Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sally and Saint Anne - 1952

Sally and Saint Anne (1952) is a sweet and silly souvenir of a time when movies unabashedly basked in a warm glow of nostalgia even if the story was intended to be current and modern.  We have the strange feeling watching this that the filmmakers knew they were preserving an era, and we, the audience in the future, are the proverbial fly on the wall.  As such, we may enjoy it more than the original audience did. 
Though you could call this a family movie, in a time when most films were suitable for the whole family this quiet little gem is unfettered by the dubious yoke of being wholesome.  It is wholesome, too, but it is also a sly parody of doctrine, dogma, and a boldly tongue-in-cheek look at the peculiarities of the highly ritualistic Catholic faith (getting away with it probably because Irish Catholics love to make fun of themselves).  As such, it is as courageously unselfconscious about what it is as is the main character—a teenage girl pursuing an unselfconscious friendship with a saint to whom she prays, and her family of screwballs unselfconsciously pursuing their own happiness.
Ann Blyth appeared in three films released in 1952, all very different and all, unsurprisingly, showing her versatility.  The World in His Arms with Gregory Peck, which we’ll get to in a few weeks, is a glorious swashbuckling historical romance where she plays a Russian countess.  The day after she finished filming, she was whisked to location shooting in Colorado to begin One Minute to Zero with Robert Mitchum, a tense Korean War drama in which she played a United Nations worker in the war zone.  
Sally and Saint Anne, which couldn’t have been more different, was the last film she made for Universal-International.  She gets top billing here.  Her contract ended in December 1952.  Columnist Louella Parsons noted: “She started there when she was fourteen, and everyone from William Goetz (studio head) to the gateman has wonderful things to say about her.” 
She would sign with her new studio, MGM, which brought a new twist to her film career—and a long-desired ambition—to sing in several big-budget musicals.  We’ll cover those this summer.
In the meantime, she ran out the clock on her U-I contract with several more radio appearances, publicity chores (including a personal appearance tour of several military bases in Alaska), and the peak of her popularity surely typified by the book of paper dolls published by Merrill Publishing.  According to American Paper Doll from an article by David Wolfe, it was “…one of the most beautiful paper doll books ever produced by Merrill Publishing.”  See this previous post for a look at her paper doll likenesses.
Ann’s character in Sally and Saint Anne may have played with paper dolls herself at the beginning of the movie.  She ages from about twelve years old to eighteen in this film, with remarkable authenticity.  It helps that, Ann being small to begin with, several of her friends are taller, but Ann also moves with the gangly awkwardness of a pre-teen, bounces with happiness, droops with disappointment, and her young face registers a parade of unharnessed and unfiltered thoughts and emotions.  Most especially that voice, which we’ve noted as malleable in several films, here changes instantly like flicking a light switch when she grows up—yet her performance is without gimmick and completely natural.  We can hardly believe she was twenty-three years old at the time.
We see she roller skates quite well (she doesn’t do any tap dancing on skates like Gene Kelly, but it’s still pretty good), and when an errant football goes astray on the playground, she catches it in the old breadbasket, while continuing a conversation with her friends, and fires it back like Joe Namath.

