The last time William Holden worked for Norman Foster (of MR MOTO fame) he won the heart of Loretta Young, but his rival, Bob Mitchum, got to sing all the songs in the charming near-musical RACHEL AND THE STRANGER/’48. In this one, Holden ‘adopts’ five cute-as-a-button orphans and gets to sing all the tunes as a Medicine Show entertainer-at-large. But it’s a poor trade off, since the songs are blah and he lip-synchs to some mystery voice. (Mitchum did his own singing, and very well.) This is a sentimental small-town tale (and made for the small-town market), but less sappy than it might be with Holden playing the mush as briskly as possible. Of the five siblings, the four boys go for the rough-and-tumble, but Mary Jane Saunders as the kid sister is a Shirley Temple wannabe who gazes sadly at the camera. (She’d just debuted in SORROWFUL JONES/’49 playing Temple’s old role.) No surprises here, other than the misleading title (Holden’s not even related to the tots), but it’s less painful than it sounds. Hard to believe that Holden’s next was Billy Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD/’50 which would completely change his career trajectory.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: BLACKFACE WARNING!! In the opening scene, Charles Winninger, who owns the Medicine Show wagon, is shilling his potion while Holden, in blackface, sings for the crowd. But who’s the wagon driver, seated next to Holden? Why, it’s an unbilled Dooley Wilson of CASABLANCA/’42 fame! What could have been going thru his head as he watched this white guy, caricatured in cork, singing his heart out to the voice of a stranger? The vagaries of American entertainment truly know no bounds. Wilson’s role wound up on the cutting-room floor, but you can make up for it by doing a Song Search to hear his classic ‘The Eagle and Me,’ a great Arlen/Harburg number from their undervalued musical BLOOMER GIRL.