Two Girls on Broadway (1940)
December 13, 2019 | by Shannon
When I saw that Two Girls on Broadway (1940) was one of the films TCM would play to celebrate Joan Blondell this month, I was super excited! Two Girls on Broadway definitely feels like a “B” movie musical from 1940—it’s just over 70 minutes, and the production budget wasn’t huge—but this film is super cute and lots of fun! The best part of the film?
SEEING A YOUNG LANA TURNER DANCE.
And Lana dances very, VERY well!
Take a minute to watch Lana totally carry her own alongside George Murphy, a trained ballroom dancer.
With a little bit of training, I would go so far as to say that Lana could have been on par with Ginger Rogers and the other dancing greats of her era. YES. Lana Turner! MGM opted to market her in a different direction, but Lana’s dancing talent is so apparent. It makes my heart ache a little that she didn’t get the chance to do more dancing in her films!
Don’t miss Two Girls on Broadway when it plays on TCM next Friday! Check my site calendar for details. Record it, watch it live, or find it on tcm.com up to the week after it plays. You can also purchase the film here on Amazon [aff. link]. I did, and Mary Jeanne and I had a blast watching it together last week!
Joan and Lana are both fabulous in Two Girls on Broadway. But I must disclaim right now, I’m a huge Lana Turner fan, so this post may be a bit heavy on the Lana love! (Also, I just found out that I’m related to her, so that pretty much made my year!)
Before I get into some of the fascinating parallels between the movie and what was going on in the real lives of these two beautiful actresses during filming, let’s go through the plot!
Joan and Lana play the Mahoney Sisters, two small town girls from Rome City, Nebraska, who run a dance studio. Joan plays big sister Molly, Lana plays little sis Pat. And can I just say that the opening of this film, with the glamorous Lana and Joan teaching little kids how to “dance like Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell,” is just ADORABLE?!!!
Molly awaits a phone call from her fiancé, Eddie (George Murphy), who’s in New York trying to get one of his songs played on a radio show by pretending that he’s taught canaries how to harmonize. When the birds miraculously can’t sing come show time, Eddie pulls a fast one and sings and dances to one of his own songs instead. Tricky! Smart move Eddie.
His plan works, and Eddie catches the eye of “Linoleum King” and sponsor of the radio program, Chat Chatsworth (Kent Taylor). Say that ten times fast! Chatsworth hooks Eddie up with a gig at the Royal Casino, a popular New York nightclub owned by his friend Buddy Bartell (Richard Lane).
(I promise I’m not making these names up…!)
The Girls Head to New York!
After getting his big break, Eddie—because he’s totally in a position to bargain—proceeds to ask Chatsworth and Bartell to give his fiancée Molly a part in the show. Oh, and her kid sister, Pat. Who Eddie’s never met.
Boy, that Eddie just doesn’t know when to stop, does he?!!!
But his forwardness is rewarded, and Bartell tells Eddie to go ahead and have The Mahoney sisters come to New York to audition.
Then a funny thing happens when Molly and Pat get to New York: there are obvious sparks between Eddie and Pat when they first meet. And Molly is completely oblivious that her sister and fiancé may have fallen in love at first sight…
One Sister on Broadway
To complicate matters even more, when the girls audition, Chatsworth and Bartell are only impressed with the talent of one Mahoney sister: Pat. Bartell offers Pat a part in the show as Eddie’s dance partner. Out of loyalty to her sister, Pat turns Bartell’s offer down. So Bartell says he’ll give Molly a job as a cigarette girl if that would make Pat change her mind. Pat still says no.
But good-hearted Molly accepts Bartell’s offer, optimistically saying
“It isn’t what you are, it’s what you’re gonna be.”
Molly is actually heartbroken over the arrangement. She’s a good sister though, and knows that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Pat, so Molly wants her to take it.
While Molly tries to find contentment as a cigarette girl, Eddie and Pat spend more and more time together rehearsing for the show, and realize that their feelings for each other are deepening. Molly still has no idea.
Obviously, something must be done!
Pat decides the best thing she can do is elope with Chat Chatsworth, who’s been enamored of her since they met. Trouble is, Chat has already been married four times…so the odds are not in Pat’s favor that this marriage will bring her everlasting happiness.
“That guy’s heard wedding bells so often he’s got a permanent ringing in his ears!”
George and Molly tell her. And don’t forget, Pat doesn’t love the guy, she loves Eddie!
Just as Pat and Chatsworth get to the courthouse, Molly learns of Pat’s elopement plans, and realizes that Pat and Eddie are in love, that Pat is only marrying Chatsworth to avoid hurting Molly’s feelings.
Molly tells Eddie that she knows he loves Pat, and pleads with him to go down to the courthouse and convince Pat not to go through will the marriage to Chat:
“What if she marries Chat? It will only last six months and then what’s she gonna do with the rest of her life?”
A Happy Ending?
Eddie successfully stops the wedding and saves Pat from making a big mistake. Molly then decides she should go back home to Rome City, Nebraska, and leave Broadway to Pat and Eddie.
“Goodbye, baby. Be happy.”
She tells Pat.
“I’m gonna be back in Nebraska in time for the corn and lima bean festival. Who knows, maybe this year I’ll be voted the queen of the succotash.”
And the film ends on this self-sacrificing note, as the tearful Molly’s Greyhound bus heads towards Rome City, while we infer that Pat and Eddie get together and become a successful Broadway dance team.
