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THAT HAGEN GIRL (director: Peter Godfrey; screenwriter: Charles Hoffman/based on the novel by Edith Roberts; cinematographer: Karl Freund; editor: David Weisbart; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Ronald Reagan (Tom Bates), Shirley Temple (Mary Hagen), Rory Calhoun (Ken Freneau), Lois Maxwell (Julia Kane), Conrad Janis (Dewey Coons), Jean Porter (Sharon Bailey), Trenton Gateley (Moroni Olsen), Harry Davenport (Judge Merrivale), Nella Walker (Molly Freneau), Dorothy Peterson (Minta Hagen), Charles Kemper (Jim), Penny Edwards (Christine Delaney), Kyle MacDonnell (Grace Gateley), Kathryn Card (Miss Grover); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alex Gottlieb; Warner Bros.; 1947)
“You can literally hear this drama creaking.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

You can literally hear this drama creaking. The strangest thing about it is not its anti-establishment stance or its cornball humor, but that it without cause turns into an unconvincing and absurd love story in its last moments. Director Peter Godfrey (“The Decision of Christopher Blake”/”Highways by Night”/”Cry Wolf”) seems lost as how to direct this grownup Shirley Temple vehicle, where the child star has lost her cuteness in this adult role and the story she’s saddled with has too many obstacles of incredulity to overcome. It’s based on the soapy novel by Edith Roberts and lamely written by Charles Hoffman.

One night at the railroad station of the small town of Jordan, Ohio, the wealthy Gatelys bring their teen daughter Grace home to stay after she was sent East for a year (old man Gately sent her away because he didn’t want her to date Tom Bates-Ronald Reagan); at the same time Minta Hagen (Dorothy Peterson) returns by train to her husband Jim (Charles Kemper) with an adopted baby girl. The gossip-mongers have a field day spreading malicious rumors, as they note the color of the baby’s hair and eyes are different from her parents, therefore it’s rumored that the baby, whom the Hagens name Mary (Shirley Temple), is the illegitimate daughter of Grace and her former lawyer boyfriend, Tom Bates.

The story picks up with Mary attending the local junior college and is put off because she’s always made to feel unwanted in town because of the rumors that Tom Bates was her real father. Tom returns after being in a different part of the state all these years, and doesn’t seem to be doing much but trying to romance Mary’s kind-hearted teacher Julia Kane (Lois Maxwell). In the meantime, Mary gets rejected by her hotshot society boyfriend Ken (Rory Calhoun) and gets suicidal about being illegitimate and jumps in the river.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

To make a dull story short, Tom eventually tells Mary, someone he’s old enough to be the father of, the truth: that her parents adopted her from an orphanage in Evanston, Illinois, he’s not her father and that the sickly Grace, who was soon to die, was brought home because she was mentally ill and not because she gave birth to a child. With that Tom and Mary are suddenly linked romantically, and the pic ends with them ready to tie the knot.

It’s enjoyable for all the wrong reasons, that include Reagan playing a role that mocks the system and those future voters of his who would sweep the real-life Reagan into the Oval Office, that nothing about this film makes the least sense and that it’s one of those bad films one can find funny at how muddled it is and have a good laugh at its expense.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”