If you catch a glint of shine on Ann’s teeth, it’s the braces.  It had to have been somebody's idea of a gag to put faux braces on the most perfect set of natural teeth in Hollywood.
As the film opens, we see by the graphic on a passing newspaper delivery truck that we are in a small town called Middleton, and so we know from the beginning this is an ordinary place of no great consequence.  Despite Saint Anne getting billing in the title, this is no religious epic; it’s more like a buddy picture.  There aren’t really any miracles in the movie, either, except the very real miracle how a girl blossoms into a young lady.
Ann is tearing through her parochial school looking for her missing lunchbox.  Another girl, busily eating her own lunch, shrugs her shoulders and laconically tells her to pray to St. Anthony, “Findings things is his racket,” and “He’ll do anything for a few Hail Marys.”
Recess will be over soon, and she’s wasted enough time, so Ann heads next door to the church, and in a businesslike manner, yanks the chapel veil out of her school uniform pocket and plunks it on her head as she genuflects upon entering, and heads up the long aisle to plea bargain with the statue of St. Anthony.  But the bell rings and she can’t make it, and she gets overrun by other girls rushing back to class, so Ann glances up at the closest statue to her, Saint Anne, and says, “Will you help me find my lunchbox, please?”  
It’s not a very flowery prayer, but as reverent as you can get because she really believes she’s asking for the aid of somebody who really can help.  As she heads back to class, one of the nuns tells her she’s wanted in the office of the Mother Superior.  Probably because Herman Shumlin and Lillian Hellman are waiting there wanting her to read for a part in Watchin the Rhine.
(BAW-ha-ha-ha-ha.  I just crack myself up sometimes.  See our intro post to this series here if you want to know what I’m talking about.

There, on Mother Superior’s desk she sees her lunchbox, and she’s thrilled the prayer worked so quickly.  However, it was actually returned by John McIntire, who plays a Snidely Whiplash sort of comic villain in this role that he really sinks his teeth into, especially his garish, gold snaggle-tooth, which is why he is called Goldtooth McCarthy.  He found the lunchbox on the back of his ice truck, where Ann had stolen a ride.  He is an oily, conniving fellow, recently become a ward alderman and he has a longstanding feud with Ann’s family. 
For her punishment, Ann has to write “I must not steal rides on motor vehicles” on the blackboards that line all four sides of her classroom.  Reminds one of Bart Simpson.  I pity the poor set dresser that had to really write all that.
After school, madder than a wet hen and spitting nails, Ann stomps back to church, smacks the chapel veil on her head, and has it out with Saint Anne like a very angry customer at a complaint department.  She calls Saint Anne a “snitcher” (which cracked me up because it was one of my father’s favorite silly insults) and with tears of frustration in her voice, she gives one last parting shot, “And another thing, instead of making trouble for kids, you’d do better to give that McCarthy a black eye!”
I love the next scene when it is Sunday, and Ann is late for church.  Her father, mother, and three older brothers are already in the pew, the Mass is half over, and Ann tries to sneak into a packed, quiet church in very squeaky shoes, like she’s walking a tightrope.  Anyone who’s ever had to do this knows her agony.  The priest is trying to read announcements and Ann’s monstrous squeaks tearing through his speech and echoing through the church is hysterical.  Finally she gets close to where her family is sitting, and her mother grabs her roughly and yanks her into the pew.
I like that the priest, played by George Mathews, is a curmudgeon, not one of the typical movie jovial or saintly fellows, no Bing Crosby, Spencer Tracy, or Pat O’Brien.  He’s a just guy trying to get his job done, squeaky shoes or no, and she’s stealing his thunder.  He tells us it is the first Sunday after Easter, and one of the quiet joys of this movie is that it takes place in spring.  There is a gentle restfulness, the delightful sunshine and the anticipation of the warmer weather to come.  That wonderful end-of-the-school-year feeling we had as kids.
Collecting herself after her public embarrassment, Ann glances up at the statue of Saint Anne, and repeats her insult, “Snitcher!” and turning, being shushed by her mother, looks across the church and sees John McIntire sitting in his own pew—with a black eye.
The explosive smile of awestruck happiness on her face is wonderful, and she snuggles down in her pew, stealing delighted glances at Saint Anne.  She is not amazed at an apparent miracle—hardly; she has been spoon-fed on tales of miracles and the lives of the saints since she made her First Communion—she’s just tickled to pieces that she got to go to the head of line for favors for once in her life.  This is a girl who’s always late, always losing things, always in trouble at school.  Suddenly, a big-time saint answers her prayer—she thinks—and it’s like not having to wait in the long line at an exclusive nightclub because the star has come out onto the sidewalk and walked arm-in-arm with you inside and escorted you to the best table in the house.  You are Somebody.
She solidifies her new relationship with her now amiga saint by buying a smaller, but still hefty, statue of Saint Anne for her bedroom and creates a little shrine on a small table with a votive candle.  Saint Anne becomes her roomie, the friend who came for a sleepover and stayed.
More miracles happen.  Not big miracles, maybe not miracles at all, but to a twelve-year old, getting all her work done on time and not being kept after school could seem pretty miraculous.  The other girls at school have problems, too, and they ask Ann to put in a good for word for them.  Her reputation is growing around town.  But she’s no Bernadette of Lourdes (besides, Jennifer Jones already got that job.  See our past post on The Song of Bernadette); she freely admits of her prayers, “It don’t always work.”  

