This week’s musical: Look for the Silver Lining (1949)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: David Butler
Starring: June Haver, Gordon MacRae, Ray Bolger, Charles Ruggles, Rosemary DeCamp, Lee Wilde, Lyn Wilde, S.Z. Sakall, Will Rogers Jr. (uncredited), Dick Simmons
Plot: Biographical film of musical star Marilyn Miller, played by June Haver. The film follows Miller’s rise to fame as a singer and dancer, starting with her family vaudeville act until she is the top star on Broadway. The film begins when Miller joins her family’s act, “The Five Columbians,” with her mother, father and two sisters. Miller meets famous vaudeville dancer Jack Donahue (Bolger) who helps her break into show business and is responsible for her first show on Broadway. During her big break, Haver meets actor Frank Carter (MacRae) and the two eventually marry.
-Marilyn Miller, played by Haver, was a famous Broadway musical star in the 1910s and ‘20s. She was in a handful of Hollywood films, but was more successful on the stage. The real Frank Carter, played by MacRae, married Miller in 1919 and died in 1920 car accident, like the film says. Miller next married actress Mary Pickford’s brother, Jack Pickford, in 1922 and they divorced in 1927. She then married dancer Chester Lee O’Brien in 1934 until her death in 1936. Miller died of complications from a nasal surgery at the age of 37.
-In 1942, Louella Parsons announced Joan Leslie was playing the role of Marilyn Miller. Parsons hinted Rita Hayworth and Ann Miller may have been in the running for the film, according to a July 27, 1942 column in the St. Petersburg Times. Apparently plans for this film fell through or were delayed, because in 1947, Parsons then reported in a St. Petersburg Times column.June Haver would play the role of Miller. This time, Parsons says Vera-Ellen was “heartbroken” she didn’t receive the role of Miller, because she was a “leading candidate.”
-Last film of Lee Wilde. Her twin sister Lyn continued acting in films until 1953.
-Gordon MacRae’s second film.
-Will Rogers, Jr. plays his father Will Rogers.
-”Look for the Silver Lining,” sung by June Haver
-”Who?,” sung by Ray Bolger
-”Time on My Hands,” sung by Gordon MacRae
Visually Look for the Silver Lining is fun and colorful, but the actual plot is rather bland.
For a biographical film, you learn very little about Marilyn Miller other than the fact that she existed, was a very famous performer, and one of her husbands died. However, I guess real life is a bit too long to stuff into an hour-and-41-minute film.
Like most biographical movies made during this time, the details are fairly sanitized. Only one of Miller’s three real-life husbands are discussed in the film–Frank Carter, the vaudeville actor who died in the car accident. At the end of the film, Miller’s character marries a character named Henry Doran, played by Dick Simmons. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be Jack Pickford, who was Miller’s next husband, or maybe a combination of her last two husbands: Pickford and Chester Lee O’Brien.
In real life, Miller also was an alcoholic and had issues with sinus infections. She died of complications after surgery that was dealing with her sinus problems. In the film, it was implied that Miller’s health was declining but it was vague. She pirouettes as she practices for a show, then grabs her head in pain. She tells her friend Jack Donahue that her doctor says she has to “stop eating lobster, champagne, staying out late and dancing.”
Though Miller died in 1936, the film ends with her dancing in a colorful music number and singing the title song “Look for the Silver Lining.” But this ending is fairly typical for a musical biographical film where the lead’s life may end rather tragically. These brightly colored musicals don’t want to end on a low note, killing off the main star. For example, 1957’s The Helen Morgan Story (reviewed here)–starring Ann Blyth as the title singer, who died in 1941–ends with a banquet held in honor of the recovering alcoholic Morgan. And The Incendiary Blonde (1945)—with Betty Hutton as Texas Guinan, who died in 1933—closes with Hutton slowly walking out of a hospital, worried about her lover.
The standout stars in this film for me are Ray Bolger and Gordon MacRae. June Haver’s dancing was lovely, but she wasn’t that memorable. I will say that this is one film where the leading lady actually looks fairly similar to the woman she is playing. But I was legitimately sad when MacRae’s character was killed off. I wanted to see more of him and hear more of his singing. Charles Ruggles was fun comic relief and Rosemary DeCamp is always the perfect mother.
I’m not trying to be harsh with Look for the Silver Lining, but there are other fabricated musical biographies that are more entertaining than this one (see Yankee Doodle Dandy, Annie Get Your Gun, Love Me or Leave Me, or Hans Christian Andersen).
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. Visit her Facebook page.