ETHEL BARRYMORE MONTH
YOUNG AT HEART ( 1954 )
My parents have always been ardent supporters of Doris Day, and have progressed their way through her filmography by collecting her movies throughout the years. One of the first movies they obtained on DVD was “Young At Heart”, starring Doris alongside the iconic Ethel Barrymore. Since this was one of the first Doris films they collected, it’s the very first Ethel Barrymore movie that I seen, and after my first viewing, I was impressed by Ethel’s performance, and started to delve into her illustrious career, attaining almost all of her movies that I could get my hands on.
“Young At Heart” is a romantic musical, featuring top stars including Ethel Barrymore, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dorothy Malone, and Gig Young. Superbly directed by Gordon Douglas, and based on the 1938 production “Four Daughters”, the film was crowned a top box office hit of 1955, helping establish Frank Sinatra’s image of the romantic loner that was often personified in his albums.
The film revolves around the story of Jessie and Gregory Tuttle ( Ethel Barrymore and Robert Keith ), and the three daughters, who reside in Strafford, Connecticut. The family has a passion for music with Gregory attaining many awards and accolades for his musical achievements, which has passed down through the family with the daughters inheriting the same interest. When song writer, Alex Burke ( Gig Young ) enters the lives of the family, each of the three daughters become infatuated by him, especially Laurie ( Doris Day ) who is enamored by Alex’s charming ways from the start. Laurie feels that she can relate to Alex, and through veneration for each other, their love affair blossoms into an engagement.
Complications arise when Barney Sloan ( Frank Sinatra ) arrives on the scene to assist with some musical arrangements. At first Jessie is not sure whether she likes Barney, thinking that he may be a burglar, but provides him with warm hospitality, offering him tea and cake. However Laurie is enthralled by Barney, and finds his cynical outlook on life intriguing, transferring all her feelings onto Barney until the two fall in love.
This is more of a vehicle for Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, but I feel that Ethel Barrymore is the highlight of the picture. She had a much beefier role, and as usual delivered a commendable performance. In her portrayal of aunt Jessie, Ethel’s character is amicable with a combination of acidic humor that brings the picture to life. At this stage in her career, Ethel was mostly confined to a wheelchair, but you would never be able to tell it from her remarkably effective performance that should have been considered for an Oscar. Ethel Barrymore was a master of the craft, and was simply inimitable in every role she played.
While I like this movie, this is not one of Doris Day’s greatest roles. I find the chemistry between Doris Day and Frank Sinatra quite unbelievable, lacking the chemistry that Doris displayed with Rock Hudson or James Garner. I’ve never really been a fan of Frank Sinatra either, and have always found his acting to be rather wooden, but Sinatra was a dilettante in the singing industry, and he certainly reached his pinnacle in this film, showcasing some of his most puissant musical numbers.
Ethel Barrymore was very old and feeble during the filming and spent most of her time between takes in a wheelchair. She was not crippled but was getting frail and had to conserve her energy for her onscreen performance. Frank Sinatra threw a surprise birthday party for her on the set, a gesture that clearly moved and touched her.
While making this film, Frank Sinatra took an almost immediate dislike to Doris Day‘s husband, Martin Melcher, thought that Melcher was “using” her to get ahead in the movie business and tried to convince Day of that fact. When Day refused to listen to Sinatra’s advice, he had Melcher banned from the set. After Melcher’s death in 1968, it was discovered that he had squandered all the money Day had earned during her 20-year film career.
This may be the only Hollywood musical that bears no music credits. Musical director Ray Heindorf had his name removed because of a new ruling that the term “musical director” was to be replaced with the credit “Music supervised and conducted by…”
Aunt Jessie: “I’m the near sighted you can’t put anything passed me kind of aunt.”
Aunt Jessie: “For all I know you might be a burglar. The designs on the piano.”
Barney Sloan: “Sometimes when you’re on the outside looking in you see some things other people can’t.”
Laurie Tuttle: “When you consider that you get older every single day when you wake up, it can tempt one to rush into decisions a little!”
Ethel Barrymore: Born Ethel Mae Blythe on August 15th, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: June 18th, 1959 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.
Doris Day: Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff on April 3rd, 1924 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Frank Sinatra: Born Francis Albert Sinatra on December 12th, 1915 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Died: May 14th, 1998 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 82.