Today is July 26, 2018. In addition to the twenty-sixth day of #CleanMovieMonth, today is my sister’s birthday. Today, Rebekah Brannan, the younger L. A. Soprani Sister and co-founder of PEPS, turns fourteen. We have done our best to give her a lovely celebration despite the current disaster. Our local fire, which was dubbed the Cranston Fire after the local fire station, hit the national news yesterday afternoon. Our governor has declared that Riverside County is in a state of disaster. As of the latest reports, the wildfire has burned 7,500 around acres. Despite the tireless work of nearly one thousand personnel from all over the state, the fire is still only 5% contained?
I asked myself what film would be appropriate for our current circumstances. I decided that my movie choice for today must be one which was inspiring in times of crisis. What time in film history contained more inspiring content for lifting audiences’ spirits than the World War II era of the 1940s? Right in the middle of the Code era, this time inspired people to keep going and retain their hope. One of the finest examples of such a film is Music for Millions from 1944. This is a celebration of classical music starring June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, and Jose Iturbe. This tender story shows the battle of those who were on the home front during war times. They had to fight to remain strong and brave during heart-rending, agonizing times, as we and others throughout the nation do now in times of disaster.
Six-year-old “Mike” arrives in New York City by train to stay with her sister, Barbara Ainsworth. Unfortunately, Mrs. Joe Ainsworth, whom her younger sister calls “Babs,” is not at the train station to pick up her sister. Mike stubbornly sits on her suitcase and refuses to speak to anyone until she finds her sister. Thankfully, some employees of the train station find out that her sister plays the string bass in Jose Iturbi’s orchestra. She is escorted to the theater, where she promptly walks onstage, suitcase and umbrella in hand, and begins waving at Babs. Jose Iturbi, the conductor of the orchestra, and Andrews, the orchestra manager, are beside themselves when they see the adorable little girl stealing the show from the musicians. Eventually, she scurries offstage. Backstage, Babs, who is a lovely young wife, is overjoyed to see her younger sister. It seems that the telegram which her aunt, with whom Mike has been living, sent to tell Babs that Mike was coming did not arrive in time. Babs is a young wife whose husband, Joe, is overseas in the service. Mr. Iturbi forgives her for the disturbance Mike caused, since he has other problems on his mind. The call of patriotic duty has removed most of the male musicians from his orchestra; now, he is concerned that his female musicians will join the service, too. Having no other choice, Barbara takes Mike to the boarding house where she and six other female musicians from the orchestra live. The other girls in their suite of rooms are Rosalind, Marie, Elsa, Helen, Anita, and Jane. Their landlady, Mrs. McGuff, doesn’t allow children in the house, so they keep Mike’s presence in their room secret. Mike doesn’t understand why the other girls won’t let Babs help move furniture. Soon after, Barbara faints after getting too excited. A kind, elderly doctor comes and confirms that she is alright. Later, he tells Mike a secret about her sister: she is going to have a baby. Mike is thrilled to learn that she is going to be an aunt, and she does everything she can to help her sister. Soon after, the orchestra prepares to go on a tour to entertain military camps. Meanwhile, Barbara’s faith is beginning to fail. She hasn’t received a letter from Joe in a very long time, and she fears that he has been wounded or killed. She is trying to be brave, but she wants her husband to come back and see their baby. Little does she know that her friends have received a telegram for her with bad news about Joe. They are afraid to tell her for fear that she will lose her baby. As they travel around the country with Mike, playing music, building friendships, and bringing beautiful, inspiring classical music to millions. How long can the girls keep the secret of the news about Joe from Babs and Mike? What will Babs do as a young mother without her husband? Could there perhaps be another solution? Watch this movie to find out.
Barbara “Babs” Ainsworth is played by June Allyson. Mike is played by Margaret O’Brien. Jose Iturbi is played by himself. Andrews is played by Jimmy Durante. Rosalind is played by Marsha Hunt. Marie is played by Marie Wilson. Elsa is played by Katharine Balfour. Helen is played by Helen Gilbert. Anita is played by Mary Parker. Jane is played by Madeleine Lebeau. Mrs. McGuff is played by Ethel Griffies. The doctor is played by Harry Davenport.
This movie is a real treat for any fan of classical music. Jose Iturbi was a phenomenal classical pianist and conductor who lent his talent to several MGM films during the 1940s. In this movie, you can hear and see him effortlessly play many well-known classical piano pieces. His fingers just dance over the keys; he seems so relaxed as he plays. In addition, he energetically leads the orchestra to play with enthusiasm and vigor. The classical pieces played in this movie include The New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, “Piano Concerto in A Major” by Edvard Grieg, “The March of the Toys” from Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert, “Waltz in E minor by Frederic Chopin, and “Clair de lune” by Claude Debussy. “Clair de lune” is a very important theme song for this movie. It was Joe and Babs’s song, so it is very dear to Babs. In a diner, a friend of theirs, Larry, is playing the harmonica. He is a famous classical harmonica player, played by Larry Adler in basically a cameo appearance. Later, Jose Iturbi plays the song on the piano.
Jimmy Durante is another musical personality who adds life to this film. He is not a great classical musician, but he is a great entertainer. With his gravelly voice and inimitable piano playing, he could really sell a song. He delivers two hilarious songs, “Toscanini, Iturbi and Me” and “Umbriago.” His character, Andrews, is a riot. His relationship with Mike is really cute. Any film with Jimmy Durante is improved by his charismatic personality.
This is a perfect Code film. It is one of the wonderful ones which is a delightful mixture of moving drama, light-hearted sentiment, and music. It has both serious and comical moments. This movie may make you laugh and cry. The main element which elevates it to the exclusive level of perfection is its inspirational qualities. In trying times, such as during war or natural disasters, it can be difficult to keep up your faith. The faith of a six-year-old girl is what sets this story apart. Mike is a very religious little girl. She always goes to church to pray. When Babs tells her that she is afraid that Joe will never come back, Mike encourages her to pray, telling her that all she has to do is ask and say “please.” Her simple faith and piety are very inspiring to her sister and to all the other girls. She shows what is meant by the saying, “the faith of a child.” It is rare to see a child play such a deeply spiritual role, but it is very touching to see. No matter what your own religion is, you have to respect and admire this little girl, who is so deeply trusting. If faith can move mountains, perhaps this girl’s faith can bring her sister’s husband home.
Tonight, a devastating fire in Northern California, the Carr Fire, is destroying dozens of structures. Down here in Southern California, the Cranston Fire still burns. In times like this, we need inspiring movies with music and faith like Music for Millions. Watch it today!
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