Musical Monday: Song of the Open Road (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

song of the open roadThis week’s musical:
Song of the Open Road (1944) – Musical #679

Studio:
United Artists

Director:
S. Sylvan Simon

Starring:
Jane Powell, Regis Toomey, Reginald Denny, Rose Hobart, Jackie Moran, Bonita Granville, Peggy O’Neill, Bill Christy, Hugh Beaumont, Irving Bacon (uncredited), Edward Gargan (uncredited), Irene Tedrow (uncredited)
Themselves in cameo appearances: Edgar Bergan, Charlie McCarthy, W.C. Fields, Sammy Kaye and His Orchestra, the Condos Brothers (Nick Condos, Steve Condos), Chuck Faulkner Band

Plot:
When child actress Jane Powell (Powell) meets a group of kids from the American Youth Hostels while making a picture, she realizes the fun she’s missing out on while having a busy movie schedule. Tired of the pressures of movie making, Jane runs away and joins another youth hostel under a different name.

Trivia:
• Jane Powell’s first film. She is billed as “Introducing a new singing star: Jane Powell.” Powell was under contract to MGM but on loan to United Artists for the film.
• The film had its premiere in Powell’s hometown of Portland, Oregon.
• To promote the film, Jane Powell became Charlie McCarthy’s girlfriend on the radio for “The Chase and Sanborn Hour.”
• Hollywood Canteen Kids
• First film of Bill Christy
• W.C. Fields’s second to last film
• The song “Too Much in Love” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song and the film was nominated for Academy Award for Best Score.
• Filmed in Azusa, CA and Palm Springs, CA.

song of the open road3

Jackie Moran, Bonita Granville, Jane Powell in SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD

Highlights:
• The kids whistling and singing and riding their bikes.
• The Condos Brothers tap dancing sequence on drums.

Notable Songs:
• “Rollin’ Down the Road” performed by Jane Powell
• “(I’m Havin’) Fun in the Sun” performed by Jane Powell
• “Here it Is Monday” performed by Jane Powell

My review:
She went to Hollywood as Suzanne Burce and by the time her first film was released, she was Jane Powell, the name of her character in SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD (1944).

“A strange thing happened just before I started making Song of the Open Road, just before Suzanne disappeared,” Powell wrote in her autobiography. “Someone from the studio called one night when I was ironing and asked, ‘Hello is this Jane Powell?’ I answered, ‘No, I’m afraid you have the wrong number.’ The voice on the other end said, ‘No I don’t, honey. That’s your new name. Your name is Jane now.’ That was it. What a way to get a name.”

In SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD (1944), Jane Powell is a child actor who is growing tired of her busy movie life. After working on a film with teens from the American Youth Hostels, she longs to be a kid and have fun; not having to be on strict filming schedules, taking publicity photos and having French lessons. Jane runs away and joins another youth hostel. She lies about who she is and that she can do the work and tasks the kids are doing, like fixing bikes, and it gets her into trouble. Eventually she wins the other kids over.

In addition to Jane Powell getting her new name from her character, the other actors have names similar to their real ones. For example, Bonita Granville is Bonnie, Jackie Moran is Jack and Peggy O’Neill is Peggy.

Jane Powell remembered her first role fondly in her autobiography. She said there were so many things she had never done before, that it was thrilling, frightening and unreal.

“I loved making that movie; it was all new and exciting,” she wrote. “They kept me so busy I didn’t know if the film was good or bad; the question never even occurred to me.”

She wrote that she loved riding the bikes and remembered the blonde wig her character wears at the beginning being itchy.

It’s amazing to see Jane Powell in her first film, because without having any acting lessons, she seems natural on screen.

“When I look at my old movies now, I’m amazed at how comfortable I seem in those roles,” Powell wrote. “They said I was a natural, but I just played myself.”

After the film came out, Jane Powell was called “the second Deanna Durbin” when reviews came out.

The other actors in the film are fun to watch, particularly Bonita Granville and Jackie Moran. Moran is supposed to be singing at one point, but I’m fairly certain he is not singing. Sadly some of the secondary leads of Peggy O’Neill and Bill Christy died a year or two after the film was released at young ages.

While the film is promoted with stills of W.C. Fields and Edgar Bergan, the two just have cameos. Orchestra leader Sammy Kaye and tap dancers the Condos Brothers are also in the film.

One fun note is the highlight of American Youth Hostels, who received a special thanks at the start of the film. With travel limited during World War II, bike travel through youth hostels were popular.

While 14-year-old Jane Powell said she had so much fun on her first film, as her career took off, she started to feel more like her character. She wanted to be with other teens back home, going to dances and going to school with her friends back home.

“Sometimes I just wanted to run away from it all, like the character I played,” Powell wrote in her autobiography when she made six films in 1948.

I just found SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD to be a joyful and fun film experience. The opening number of everyone riding on bikes and singing is pure joy.

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