Lana Gets Top Billing
Lana Turner showcased her dancing skills for the first time on film in 1939’s Dancing Co-Ed. MGM was impressed enough with her dancing to have Lana replace the great Eleanor Powell in Two Girls on Broadway. The film was then tailored to fit Lana’s budding persona as one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and beautiful stars.
19 year-old Lana Turner got top billing in Two Girls on Broadway (1940). Both Joan Blondell and George Murphy had yearssssssss more experience in the movies than Lana, but there was no question who the star of Two Girls on Broadway was. I think Lana’s undeniable stealing of the film is best summarized by this review from a New York Times critic:
“With Lana Turner figuring prominently in the doings, it is fairly safe to predict that none of the patrons will bother to inquire where and when they have seen Two Girls on Broadway before. There is an indefinable something about Miss Turner that makes it a matter of small concern.”
So basically, Lana had star power. In spades. And Lana’s star power was so great, it didn’t matter that the plot of Two Girls on Broadway had been done before and was highly predictable!
Joan Blondell: the Heart of the Film
Now that’s not to say that Joan Blondell doesn’t give a superb performance in Two Girls on Broadway. This may be a “B” movie musical from 1940, but Joan’s playing of the dramatic scenes is so good, I actually cried at the end of the film when Molly comes to terms with the fact that it’s her sister Pat who’s got what it takes to make it on Broadway, not Molly.
And the comedy scenes!!!!! Oh my goodness was Joan a pro! My favorite exchange in the film comes when Pat gets home really late from a date with Chatsworth, and tells Molly that the four-times married Chatsworth has asked Pat to marry him.
“Why should you be an exception?”
Is Molly’s acerbic reply, delivered with clipped, brassy perfection by Joan!
“He was awfully swell last night in the moonlight,”
“So’s the Taj Mahal, but I don’t want to be married to it.”
Again, Joan steals the scene with her flawless delivery of that awesome line!
Life Imitates Art for Joan
Two Girls on Broadway was Joan Blondell’s first film at MGM. She hoped that working at a studio other than Warner Bros., where Joan had made the majority of her films at this point, would bring her some meaty, truly leading lady roles. Joan said at this time in her career that
“After having cracked the same jokes in different gowns for nine years, I find them just a little stale.”
Unfortunately, MGM was not the career changer she hoped it would be. Instead of a plum leading lady role in her first MGM picture, Joan ended up in Two Girls on Broadway, with second billing to a 19-year-old newcomer. Sounds a lot like her character in the film, Molly Mahoney, playing second fiddle to her sister Pat, doesn’t it?
A Career Realization
I think Two Girls on Broadway presented Joan with a tough career realization. She was only 34 years old, but for an actress who’d been making films in Hollywood for a decade already, Two Girls on Broadway was definitely not a step towards leading lady status.
The film may have led Joan to the realization that it was quite possible she’d be in supporting actress roles the rest of her career. And with a few exceptions, this turned out to be true.
But perhaps the disappointment of her billing and supporting role in Two Girls on Broadway was a bit of a blessing in disguise for Joan. Maybe the experience planted the seed for the mindset Joan would optimistically embrace in 1950—that being a character actress was actually pretty awesome.
This was the attitude that kept Joan an in-demand, working actress in Hollywood quite literally until the day she died. Without the experience of Two Girls on Broadway, maybe Joan wouldn’t have had the time she needed to get comfortable with the outlook that led to her screen longevity.
Life Imitates Art for Lana
Remember that quote from the film I included where Molly says that she and Eddie have to save Pat from marrying Chat Chatsworth? Because the marriage would only last six months and probably ruin Pat’s life and career?
Well, that basically happened to Lana Turner in real life while filming Two Girls on Broadway. Except it didn’t ruin Lana’s life or career. It just added to the public’s fascination with her, and her glamorous appeal.
About halfway through production of Two Girls on Broadway in February of 1940, Lana was stood-up for a birthday celebration date by her fiancé, famous attorney Greg Bautzer. This, coupled with the fact that she’d recently discovered Bautzer was dating Joan Crawford and other actresses while being engaged to Lana, basically set the stage for bandleader Artie Shaw to sweep in and make Lana his.
A Rebound Date...and Marriage
Lana first met Artie while filming Dancing Co-Ed the previous year, and was not impressed by his vain, self-important air. But as a frustrated young lady stood up on her birthday by her cheating fiancé, when Artie called and asked her out, Lana accepted the date.
By the end of the evening, Artie had convinced the impressionable, 19 year-old Lana that he wanted the same things she did—a steady marriage, children, a cute little home—and he asked her to elope with him that night.
AND SHE SAID YES!!!!!!
Lana once said in an interview that she knew after 3 days that she’d made a mistake marrying Artie Shaw. Artie was cruel and manipulative to his young wife. His goals seemed to be to de-glamorize Lana, and make her feel stupid. (He would do the same thing to Ava Gardner when they wed a few years later, in 1945.)
Lana said that Shaw treated her
“like an untutored, blonde savage, and took no pains to conceal his opinion.”
Lana tried her best to make the marriage work for four months, but then she couldn’t take the mental abuse anymore. Guess who her divorce attorney was?
Yep, ex-fiancé Greg Bautzer.
So it’s the ultimate irony that Lana’s character in Two Girls on Broadway was spared the miserable marriage that Lana experienced in real life. It wasn’t the first, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, time where Lana Turner’s personal life seemed at least as exciting—if not more so—than the plots of the films she made.
Catch the Film on TCM Next Week!
And that’s it for Two Girls on Broadway! Don’t miss it on TCM next Friday, and be sure to check my site calendar for the other Joan Blondell films playing this month!
Had to throw in a few more pics!