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Jane (Frazee) July: Rosie the Riveter (1944)

This July we celebrate a forgotten star of the 40s whose work we enjoyed at the Picture Show 2024: Jane Frazee.



RODNEY BOWCOCK: There’s only one rooming house with a vacant room in town, and a horde of war workers coming in to help with the effort in a defense plant. As Rosie Warren (Frazee) and her friend Vera (Barbara Jo Allen) share the room with Charlie and Kelly (Frank Albertson and Frank Jenks), naturally taking shifts. We are treated to a series of hijinks involving not only this situation, but Rosie’s prim and proper fiancée who would NEVER go for this deal, and a cast of mildly eccentric family members that also inhabit the boarding house.


SAMANTHA GLASSER: The title is drawn from the famous J. Howard Miller’s drawing of Rosie the Riveter, the woman working to facilitate the war on the home front taking the manufacturing jobs vacated by the men who became soldiers. This story, based on the magazine story, "Room for Two," by Dorothy Curnow Handle, depicts Frazee working in a factory and failing at many of the possible jobs including airbrushing airplane parts. However, most of the action takes place at home.


RB: This was just one of eight films with Frazee in the cast that was released in 1944, the busiest year of the busiest time of her career (the war years). More than a couple of these were titles like Kansas City Kitty and Beautiful But Broke, in which she played second fiddle to Joan Davis, just two more films that have been placed on my list of movies to try to dig up.


SG: She is lovely in this film, and she plays well against the comedy of Vera Vague, so I could see how she would be a good pair with Joan Davis too.


The housing shortage during WWII made way for many entertaining films including The More the Merrier (1943) and Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1944). This film has the lighthearted flavor of those, as well as the interesting characters. It starts with four people in search of a place to live, and in the end all four of them wind up renting the same room, with the women working days and using the bedroom at night and the men working nights and using the room during the day. It sounds like a good idea, but there are more than 16 hours in a day, and the house is full of needy teenagers, feuding marrieds, and a frisky old grandma.


RB: The concept of a “housing shortage” subgenre of comedy film during the war is one of the more interesting pop-culture developments during this time. It didn’t last particularly long, but as you pointed out, it provided more than a few pretty good films.


SG: They say there is a housing shortage these days too, although our expectations are wildly different now than they were in the 40s. Then, they were content to have a room to sleep in. Bathrooms and kitchen were shared spaces. The idea of boarding with strangers and eating meals with them is icky to the modern person, even in a dorm scenario.


It is obvious that the relationship between Frazee and her boss (Frank Fenton) stems from convenience more than adoration. She is gorgeous, but he hardly wants to touch her. Frank Albertson is set up to be a better love interest, but I found him to be dull and not much of a step up. The romantic piece of this story was the weakest part for me.


RB: I had kind of forgotten altogether that there even was a romantic subplot!


SG: See? It made no impression. Landlady grandma (Maude Eburne) will be familiar to fans of the Henry Aldrich films. She is one of those actresses whose name you don’t know but whose face you definitely do.


RB: Barbara Jo Allen, better known both then and today as Vera Vague, was all over the place at the time, appearing aurally on the Bob Hope Show, a nearly forgotten series of 2-reel comedy shorts for Columbia and random other films, not least of which Snafu, which turned out to be a highlight of the 2024 Picture Show. She was seemingly everywhere in the 40’s. Her comedy here seems a bit more muted than in many of her other appearances. This time out, she’s a fairly attractive middle-aged woman. In the aforementioned Snafu, released just a year later, she plays the spouse of Robert Benchley.


SG: Louise Erickson is adorably peppy as the boy crazy granddaughter who breaks into the coveted room to make numerous phone calls to admirers trying to arrange a way to have a date every night of the week. She has the button-nosed cuteness of Priscilla Lane, and it is a wonder she didn’t have a bigger career in the movies, though fans of old time radio got to hear her in A Date With Judy, The Great Gildersleeve, and The Life of Riley. She began her radio career at age 7 playing a fairy princess on a show called Uncle Whoa Bill.


RB: We briefly dug into the career of Erickson when we review another of the few films that she did, Meet Miss Bobbysocks, released the same year as this film, a radio actress that I had always wanted to meet and missed my single opportunity to do so by a few years, although she did live until 2019, for various reasons, she stopped attending the old-time radio conventions after a few appearances in the ‘90’s. She did some work on Broadway and was even married to Ben Gazzara for most of the 1950’s. I’ve heard that she was a lovely woman and a lively conversationalist. Of hobby-related regrets, not getting to meet her ranks pretty high on my list.


SG: Alfalfa Switzer is delightfully awkward as the gawky teenaged brother.

RB: He’s pretty good here, isn’t he? I was surprised that he actually seemed to get a little less screentime than Erickson. I’d have enjoyed an additional seen or two with him.


SG: Frank Jenks is always a welcome sight. For a guy who looks like he drives a truck for a living, he is a surprisingly agile dancer. I suppose it was more common for men to dance in those days, but I did a little research and found that he started his career as a song and dance man. Who knew?

RB: I can assure you that I did not.


SG: Tom Kennedy plays a harried piano mover.

“Can you play boogie woogie?” “Of course not. Only the classics, like ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama.’”

This is a Republic film and the low budget peeks through in the numerous uses of rear projection, like in the car during the storm, or the Ferris wheel scene.


RB: That’s undeniable, but the film is also not a typical Republic film, at least in the way that we think of them today (IE: It’s not a serial or western). Their light comedies and musicals, under lock and key via Paramount at this point, have little chance of being unleashed on the public, even less so than those of a cornpone variety, such as the Judy Canova films and that’s a real shame, because they’re in a similar vein to other films in the genre by Universal and Columbia, both studios that were generally peers of Republic at the time, in spite of being held in a higher regard today.


The local trades didn’t find the film to be any great shakes, but for the most part realized that it was generally acceptable all around. “Here is a swell little picture that played to exceptionally good business. Lots of laughs and the cast is excellent,” discovered the Park Theater in North Vernon, Indiana.


“Plenty of howls and fun assured plus the antics of Vera Vague. Enjoyed by all,” was the assessment of M. Ewing of the Ewing Theatre in Midlothia, Illinois.


It played just as well in Columbus Ohio over at the Linden Theatre on Cleveland Avenue (which is now a parking lot) where it was praised for being a “very pleasing little comedy that satisfied the patrons and there were plenty."


For my part, I loved this film. Just the kind of comfort food that I love. Four stars.


SG: It has definitely been a happy reviewing week for us both. Charles Ryweck for the Motion Picture Review called the film a, “pleasant little programmer in a manner that should find ready acceptance by the entire family through the appeal of its homey, and often amusing, incidents.”


The Independent Film Journal wrote, “The material is pretty familiar… Joseph Santley’s direction keeps the show bouncing along at a fast pace.”


Four stars.

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Frazee is indeed an undervalued talent, particularly in her Universal years, brightening the likes of SAN ANTONIO ROSE and WHAT'S COOKIN'? And few remember she's in BUCK PRIVATES and HELLZAPOPPIN' as well.


BTW, the Republic musicals aren't entirely under lock and key. We've been running a bunch of them at Cinecon over the past few years--all new digital preservations--including the Hit Parade series. If they're not showing up elsewhere, it could be that the demand simply isn't there.


Also, it's "scene," not "seen."

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