But we have the feeling she just likes an excuse to chat with her patron.  She writes requests in a pocket notebook, and brings the matters up with Saint Anne.  Her moments of prayer are really more like gossipy conversations with a girlfriend (“I had such a good day today, Saint Anne!”), and it’s poignant and funny that she can so freely unburden herself to the image of a saint, as naturally as if she were talking to a favorite aunt.
Then the transformation comes from girl to young woman.  One moment she wonders when she will be allowed to get her braces off, because then she will be a woman, she thinks, and the camera pans down to her notebook beside the statue.  Then, as if continuing her prayer, her voice deepens, resonates with not just emotional, but actually vocal maturity, her diction is ladylike, and the single notebook has become a stack of them, as the camera pans up on a now taller (she’s looking Saint Anne in the eye) young woman, a high school senior, with the loveliness and poise we could not have imagined when she was a kid wishing black eyes on people. 
She talks to Saint Anne about a new problem now.  Goldtooth McIntire, still an alderman, has increased his political power and his wealth, and he backed a city plan to construct a new highway through town—right where their house is.  Their house will be torn down.
Though this problem will hang over their heads until the end of the movie, this is still a story made up of a string of small everyday moments.  A glamorous new friend from Boston comes into her life, played with snobbish sophistication by Kathleen Hughes, who, as soon as they get past the gates of school at the end of the day, wantonly puts her hair up and applies makeup.  Ann curiously, and bit enviously, watches her friend’s expertise with lipstick.
The trip to the drugstore soda fountain, and the wonderfully dorky sodajerk played by Robert Nichols who works the counter like a Las Vegas showman.  (We've discussed romance at the drugstore here in this previous post.)
The handsome guy back from college, played by Palmer Lee (also known as Gregg Palmer) on whom Ann has a crush, but he goes for the high-tone friend, leaving Ann out in the cold.
The daily troubles of Ann’s family of misfits: her father, played by Otto Hulett, a blustering working man who fantasizes about choking John McIntire.
Her mother, played by Frances (Andy Griffith’s Aunt Bee) Bavier, is funny, sweetly vague and a bit dotty, but Mama rules the roost, constantly peeling apples or potatoes.  “You were the only one born in the hospital, Sally.  Maybe that’s what makes you so different from the boys.”
Her three brothers, an unsuccessful musician and composer, played by Lamont Johnson; an unsuccessful magician, who can’t even do a decent card trick, played by Jack Kelly; and an unsuccessful boxer, played by a punch-drunk Hugh O’Brian, training there in the living room by perpetual family guest Hymie, played by King Donovan.

