I watched Seven Sweethearts (1942) for the first time last night, and really enjoyed it! I am sure cuddling up with my three year old daughter, and watching her get up excitedly to dance whenever Ms. Grayson sang added to my enjoyment of the film, but it is truly a cute movie!
Don’t get me wrong, this is no cinema masterpiece! But it is certainly worth an hour and 42 minutes of your time. (And very clean entertainment too. I always appreciate films that have no questionable content to shield my daughter from!)
The film centers around the annual tulip festival in the Dutch town of Little Delft, Michigan and the seven sisters of the Van Maaster family. The patriarch of this Dutch family, played by the loveable S.Z. Sakall, insists that his daughters must all marry in the order they were born, so oldest daughter first, youngest daughter last. This proves problematic when New York reporter Henry Taggart (Van Heflin), comes to town to cover the tulip festival for his paper and falls in love with Billy, the youngest of the Van Maaster sisters. Billy is played by, you guessed it, our star of the month Kathryn Grayson.
Most classic film fans are quite familiar with the very Hungarian character actor S.Z. Sakall. I am definitely a fan! Since seeing him costar with Doris Day in Lullaby of Broadway when I was nine, Sakall’s presence in a film has always been a plus in my book, and he does not fail to deliver his usual charm in Seven Sweethearts. I must admit that this is the first film I have seen with Sakall where his Hungarian-ness actually distracts, rather than adds, to the character he is playing. He is just so charmingly and obviously Hungarian. And his Hungarian accent, when he is supposed to be Dutch, does not really add up! Somehow the casting still makes sense though, probably because even though he does not sound like a Dutchman, his old world charm can cross cultural borders: Sakall is believable as a traditional, old world father, so in the final analysis we forgive (or at least I did!) the disconnect between his accent and the ancestry of the character he plays in the film.
Kathryn Grayson is cute as a button as Billy! She is so incredibly sweet, youthful, and refreshing in this film. It is easy to see why this film jump-started her career. Everything she does is just so darn cute! From her character’s recurrent nose twitch to the little ear tug she does (to control her temper, as she explains to Van Heflin in the scene where their characters first meet), she is absolutely adorable. You get why Henry Taggart falls for her. Ms. Grayson sings a number of songs in the film, the English language songs are not classics by any stretch of the imagination, but she makes them work. I must also be completely honest here and say that opera is not my favorite music genre. However, anyone who listens to Ms. Grayson sing cannot help but appreciate the technique, feeling, and talent behind her voice. Opera fan or not, Ms. Grayson obviously has an exceptional voice. I cannot imagine there are very many people gifted with the ability to hit the high notes she sings, seemingly effortlessly.
The rest of the Van Maaster sisters in the film are also very well cast. Marsha Hunt plays the melodramatic oldest sister, Regina, who basically uses everyone around her to get what she wants, to be an actress in New York. Hunt is so great at these types of roles! You really just…don’t like her! Talk about a great foil for Kathryn Grayson as the sweet, innocent Billy. Another standout sister in the film for me was Frances Rafferty as George, one of the middle sisters in the film. I was completely unfamiliar with Ms. Rafferty, but she was a scene-stealer for me—I could not help but watch her over anyone else when she was in a scene. Star power for sure. I will be on the lookout for any more of her films playing on TCM in the future. Another fun fact, Kathryn Grayson’s real life sister, Frances Raeburn, played another of the Van Maaster sisters in this film, Cornelius. She is an absolute doll, just like Kathryn. (All of the Van Maaster sisters have boy names because Mr. Van Maaster kept expecting a boy, and when the girls were each born, they were “stuck with” the masculine names, as Billy explains to Henry in the film.)
Van Heflin as Henry Taggart is the proverbial glue that holds this film together. He is the character in the film that could actually be a real person, which is necessary in a “fluff” film like this that is overall full of one-dimensional characters. Heflin is such a consistently believable actor in all his films, and Seven Sweethearts is no exception. You feel his disbelief at the quaintness of New Delft when he arrives to cover the tulip festival for his paper, his boredom and angst at being stuck in this sleepy little town when the rain comes and prolongs his stay, and his “aha!” moment of clarity when he realizes Billy is one of a kind and he has fallen for her. This is a light film, but Van Heflin manages to get a complete character arc in. He made me root for him from the very beginning to get his story, get his pictures, and get his girl!
An interesting side note about the film, MGM was actually sued seven years after its release by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Herczeg, who claimed that with Seven Sweethearts, MGM had plagiarized his 1903 play, Seven Sisters. Though Seven Sweethearts was released in 1942, Herczeg did not sue until 1949 because he was interred in a Hungarian concentration camp when the film came out during World War II. The suit was eventually settled and never went to court, and Herczeg received a nice sum from MGM. I would love to know what his settlement was!
I do not think I am spoiling anything by telling you that all works out in the film, and you get the ending you are hoping for! I hope you will watch the film next time it plays on TCM, so I will not give any more specifics.
Did any of you watch the film? What were your thoughts? I would love to hear them!
And don’t miss these Kathryn Grayson films, playing next week on TCM!