Janie (1944)

Janie (1944)

What would otherwise have been an average B comedy produced to provide light entertainment and escape for World War II audiences is actually quite remarkable when viewed today. First it was directed by Michael Curtiz who though no stranger to directing B movies earlier in his career had just won an Academy Award the previous year (Casablanca (1942)) with his fourth Best Director nomination. But the best reason for watching this film is to gain insights into the teenage dating scene of its era and how both adult and adolescent attitudes have evolved (or not). Though for the most part it portrays the G-rated innocence common in most live action Disney films of the 1960’s and 70’s there are more than a few references to the similarities between the teens of that time and that of their parents – only the lexicon has changed (e.g. smooching instead of spooning)! Josephine Bentham and Herschel V. Williams Jr. wrote the play that was adapted for the screen by Charles Hoffman and Agnes Christine Johnston. Owen Marks earned his second Oscar nomination for Film Editing.

Joyce Reynolds plays the title role of Janie the teenage daughter of Charles (Edward Arnold) and Lucille (Ann Harding) Conway. As a senior in high school she is comfortable with who she is and what she does even though she feels the need to shield her parents from some of her activities. However when confronted by her father who disapproves of her attending a blanket party – kissing her longtime boyfriend Scooper (Dick Erdman) – at night in the park with most of the rest of her classmates she defends her decision to participate by reminding him that he and her mother must have gone on dates similarly in their day. “Besides how else is one supposed to decide whom to marry?” But her father is a letter writer who sends his opinions to be published on the editorial page of their local newspaper. His latest issue is the U.S. Army’s plan to locate a training camp in their small town of Hortonville. He feels that men in uniform will overwhelm the town’s impressionable young girls – like his daughter – and that they should therefore locate their facility elsewhere. His fears are realized when one of the soldiers – Private First Class Dick Lawrence (Robert Hutton) the son of one of his Lucille’s former bridesmaids Thelma (Barbara Brown) – shows an interest in Janie. Robert Benchley plays John Van Brunt Charles’s longtime friend and Hortonville resident who’s also a confirmed bachelor until he meets Thelma. Clare Foley (a child actress previously unknown to me; she only appeared in this and its sequel – Janie Gets Married (1946)) just about steals the picture as Janie’s stereotypical wiseacre little sister Elsbeth; she says all the good punch-lines. Alan Hale plays a key part late in the story (as does Russell Hicks) and Hattie McDaniel is the Conway’s good natured maid April. Jackie Moran and Ann Gillis are among the others that play teenager roles. ‘Billy’ Benedict appears uncredited as a soda jerk.

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