Two Girls and a Sailor (1944): Van Johnson, Dream Man
I'll be honest: this is a piece I've struggled to write for over a year. There is so much to say about Two Girls and a Sailor, not to mention the incredible amount of behind-the-scenes stories and facts that I would hate to leave out. But life has been so overwhelming -- professionally, personally, mentally, you name it -- and the idea of writing the kind of review I had been envisioning just makes me want to curl up in a ball. So, someday I'll finally do the full-fledged review that Two Girls and a Sailor deserves, but at this moment, all I want to do is focus on my favorite aspect of this film: Charles Van Dell Johnson.
When you think about it, Two Girls and a Sailor is really June Allyson's movie. As Patsy Deyo, the older half of the singing act the Deyo Sisters, Allyson helplessly watches as her more glamorous sister, Jean (Gloria DeHaven), flirts with an endless parade of admirers, including a wealthy benefactor known only as "Somebody" whose generosity allows the Deyos to open a canteen for servicemen. Patsy has always been overprotective of her sister, but things reach a breaking point when a certain strawberry blonde sailor enters the picture.
Van Johnson's Johnny, like so many men before him, begins the film enamored with Jean. He moons over her picture and adorably pouts when she pays more attention to a soldier named Frank (Tom Drake). But then he meets Patsy, sweet, down-to-earth, practical Patsy. The outcome may be predictable, but Van and his chemistry with best friend June Allyson make it a pleasure to get there.
Every time I see a film with Van, I basically just spend all of his scenes sighing and grinning like an idiot. Two Girls and a Sailor is no exception. When I started taking notes while watching the film, my feelings for Van were basically summed up in one sentence: "OH MY GOSH, SO MUCH ADORABLENESS." I mean, look at this man.
The part of Johnny isn't a very taxing one. But Van's magnetism and heart shine through, making Johnny romantic, funny, and beyond charming. One of my favorite sequences is when Patsy, worried that Jean is going to take Johnny away, dreams that he is calling for her at their window. She chases after him and encounters Jimmy Durante's character, Billy, in top hat and tails. He gives her a bell to ring, which makes Johnny appear in a glittering admiral's uniform. He apologizes for not choosing her over Jean sooner and they kiss. Suddenly, they're shopping for Patsy's trousseau and watching a fashion show accompanied by Harry James's orchestra. To Patsy's horror, Jean materializes wearing a wedding gown and walks into Johnny's waiting arms. Patsy finally stands up for herself and attacks her sister, causing her to wake up and, true to form, immediately apologize to a sleepy, confused Jean.
I'm not the only one who has gone weak in the knees when watching Van as Johnny. When the film was first released, Van was still considered a fresh face in Hollywood who had only gotten his big break the year before in A Guy Named Joe. Audiences, especially bobbysoxers, went crazy for the young actor. June wrote that during production of Two Girls and a Sailor, "I had my first taste of mass hysteria. Some nights were so bad we didn't dare leave the studio. There was that kind of unruly crowd outside the gates at Culver City. Every bobbysoxer in America was swooning over Van Johnson."
The Van Hysteria only intensified after the film came out. Women would wait outside his house; some even broke in! His car often needed repainted because of the damage caused by fans consistently writing on it in lipstick and soap. Unable to enlist in WWII after his life-threatening car accident in 1943, Van played a myriad of servicemen on the silver screen, representing the morally upright, fun-loving, all-American boy that people could imagine as their son, friend, or significant other.
As John "Johnny" Dyckman Brown III, Van is the epitome of boyish wholesomeness and sincere romance. When his character finally confesses to Patsy at film's end how he feels, the lines are so simple and yet he makes it sound like the most intimate thing in the world: "I'd like to be your straight man. I don't sing or dance, but I do love you." "Me?" she asks incredulously. "Yeah, you," he replies with a smile. None of that should melt my heart, and yet it does. Every single time, it does.
There is so much that is magical about Van Johnson. He put his entire soul into performing, a fact that is so clear to me whenever he is on the screen. It is just one of the many, many reasons why I'm head over heels for this man, and if you have any doubt that Van could take something thankless and turn it into a star-making part, just watch Two Girls and a Sailor sometime.
This is my entry to my fourth annual Van Johnson Blogathon, a birthday tribute to one of classic Hollywood's most underrated leading men. Check out the other contributions here!
Thanks for another excellent blog. Van is very special whether it's comedy, drama or musical his talents are never ending. You did a feature in 2017 on one of my favourite Van movies The Bride Goes Wild he was so good. His teaming with Esther was as good as his teaming with June. This movie has soooo many guests including a very young Ava Gardner and who can forget Gracie Allen and so special is Jimmy Durante. Did you know he loved red socks? I saw him on TV when he visited Australia with beautiful Kathryn Grayson quite a few years ago they did a stage show together he mentioned on TV his love for red socks. Stay safe. Ros
You're right, there are many wonderful players in this film. Jimmy Durante is probably my favorite, aside from Van and June, of course.
I did know Van loved red socks! He often felt pretty shy and believed they were great conversation icebreakers. Just another way he was adorable!
Two Girls and a Sailor is one of those MGM movies that I turn to for entertainment and comfort. It's all my old pals putting on a show.ReplyDelete
That's it exactly! I remember putting it on one year while I was taking down the family Christmas tree by myself and it felt so comforting.Delete
"Every time I see a film with Van, I basically just spend all of his scenes sighing and grinning like an idiot." Hahah it does that to me with some actors as well! I've got to admit Van Johnson is quite adorable on these screenshots you've included in your article. I'm not the biggest June Allyson's fan (although I quite liked her in The Girl in White) but I'm always willing to learn to appreciate an actor/actress more and your great review does make me want to see this film!ReplyDelete
Aw, thanks! I adore June, but I completely understand why she isn't everyone's cup of tea. And there are sooo many stars and musical numbers in this film, so she isn't in every scene. Plus, it's just a GREAT film for drooling over Van, haha.Delete
sending you hugs! and here's to better days ahead <3 I know just what you mean, I've been feeling the same. and this movie!! I wrote two posts on it because one simply wasn't enough and I could barely fit everything into just one. but this is still a beautiful tribute and his FACEEEE, so so so good. I can't wait to read that full fledged review of yours :)ReplyDelete
Thanks, Simoa! I thought things were supposed to slow down after grad school, but, um, the pandemic had other plans apparently.Delete
I hate that I keep putting off this review, but at least my brain was like, "I know how much Van means to you, so I'll give you about two hours of functionality to get this done." Those screenshots were also quite the morale booster. ;)
I've lost track of how many times I've seen "Two Girls and A Sailor"--it's fun and comforting. Kinda like a good mac and cheese. Hope things look up for you soon.ReplyDelete
Thank you! And that's a perfect description for it! It's nice to hear that other people find this movie as cozy as I do.Delete
Very nice post :)ReplyDelete
I've only recently gotten to be a fan of Van, but now I'm here! This looks adorable! I want to watch it right away!ReplyDelete
You're in for a treat! It's such a lovely film, and it's perfect if you're a Van fan, new or old. :)Delete