“Four Daughters”: A Gem

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of Four Daughters (1938), but after watching the DVD (I had seen the movie on VHS a long time ago), I changed my mind.  It’s simply too interesting to not write about it, even if in the brief format of this blog.

The star that most will recognize is Claude Rains, who plays Adam Lemp, a musician raising four very musical daughters in a small town somewhere in New York.  Also present is Aunt Etta in place of the girls’ mother, who is unexplainably missing. As the movie opens, a beautiful recital is going on at home, with father directing and playing the flute, looking like he just stepped out of Beethoven’s Vienna. Father doesn’t like “modern” music like jazz, and his daughters seem to (more or less) agree with this, but soon a dissonant note is heard over the classical kind, and it turns out to be the squeaking of the front gate—a wonderful motif, both aural and visual for the change that is soon to come to the house of the four daughters, where music and men will be mixing in unexpected ways. This change is most represented by the two composers who enter the family’s life, both of them lovers of that modern music that Adam so dislikes. The director, Michael Curtiz (remember Casablanca? He directed that too…) used the windows of the house as a way to show the daughters finding new men in their lives, coming through that gate in particular. But lest you think this is another purely sentimental old movie about romance, be warned: it’s not all sweetness and light. Before the film is over, there will be some dark notes struck as well, ones that I found curious given the Production Code then in force. Watch it and decide for yourself.

This was the first film for John Garfield, who, with his unshaved face and loose tie, looks like he stepped out of a movie made ten years later. Three of the four sisters were played by sisters in real life, and the one who wasn’t related fit in so well I couldn’t tell her apart. All are in great form, which explains why Four Daughters was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.


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