Most especially, there is grandpa, played by Edmund Gwenn.  He took to his bed twenty years ago, but he’s not sick.  He’s just contemplative and sees no reason to get up.  The priest comes to pay a sick call, trying to get him to make his peace with the Lord, and they always end of fighting, because Grandpa loves to egg him on with irrelevant philosophical arguments.
The priest is grouchily dubious about Ann’s taking petitions for prayer, but asks her to request a new church roof, all the same.  “I can put you down for a week from Tuesday, Father.  If anyone drops out, I’ll push it up.
Grandpa solves the problem of them losing their home.  He owns an empty lot across town, and decides they will move their beloved house to that lot. 
The menagerie is a bit like the Sycamore family of You Can’tTake it With You, and soon they will have one more hanger-on: the local heartthrob Palmer Lee, home from college.
I especially like the exchange between Ann and Mr. Shapiro, the local grocer, played by Joe Mell.  His wife’s expecting, and he desperately wants a boy this time because he’s already got three daughters.  Ann writes down his wish in her notebook.  “One boy.  Mr. Shapiro.”
He’s a jovial guy who shakes his head at her innocence.  “Why would an Irish saint go out of her way for a guy like me?”
“Mr. Shapiro, Saint Anne was the grandmother of Jesus.”
He shrugs, “So?”
“So she isn’t Irish at all.  She’s Jewish.”
Mr. Shapiro gives her fond grins and free pickles.  But Saint Anne takes a back seat for a while as Ann tackles her current woe of lovesickness on her own, and undergoes another transformation.  Jealous of her Boston snob ex-friend, who is latching onto the college boy on whom Ann has a crush, she listens to Grandpa’s advice and gussies up for the country club dance.  The sodajerk is taking her. 
Pop tells her and her date that she must be home by 11:30, because the house movers are coming tonight—it being easier to move a house, apparently, when there is less traffic.
An older woman friend, very chic (who recently got engaged because Ann filed the request on her behalf with Saint Anne), makes Ann over into a Vogue fashion plate.  We know Ann is now considered sexy because the minute she steps out the door, you can hear the sultry moaning of a saxophone.  Dang, that never happens to me.  I think we’ve discussed this before.  A saxophone always indicates the presence of a femme fatale in classic films.  Very handy, in case we’ve missed the point.
She wows them at the country club.  A couple of quite funny scenes: first, Ann’s dorky date, who is apparently a hepcat, manhandles her into a frenetic dance, which after a few stunned and clumsy moments, she actually follows him pretty well.  They are the center of attention.  She artfully attempts to maintain her pretended sophistication while involved in the silliest of ballroom calisthenics.  College Boy is bowled over at her sexiness, and departs with her to the bar, where she orders a martini because she sees the word printed on a cocktail napkin.

