January 05, 2017

2017 isn’t only going to be about the publication of the second Lillian Frost & Edith Head mystery Dangerous to Know – although we are hugely excited about the book, the Hollywood history it’s based on, and the blurbs that have already come in. We also plan to post regularly about films that catch our fancy, with an eye as always toward wardrobe.

While some movies feel like they stop the story cold to insert a song, 1944’s Two Girls and a Sailor occasionally interrupts the music to remind you about the plot. A swift opening tells the story of the born-in-a-trunk Deyo Sisters, sensible Patsy (June Allyson) and coquettish June (Gloria DeHaven), now all grown up and performing with Harry James and his Music Makers. In their spare time the girls run a “private canteen” out of their apartment, brazenly propositioning servicemen and then delivering sandwiches and song without a peep of complaint from the neighbors. Sailor Johnny (Van Johnson) is taken with the sisters and their mission. He’s also a millionaire, so he anonymously bankrolls a bona fide canteen, a campaign that brings the Deyos back in touch with forgotten vaudeville legend Billy Kipp (Jimmy Durante).

There’s a romance, of course, but it’s all pretext for the numbers, not just from Harry and the boys (plus Helen Forrest) but Xavier Cugat and his orchestra and pianist José Iturbi. The divine deadpan Virginia O’Brien gets a song, and Design for Dying featured player Gracie Allen, in her last film appearance, performs a “cute masterpiece called ‘Concerto for Index Finger.’” Durante does his signature “Inka Dinka Doo.” Ava Gardner (photo above) has a tiny role as a chorine pitching in at the canteen, making quite the impression.

A strange subplot in which June is stalked by a creepily dumbstruck soldier naturally has a sweet ending—and some fancy stepping, no surprise considering the doughboy is played by dancer Arthur Walsh. Even odder but mesmerizingly so is the dream fashion show—the Couture Cabinet of Dr. Caligari—featuring a bevy of beauties including Gardner modeling outré attire like a gardening ensemble with all the necessary tools neatly knotted about the waist. This sequence allows costume designer Irene (with an assist from Kay Dean) to go berserk, and all by itself makes Two Girls and a Sailor worthwhile. The movie’s no masterpiece, but it’s fun from start to finish.

Rosemarie’s Round-Up

Stage costumes galore are on display as each performer takes a turn in the spotlight. I wonder if wartime fabric restrictions were posing a problem at MGM, because several gowns look like they’ve had bits of lace basted on for easy removal and reuse in another picture. My favorite men’s costume: Van Johnson’s dream sequence admiral’s uniform with the mile-wide tassel epaulettes, cleverly inspired by Gardner’s showgirl get-up. My favorite women's costume: Lena Horne’s elegant gown with a beaded fan on the bodice that shimmers as she sings a surprisingly sapphic “Paper Doll.”


Back to blog