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Film

'Wake Up and Dream' Was, and Still Is, an Odd Duck

This film may have picked up some sentimental value over the past 70 years, but it hasn't picked up much else during that time.


Wake Up and Dream

Director: Lloyd Bacon
Cast: June Haver, John Payne
Distributor: Fox Cinema Archives
Year: 1946
US DVD release date: 2013-08-13

This film is a pleasant piece of wartime Americana that, like some of its characters, literally goes overboard. When it came out in 1946, after the war was over, it was past its sentimental sell-by date, which is why the opening announces that it takes place "a long, long time ago, way back in 1943". It was already being nostalgic, but audiences who'd lived through the war were flocking to see The Best Years of Our Lives, which had something sensible to say. Now available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives, Wake Up and Dream comes across as a warm Technicolor slice of marmalade spread on thick.

John Payne plays Jeff, a gosh-gee farmer who's tongue-tied around the spectacular Jenny (June Haver), a blonde and busty waitress at the local diner. He enlists in the navy and sends his somber little sister Nella (Connie Marshall, working in Margaret O'Brien mode) and her dog Tipsy (looking like Toto) to relatives, then promptly gets declared missing in action. With far-fetched reasons and an unclear sense of geography (exact locations were hush-hush in wartime anyway), Jenny and Nella go off with an old simpleton called Henry Peckett (Clem Bevans), who built a sailboat in the backyard and spends much time puffing philosophically about children and the power of belief.

It's in the last reel, after they've picked up a hopeful dentist (John Ireland) and gotten stuck in a swamp, that it all becomes too much to swallow. The filmmakers must know it, for much of the movie has used the song "Give Me the Simple Life", and the final image is underscored with the lyrics "sounds corny and seedy, but yes indeedy". That final scene is possibly the last time anyone in a Hollywood movie would applaud a mention of "Joe Stalin".

An odder musical detail is the choral version of "We're Off to See the Wizard" (from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, made by a rival studio) during the scene where Nella visits an old swamp hermit (George Cleveland) who calls himself Peter Pan and identifies her with Rima the bird-girl from Green Mansions. To complete the literary confusion, she takes him for Robinson Crusoe.

Elick Moll's screenplay is based on Robert Nathan's novel The Enchanted Voyage. Nathan, a delicate fantasist, is best known for two other films from his books, The Bishop's Wife and Portrait of Jennie. This 1936 novel is about the sailboat's captain, who escapes his scolding wife in the company of a waitress and a dentist; the very different film leaves him unmarried, grafts on the wartime elements and the child's point of view, and makes the dentist a loose end. During its first half, the movie's spell is aided immeasurably by understated songs and Harry Jackson's Technicolor photography, which still looks lovely even though this print cries out for restoration. Also helping are character turns by Charlotte Greenwood, Irving Bacon, Oliver Blake, and Minerva Urecal. Lee Patrick gets a screen credit, but she's only a stylish extra in the long diner scene; her lines were cut.

While director Lloyd Bacon is best known for snappy Warner Brothers product, he and Fox producer Walter Morosco had made a more successful bit of wartime sentiment, Sunday Dinner for a Soldier, the debut of child actress Marshall. The same year they reunited for this movie, Morosco produced Margie, a surer piece of Americana. Wake Up and Dream was an odd duck in 1946 and remains so today, though its nostalgic appeal is much more legitimate after 70 years.

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