Fortunately, the bartender, new on the job, is a friend of her brother’s.  He looks after her, and puts plain water in her martini glass.  When she realizes this, after an anxious sip, she smiles with relief and catches his wink.  She boldly toasts the young man she is trying to impress, “Down the hatch!” and bolts the water like a sailor.  Then she orders a double.
When Ann introduces the bartender to her date, and beams, “He got the job!” we might assume that his getting the job was another successful prayer to Saint Anne.  By the way, Bess Flowers shows up at the country club dance.  Like you didn't know she would.
Cinderella Ann and College Boy ditch their dates, not a nice thing to do, and end up in his convertible under the moonlight.  She nervously braces herself for her first kiss, and gives him a shove when he gets too passionate.  She runs off, arrives home, long after midnight.  Unlike the real Cinderella, Ann never loses a shoe, nor does her dress turn to rags—but instead the house has disappeared.  Cinderella never had a problem like that.  It doesn’t take her long to catch up; the house is inching along through town at a snail’s pace.
In the wackiest part of the movie, the family is still in the house while the movers are dragging them to another part of town, but the house is their safe haven from a baffling world in which none of them fit in.
The conflict is ratcheted up a notch when we see that Grandpa’s vacant lot is actually situated between two brick apartment buildings that Goldtooth owns.  As the house slides into its new cozy niche, Goldtooth, who had no idea this was happening, and who has been wanting that empty lot for years, throws a fit.  The feud heats up and several tit-for-tat events occur.  Look for Dabbs Greer as his harried lawyer.
College Boy, who, like Hymie the fight trainer, and Saint Anne, becomes part of the family because he won’t leave.  He tries to wear Ann down, because she won’t have anything to do with him since the night of the convertible when he got too passionate and embarrassed her.  The family accepts him, Mama shows him Ann’s naked baby pictures, which infuriates her more, but in the end, College Boy and Grandpa team up to solve the family’s problems with Goldtooth once and for all.  It’s not really a miracle; it’s more due to math and detective work.  But then, as we like to believe, (even if it’s not really in the Bible) the Lord helps those who help themselves.
We never do find out if Mr. Shapiro’s wife had a boy or girl.  It feels like the movie pulled a punch there.
Speaking of punches, the only time we are given clear indication of a miracle being performed is during Ann’s boxer brother’s fight, when he is gamely trying to win money the family owes to Goldtooth.  He is, as usual, losing badly.  Ann prays in her seat, and we hear a light heavenly tone, quite different than the stomach-churning ring bell, and we see her poor punch-drunk brother suddenly float along in a stupor of footwork that looks like a cross between a ballet by Charlie Chaplin and Monty Python’s Minister of Silly Walks.  He swings wildly and sucker punches his opponent, who drops like a sack of wet cement.  Her brother passes out, too, but since he hit the canvas second, he’s declared the winner.  KO by Saint Anne: The Patron Saint of Black Eyes.
Another, perhaps more everyday miracle, is when Goldtooth and the family bury the hatchet, and Grandpa, who has given up his “sickbed” decrees that the family, Hymie, College Boy, and Goldtooth will all go to church together.  Grandpa hasn’t been in church in twenty years.  Ann, delighted, bounces upstairs to get his hat and coat, and hers, perhaps the only one in the house to sense a miracle has occurred.  One has to be in tune with miracles to recognize them. 
As she leaves her room, in a very nicely framed shot, we see this lovely young woman blow not one, but two affectionate kisses to Saint Anne.  It may not be the proper behavior of obeisance to a saint, but her love and gratitude demonstrates her confidence that Saint Anne has her back. That’s a very special kind of reverence.
Sally and Saint Anne seems to be another one of those Ann Blyth movies in DVD limbo (Doah!  No doctrinal pun intended.  Oh, okay.  Mea culpa.), but I think you can still see it up at YouTube here for the time being.
Come back next Thursday when we travel to post-war Washington, D.C. in the 1949 comedy Free for All where Bob Cummings discovers how to make cars run on water instead of gasoline, and Ann goes along for the ride.

American Paper Doll from article by David Wolfe, 2013, #55
Ellensburg Daily Record, November 4, 1952, p. 6.
Milwaukee Sentinel, November 14, 1951, article by Louella Parsons, p. 8; December 3, 1952, article by Louella Parsons, p. 8

St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, December 15, 1951, article by Louella Parsons, p. 4D.

THANK the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.

 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.

The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. 

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at and I'll get back to you with the details.


grandoldmovies said...

Love your charming post on what sounds like a charming movie! Will definitely have to catch it. thanks so much!

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks, GOM. I hope you can see it soon. Lots of little things to catch in it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a delightful film which I had never heard of. Will get on to YouTube and catch it.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I'd love to know what you think when you've seen it. Enjoy.

Laura said...

This is one of my old favorites which used to run on TV a lot when I was growing up. I so enjoyed revisiting it via your post. I will pay particular attention to Ann's voice when she grows up next time I watch it.

And I LOL re Bess Flowers. She's everywhere! One of my days at the TCM Fest she showed up in every single live-action movie!

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for stopping by, Laura. I realize now I didn't give credit to director Rudolph Mate, who set up some great shots, and the pacing of the movie is very smooth. It's quite a lovingly crafted piece.

I think we need to start a Bess Flowers fan club.

Laura said...

I was watching TEACHER'S PET tonight and sure enough, there was Bess in the Bongo Club, at the next table over from Doris Day and Gig Young. It's almost like she's a stalker, LOL.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love this: "It's almost like she's a stalker."

I think that's it. She's a stalker.

Caftan Woman said...

Sounds like a total charmer, and right up my alley. said...

They have this movie on this site

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Thanks for the update. Whether Universal has licensed this particular DVD for sale is unknown to me, but for classic movie fans who search far and wide for films, it's always nice to know what's out there.

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