Originally released 16 Oct 1946
Written by F. Hugh Herbert, from a story by Richard Bransten and Ruth McKenney
Directed by Henry King
Starring Jeanne Crain, Glenn Langan, Barbara Lawrence, Alan Young, and Conrad Janis
My rating: ★★★ 1/2 stars
A delightful confection of a movie about a teenage girl coming of age in the late 1920s.
Poor Margie MacDuff. She’s at that age where everything that happens to her seems mortifyingly embarrassing. In the film Margie, most of the situations involve minor incidents that can seem like the end of the world to a teenage girl. There’s an innocence to the film that’s lacking in modern movies.
Few films before the 1950s dealt with teenagers. In fact, the idea of teenagers as a specific segment of society with its own interests and concerns didn’t really exist before the mid-1950s. Margie is one of the handful of films that cover that age of life from the 1940s. Unlike later film teenagers, Margie is an ordinary, untroubled adolescent. She’s not particularly popular, but she’s not an outcast. She’s intelligent and well-meaning.
Margie’s family life isn’t ideal. Her mother is dead, and her father (Hobart Cavanaugh) neglects her, having sent her to live with her grandmother (Esther Dale) because he didn’t feel confident raising a girl on his own. But she’s not bitter or angry about this situation. She longs for her father’s attention, but she doesn’t act out to get it. In other words, she’s not the typical movie teenager.
Her relationship with her frenemy Marybelle (Barbara Lawrence) is atypical as well. Marybelle is a pretty, popular blonde, but she’s not a mean girl. Even though her friendship with Margie is based more on proximity (they’re next-door neighbors) than affinity, she’s not nasty. She may be a little frustrated with Margie’s always hanging around and Margie’s obvious crush on Marybelle’s boyfriend, Johnnykins (Conrad Janis), the big man on campus, but only once does she say something catty to Margie.
One of the more interesting aspects to the film is the friendship between Margie and the handsome, young French teacher, Mr. Fontayne (Glenn Langan). Today, their interactions would be considered skeevy. But the film and its era are so innocent that the relationship seems charming.
Margie does have a regular beau, the hopelessly awkward Roy (Alan Young). She tends to overlook him as a romantic option. Margie shows a callousness here that adds an intriguing flaw to her character. She’s not perfect.
Like many teen movies, Margie is set in an earlier era, in this case, the 1920s. Nostalgia is a big part of the teen film genre. The reasons for this are likely complex. For most of us, considering our teenage years involves looking back, particularly with sadness or wistfulness—for dreams unfulfilled, for potential never realized. My biggest issue with the film is that Margie never does realize her potential. Her grandmother wants her to be the first female president, and, while that might have been outré in 1946, she could have at least been the ambassador to Nicaragua (something that is mentioned in the film). Instead, her triumph is merely to have her romantic ambitions realized and to have settled into a life of happy domesticity.
Like many nostalgia films, Margie relies heavily on music from the era in which it is set. Unfortunately, movies at the time of its release didn’t have a practice of just letting music play on the soundtrack or from diegetic sources like radios or record players. Instead, the movie employs the awkward practice of having the characters sing along with all of the songs.
The film is directed by Henry King, who generally did not do such lighthearted fare but shows a gentle touch here. It’s shot in hazy Technicolor, giving the film a sense of nostalgic dreaminess. Unlike a lot of teen movies, which are shot from the point of view of the characters, this film presents an objective point of view. We see Margie as others see her, which helps us appreciate the sweetness of the situations instead of their awkwardness.
Margie is a delightful little movie, which sadly has never been released on home video (a slightly truncated version can be found on YouTube). For fans of films from a bygone era of innocence, this movie is a must see. For others, it’s an extremely enjoyable way to spend 94 minutes.