I read a blog post about Two Girls and the Sailor, where the author was underwhelmed by the film and disappointed that he had nothing to write about. It was just two hours of filler that he couldn’t adequately review. But for me, writing about this film doesn’t pose any problems at all. I love it and have found loads to write about.
Here’s my original post on the film.
Plot wise it’s fairly simple. Patsy and Jean Deyo (the two girls of the title) are sisters in a vaudeville act, billed as the Deyo Sisters. Their parents were theater folk who brought the girls along with them while performing. Patsy and Jean stayed backstage, with Patsy, the big sister, in charge. Their mother struck out on her own, presumably leaving her husband and daughters, although they were never bitter about it.
Now that the girls are older, not much has changed. Patsy is still fulfilling her big sister duties, keeping a close eye on Jean, but the challenge is a lot more complex than Jean continuously sucking her thumb. A beautiful young woman, Jean often attracts the attention of boys and men. Patsy (June Allyson) is petite; so is Jean (Gloria DeHaven). Patsy looks like a sweet, harmless girl, but when she notices Jean getting distracted, a fierce look enters her eyes. She may be small, but she’s no one to mess with. Usually she pinches Jean once her little sister starts making eyes at a fellow.
And why is Patsy so territorial about her sister? She tells Jean that she wants her to be a “big timer.” And she doesn’t like Jean’s public’s face, which always includes those eager men. Patsy wants Jean to settle down with a nice man, but Jean is a bit more superficial, although pragmatic.
“But I want to marry a rich one.” Who can blame her?
While Jean is prevented from meeting any of her admirers, she starts receiving orchids and notes from a secret one. She has no clue who the stranger could be. She and Patsy name him Somebody. One night during their routine, they scan the nightclub, trying to figure out if Somebody is in the audience. Patsy points out all of the older, unattractive, possibly wealthy men, but Jean disagrees about them all.
Harry James appears in the film as himself. His band plays for the girls while they perform. He noticed them scanning the place and wonders what it could all be about. Although he’s a little short with them, he does ask how their canteen is coming along. They run a makeshift canteen out of their house for soldiers and sailors which is filled to capacity every night. On this night, they invite Harry over, along with more young men from the nightclub.
Patsy notices a sailor after the crowd of servicemen have gathered around the two sisters. She urges Jean to invite him too because he looks so lonely. When Jean does, the sailor is thrilled; he had just been looking at her poster.
“Don’t you want to know where we’re going?”
So obviously this is our sailor, Johnny, played by the incredibly magnetic Van Johnson. All I can think about is how utterly sweet he looks, even as he towers over Gloria DeHaven. A big and burly Shirley Temple is what Greer Garson called him, and she was absolutely right.
At the Deyo home, the servicemen relax and socialize as their hardworking hostesses serve them food. Patsy is the one confined to the kitchen making sandwiches. Meanwhile, Jean has caught the eye of a Southern soldier, who takes over her duties so she can sing for the men. He even carries her over to the piano and sits her down on it. This soldier has competition from Johnny the sailor, who is none too pleased to see him monopolizing Jean’s attention.
The soldier, Sergeant Frank Miller, is played by Tom Drake.
After he appeared in this film, fans wrote to fan magazines inquiring about the soldier with the incredibly sexy voice. If Drake’s career hadn’t lost momentum, I’m positive he and that velvety voice would be better remembered.
Once Jean is through with her song, Johnny is effusive in his praise. But Frank orders him to the kitchen, and because Jean politely asks him to go in order to avoid further problems, he begrudgingly exits. He meets Patsy in the kitchen and helps her with the sandwiches. Johnny wants to help the Deyo sisters realize their dream of opening a legitimate canteen, but Patsy sweetly refuses him. Jean, who’s interested in Johnny, joins the two of them in the kitchen and pinches her sister, like Patsy has done to her so many times before. She explains to Johnny that Patsy is weak around men.
But Patsy takes the hint and leaves the two of them alone. Frank has also seen the two, and he leaves with Patsy, looking mighty dejected. That Jean!
Now Jean might seem like a vapid little beauty, but she has hopes for the canteen and confides in Johnny about them. There’s an abandoned warehouse next door (which is haunted) that she thinks would be perfect for the canteen. But she and Patsy don’t have the funds to fix it up.
