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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Classic Film Review: Primrose Path (1940)

Primrose Path tells the story of a young woman, Ellie May (Ginger Rogers), whose family comes from the 'wrong' side of the tracks. This family includes an escort mother (yes, I'm being euphemistic), a failed alcoholic father and a mouthy little sister who is under the spell of her selfish maternal grandmother. Ellie May is a bit of a tomboy, deeply upset by her father's failings and disapproving of her mother and the gifts she brings back after she's been away. Encountering a man near the beach (and stealing his wallet in the process), Ellie May falls instantly in love. Ed (Joel McCrea) marries her after she spins him a lie about her family disowning her. When this secret comes out it threatens their marriage but things at the family home are about to take a tragic turn.

Rogers was fantastic in this. When she first appeared in pigtails she was extremely cute (think Doris Day in On Moonlight Bay (1951) and she passes through trying to be feminine to attract Ed, being a ballsy waitress at his diner and, finally, evolving into a strong woman who is comfortable in herself and beautiful to boot. Here are the before and after shots:

Quite a difference! The supporting cast worked very well, particularly Miles Mander as the drunken father. Queenie Vassar played the manipulative grandmother with few redeeming features better than anybody else could've and even the actress playing Ellie May's younger sister was less irritating than most child actors (and went on to play Agnes in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). Overall, I think this film was well-written and well-acted though I don't think Ed is a particularly enticing hero. This film was my first experience with Joel McCrea so I'm not too sure about him. Ginger, however, has cemented her place at the top of my favourites list: pigtails or not.


gingerrogersfan said...

Ginger should have been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for this film. Ginger's win for Kitty Foyle belongs a little bit to Ellie May. Both performances highlight Ginger's exceptional dramatic skills.

CharmedLassie said...

Completely agree. Watching both of them fairly close together, I was astounded that Ginger had all this dramatic ability I wasn't aware of, having only seen a few musical films before this. Yes, she could dance but, boy, could she act! I'm looking forward to working through other films starring her.

gingerrogersfan said...

If you have time check out my book I have written about Ginger's life and movies. You can find it at

Larry said...

The Academy, as so often happened during that era, probably gave her the Oscar for "Foyle because she was not playing a "could-be" prostitute. I, too, happen to like this film, especially for its grittiness. I wonder if the play and novel had the same romantic ending?

CharmedLassie said...

Good question, Larry! Little research didn't tell me much apart from that the novel's hard to get hold of. I'd place my bets on a more ambivalent ending.