In honor of Baby New Year, this month we discuss movies about youth and starring youth. This week we examine teenagers of the wartime era.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: Don Collins (Bob Crosby) is a smalltime singer that has returned from active duty to find his spot at the local radio station is gone. Fear not though, as he has encouraging letters written from Susan Tyler, promising him support and help growing his career. Don ascends onto the Tyler home, to find that his letters didn’t come from the lovely 20 something (Lynn Merrick) that answers the door, but her little sister, Susan (Louise Erickson), all of 15 years old, with the bobbysocks to prove it. Susan hatches an elaborate plan to bolster Don’s career, while he’s occupied falling in love with her older sister.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: For anyone who ever loved the Andy Hardy or Henry Aldrich series, where teenagers act much younger than their contemporary counterparts and swing music is the most sinister thing threatening the young, Meet Miss Bobby Socks will thrill. It is an idealized depiction of youth, carefree, sweet and intensely passionate. The way the girls react to Bob Crosby, who I can't imagine ever elicited such passionate squeals in reality, though I could be wrong, conjures up images of girls swooning over Frank Sinatra or a generation later screaming their brains out over the Beatles. I'll admit I went through my own hysterical phase, dreaming of Hanson and O-Town in the late-90s, early 2000s.
RB: Meet Miss Bobby Socks stands as a charming little time capsule, the sort of film churned out by the dozen during the war years, and exactly the sort of film that has adorned the screens of any number of past Cinevents and Picture Shows (and will continue to do so in the future…reference the 2023 scheduling of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby). What little there is of a threadbare plot frequently grinds to a halt for any number of songs, but while that may seem like a negative thing, it’s really all part of the fun here.
The performances are solid all around. Bob Crosby is fine in his top billed role as Don, and Lynn Merrick is perfectly competent as Helen.
SG: We saw Merrick recently in Nine Girls, released around the same time as this film. She is lovely to look at. Crosby is slightly stiff, but passable as the up-and-coming crooner. I did think it was an odd choice in the scene were Susan tricks Don into embracing her sister for publicity purposes by breaking glass near them that it was the schoolteacher, who is probably used to sudden noises, would be the one to jump rather than Don who just fought in the war. It would have been a funnier scene had Don been the one to cling to Helen instead of the other way around.
RB: The film really shines though in the moments when Louise Erickson is on screen. One could make a strong argument that she was an actress prone to typecasting, but she was only in three movies including this one. Erickson is most known for her roles on radio series like Marjorie on The Great Gildersleeve and Judy Foster on A Date with Judy, which is basically the character that she channels in this film. I’m a big fan of Erickson’s radio work, and thought that she handled her starring role (she’s on screen more than anyone else here) really well.
SG: Her voice is very distinctive, young and wistful. It is her charm that carries the film. Robert White plays Susan's boyfriend Howard, a long-suffering squeaky-voiced teen who can't compare to Don's maturity or talent, but his loyalty is admirable. It tugged on my heartstrings that he worked so hard to buy Susan an orchid, even knowing that she would believe it was from Don. It gave me a chuckle that in the scene where the kids are renovating the social space to prepare for the concert, Howard literally painted himself into a corner, a representation of what he had been doing romantically thus far.
SUSAN: Howard, do you have to sneeze so much? HOWARD: Do you have to smell so much?
RB: Crosby’s songs are just fine, but overall forgettable. The real musical highlights come from Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five and the Kim Loo Sisters. Jordan’s career was a short time away from his commercial peak, and his show stopping performance of Deacon Jones highlights why. It prompted a deep dive on my part into Jordan’s recorded work on my part that I’ve been finding quite fruitful. The Kim Loo Sisters as well, known as an Asian-American Andrews Sisters are lots of fun too.
SG: I was familiar with some of Louis Jordan's work prior to the movie, so I was excited to see his name in the cast, but I don't know if I'd seen him perform before. His style is remarkably contemporary. He wears flashy glasses and mugs for the camera, and his band can't keep themselves still throughout the song. I could see these guys fitting in on stage at Saturday Night Live; they put on quite a show. It is clear that Jordan's sequence and the Kim Loo Sisters, who are cute as can be and very good singers, are inserts that could be cut at will for time or racist proclivities.
RB: Naturally, this isn’t the kind of film that got a lot of attention or spent much time on the top of the bills. However, one showman in Milwaukee pulled in 3,000 people on election night by screening this film in conjunction with a “Miss Bobby Socks” contest to select the typical American Girl of 1945. As one can expect during wartime, the emphasis was on encouraging the purchase of war bonds. The entire affair was so successful that it was covered in a piece by Look Magazine.
Less savvy showmen had a difficult time putting this film over. “This is a very poor picture. It may do half of a double bill,” griped J Lelse of the Rand Theatre. Its not that the movie has a poor reputation. It has no reputation. I couldn’t find any evidence of it airing on TV after 1961 besides a single TCM airing in 2007. This is a shame, because it’s a film full of tuneful songs and an especially delightful performance from Erickson, I’d give this forgotten film four stars, not only for being so much fun to watch, but for being a wonderful example of the B-musical, a largely forgotten and maligned genre of film that no longer exists today.
SG: Hollywood Nite Life said, "The most pleasing factor is director Glenn Tryon's homeopathic handling of the kid psychology. He manages to hold up a delightful mirror to our crooner-conscious adolescents-- and the problems this daffy reflex pose to ma and pa-- and the school board."
I liked it from the beginning when Don stood outside Susan's door to meet his wartime pen pal and the numbers on the exterior of the house were the same style that my childhood apartment had. This is a happy spirit-lifting film with lots of talented lesser-known faces that is deserving of three stars.