The next day, Somebody has more than just orchids and love notes for Jean; the deed to the warehouse next door! Patsy is suspicious but Jean really doesn’t know Somebody’s identity. The sisters are apprehensive when they arrive at the warehouse, which is every bit as spooky as they always imagined it to be. There aren’t any ghosts however. At least the transparent kind anyway. Someone has been living in the warehouse for years. It’s Billy Kipp (Jimmy Durante), an old Vaudeville star the girls knew when they were young. Billy has taken up residence there ever since his wife left him and took their son with her. Patsy and Jean tell him he’s welcome to stay.
The place requires a lot of cleaning, but serendipity intervenes when a crew of cleaners suddenly show up after Jean wishes for them. Somebody has done so much!
The canteen is such a success, and thanks to Hollywood magic, some MGM contract stars make appearances as themselves.
There’s Virginia O’Brien with her trademark blank gaze and monotone.
The Wilde Twins, who I wasn’t familiar with prior to this film.
Gracie Allen as the ditz she often played, frustrating piano maestro Jose Iturbi.
Lena Horne, performing “Paper Doll.” According to her daughter Gail Buckley, Lena disliked this song because it was a “boys song.” I agreed with her initially, but the song has grown on me through repeated listenings. I also enjoy the Mills Brothers version. I think it’s also cool that the pronouns weren’t changed!
Isn’t she just the most glorious person?
And while she wasn’t a star yet, look closely and you’ll spot Ava Gardner in one of her early, uncredited roles.
But the success of the canteen can’t distract Patsy from her feelings for Johnny, who is obviously taken with her little sister.
The film’s cinematography is also overlooked. There’s a great scene where Patsy is drifting off to sleep, and Johnny’s silhouette appears at her window. It’s such a lovely shot.
And then there’s the enchanting dream sequence. Patsy and Johnny are even treated to a fashion show. I didn’t have any luck with finding Ava Gardner here. But the dream becomes a nightmare when Jean shows up in a wedding gown. And Johnny immediately goes to her. Patsy and Jean end up fighting each other, and it’s back to heartbreak when she wakes up.
Patsy discovers that Somebody is really Johnny. And he discovers that he’s falling for her. When the two are talking about their future plans, Patsy reveals that her only concern is Jean’s happiness. Maybe she’ll get married someday, to a regular guy, someone who can be her straight man. Johnny looks as if he’s willing to volunteer, but Jean interrupts their cozy discussion.
Patsy herself performs at the canteen, in a solo accompanied by Harry James. She sings “Young Man With a Horn,” a song written especially for James. I made some gifs of the number. It’s impossible not to fall for this itty bitty Junie face.
Patsy is prepared to conceal her broken heart by letting Jean have Johnny and his large fortune. But now Jean has the chance to do something selfless once she’s aware of her sister’s feelings.
Originally, June and Gloria’s roles were reversed. I’m not entirely sure why MGM wanted June to play the younger sister. They did lie about her age so that could be the reason, but Gloria looked the part of kid sister more than June did. During this time, June was dating Dick Powell, who was also advising her on her career. Here’s what he told her about taking the role of Jean Deyo:
“There are two lines that absolutely negate you doing the role of the beautiful sister and they are when the grandfather asks Gloria, ‘Is your sister as pretty as you?’ and she says, ‘Oh prettier, much prettier.’ Nobody is going to believe that. Gloria is a real beauty.”
Humph! But he was right. And this is why I love what famously acerbic critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his review of the film.
“It’s a toss up between June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven as to which is the lovelier girl.”
Powell was also correct because Two Girls and a Sailor was June Allyson’s first starring role. And she became MGM’s darling after that. She and Van Johnson would go on to make four more films. June and Gloria did have one musical number in Thousands Cheer (1943), but this was the only other film they made together. They became good friends, I just wish they’d costarred a couple more times.
Two Girls and a Sailor is pure escapist fluff, a time capsule of wartime Hollywood. And it is, to borrow from one of the film’s songs, sweet and lovely.
Sweet and lovely
Sweeter than the roses in May
And you love me
There is nothing more I can say