to hang out w/ him; she ends up paying for beer and food. Some viewers felt that Gabriel was TOO cynical; they preferred Mickey (Four Daughters) instead. Though he tries to make an easy buck, Gabriel is NOT really a bad guy; he’s restless to see the world (beyond his small town experience). The scenes between Garfield and Rains are standouts; Gabriel and Jim have great (potential friend) chemistry. When they first meet, the young man strolls into the house, playing the accordion, and looking for a girl (NOT recalling Buff’s name- oops)! If you’re a fan of these actors or just want something relaxing to watch (like a Hallmark movie), then check this out.

[1] Garfield, just as he did in the earlier film, jumps off the screen with a charisma and sexuality the other performers just can’t match. He and Claude Rains, whose character from the first film undergoes the greatest change, strike up a good rapport as two wandering spirits.

[2] As the Bainter character herself comments, the dialogue does tend to be flip, – it is often amusing, but it is hard to take it seriously. The superlative photography, especially the location scenes (between the trees overlooking the water) which have a real lyrical quality, and the music score are major assets, as is the skilled film editing. The direction is not especially striking, but has confidence and assured craftsmanship.

[3] This is a an enjoyable, though somewhat dated film, enlivened by the masterful presence of Claude Rains. He completely steals the film, even when surrounded by a solid supporting cast… But the production code of the era demanded that any character who was “morally tainted” would be made to pay for it, eventually, in the movie. Warner Bros. made no exception here, even though the ending is plausible and frankly, ludicrous.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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