Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
This musical comedy which includes opera starts slow but should satisfy those that stick with it. Directed by Henry Koster and written by Myles Connolly (Music for Millions (1944)) with additional dialogue provided by Harry Crane and James O’Hanlon it features the first pairing of June Allyson and Peter Lawford (unless you count Girl Crazy (1943) in which Lawford plays an uncredited boy). The credited cast also features Kathryn Grayson tenor Lauritz Melchior Jimmy Durante (in one of the best roles I’ve seen him in) Ben Blue Harry Hayden and Thurston Hall (among others); Jimmy Conlin Byron Foulger and Grady Sutton are among those who appear uncredited. The film’s intricate plot weaves several story-lines together for maximum effect later in the picture which accounts for some of the slower scenes (and excuses those repetitive ones) earlier in the movie. The setting is the turn of the twentieth century. In addition to the Richard Wagner operas several Sammy Fain-Ralph Freed songs are featured.
Grayson and Allyson play the title characters Abigail and Martha who were raised by their Aunt Jennifer (Isobel Elsom) and Uncle Jonathan Chandler (Hayden). The elder Abigail has gone to New York in hopes of making it as an opera singer but her skinflint puritanical uncle who’s running for Mayor in Boston didn’t provide her with even enough means to pay her rent. So after some education and when she’d exhausted all her savings she began to work singing and dancing at a burlesque house named the Golden Rooster run by Spike Merango (Durante) where she’s known under another name as the queen of the Bowery by its crowing patrons like the inebriated Wrigley (Blue). Uncle Jonathan hears rumor of this (Sutton is punched for saying as much during Martha’s piano recital) and enraged he his wife and Martha travel to the Big Apple to see if it’s true. Conlin appears briefly as Grandpa Chandler. Abigail is able to temporarily fool her aunt and uncle by claiming she’s an opera singer but prim and proper Martha finds out and is so shocked she faints (several different times throughout in fact). When Uncle Jonathan buys tickets to the next opera “My Country” starring Richard Olstrom (Melchior) Spike is able to fast talk his and her way past the doorman to the opera chorus director named Ossifish (Gino Corrado). Spike then drops the name of a wealthy patron of the arts named Patterson with a “wink wink nudge nudge” to get pretty Abigail into the chorus for that night’s show during which she interrupts and upsets tenor Olstrom in order to be seen by her family members.
Anonymously Lawrence Patterson Jr. (Lawford) who was at the opera that night with his mother Ella (Nella Walker) heard Spike’s false bluster that the disruptive singer Miss Chandler was Patterson’s “girl” but assumes it’s true that his dad is fooling around. So he’s shocked later when his butler Wrigley (!) announces that a Miss Chandler Martha this time is there to see him. She’s just there hoping that she can influence the arts patron to giving her sister a chance. Lawrence’s inferences about Abigail’s relationship with his father causes Martha to faint again and when he learns that she too is educated and can speak Greek he starts to fall for her (e.g. only a proper girl would be shocked to the point of fainting by what she’d heard about her sister). Lawrence Patterson Sr. (Hall) arrives to find his son carrying a passed out girl out the front door but Wrigley covers for Lawrence Jr. and since Ella didn’t see Martha Lawrence Sr. is made to believe he’s seeing things.
Later however Martha convinces Lawrence Jr. to give Abigail a chance an audition during a society party at the Patterson’s home. The fact that Wrigley doesn’t recognize Abigail initially because he has amnesia unless he’s drinking which he’s apt to do during his employer’s parties is obviously only a temporary thing. Earlier Spike had conned Olstrom who would certainly have recognized the brunette who’d ruined his opera into not attending the party (apparently all men have a secret past they’d just assume keep hidden). Foulger appears as a phonograph technician at a studio where the tenor’s voice was being recorded using this latest invention and Olstrom’s terrier dog is shown striking the RCA pose (ala Nipper) in front of its coned horn. But Spike out of place in high society but attending to give Olstrom’s apologies is unable to keep the familiar Wrigley sober or absent and the drunken butler spills the beans. Covering for her sister self sacrificing Martha insists that she and NOT Abigail is the belle of the Bowery which naturally shocks Lawrence Jr..
Spike then works tirelessly with Martha to complete the con but she is unwilling to perform half naked given her scruples and upbringing. When the Pattersons come to see the show at the Golden Rooster Lawrence Sr. correctly ascertains what Abigail’s younger sister is trying to do though Lawrence Jr. is outraged and clueless. Lawrence Sr. then supports Abigail’s dream of performing in the opera “Marie Antoinette” opposite Olstrom and Spike works his magic implying again that he knows of the tenor’s earlier dalliance in Italy so that she is able to perform for her still unawares aunt and uncle guests in the Patterson’s box. Meanwhile and predictably Lawrence Jr. and Martha make up before the curtain closes.