My Sister Eileen (1942)





(director: Alexander Hall; screenwriters: Joseph Fields/Jerome Chodorov/based on the play of the same name by the Messrs. Fields and Chodorov/adapted from the stories by Ruth McKenney; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Viola Lawrence; music: Sidney Cutner; cast: Rosalind Russell (Ruth Sherwood), Janet Blair (Eileen Sherwood), Brian Aherne (Robert Baker), George Tobias (Appopolous), Allyn Joslyn (Chic Clark), Richard Quine (Frank Lippincott), June Havoc (Effie Shelton), Gordon Jones (“The Wreck”), Jeff Donnell (Helen Loomis), Elizabeth Patterson (Grandma Sherwood), Grant Mitchell (Walter Sherwood), Donald MacBride (Officer Lonigan), Minna Phillips (Mrs. Wade, Helen’s mom); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Max Gordon; Columbia Pictures; 1942)

“Stagy urban comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This stagy urban comedy is based on a series of autobiographical articles in The New Yorker by Ruth McKenney. McKenney with Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodhorov adapted these stories into a Broadway play. The film was shot while the play was still on Broadway with Shirley Booth playing the Roz Russell part. Alexander Hall (“This Thing Called Love”/”Once Upon a Time”/”They All Kissed the Bride”) keeps it rollicking with a fast pace, plenty of sight gags (six Portuguese merchant marine cadets dancing a madcap conga in the apartment of the sisters) and sitcom comedy antics. Rosalind Russell was nominated for Best Actress. It was later put to music by Leonard Bernstein for the stage as Wonderful Town (Rosalind Russell kept the same role); there was another film version in 1955 with Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon that was directed by Richard Quine, who played in this film version the nice guy drugstore clerk named Frank Lippincott who is interested in Eileen–the same role he had in the play.

Two innocent sisters from Columbus, Ohio, Ruth Sherwood & Eileen (Rosalind Russell & Janet Blair), come to New York to seek their fortunes. Ruth, the brainy plain looking one aspires to be a writer, while Eileen the dumb pretty one aspires to be a stage actress. The inexperienced sisters get hustled into renting a dumpy Greenwich Village basement room from a fast-talking Greek landlord (George Tobias). They soon learn that a subway tunnel is being built underneath their apartment and the loud blasting noise from the dynamite continues from 6am to midnight. Also, the gated window allows passers-by to look into their apartment, as a pair of drunks catch their attention by ogling them on their first night in their new home. Living in their building are a bunch of eccentrics that include a lunkhead football player called “The Wreck” and his ditzy wife Helen. The Wreck ends up sleeping in their kitchen while his mother-in-law, unaware that her daughter is married, is coming for a visit. There’s also a former tenant in the basement apartment, a psychic named Effie (June Havoc, Gypsy Rose Lee’s sister), who when passed out in the street is placed on the sisters’ couch by one of her former male clients.

Ruth visits the Manhatten magazine for a job, but gets entangled in a dispute between editor Robert Baker (Brian Aherne) and old-fashioned publisher Ralph Craven. She sides with the brash young editor that the magazine is outdated, which leads to an argument with Craven. Running out in a huff, Ruth leaves her manuscript behind. Baker returns it to her basement flat and tells her to write about her experiences. She follows his advice and writes about her sister Eileen being a magnet for attracting men; when their father and grandma return to take the broke sisters back home to Columbus in disgrace, Baker bounces in to tell Ruth he just sold her story for $250 to the magazine and that he loves her. Craven later appears to sign Ruth to a full-time contract and offers to introduce Eileen to theatrical producers. The landlord pops in to tell her the blasting has stopped, and the sisters sign a six-month lease. It ends with three subway drillers, none other than The Three Stooges, coming up in the floor of their living room after taking a wrong turn in their tunnel building.