It's been a while, but I'm going to try to get back to doing these. This week, how about another Ronald Reagan movie? It's an obscure one, but I saw it recently and it's on Turner Classic against this week (very early Thursday AM -- set your DVR), so I figured I should do an item. It's Juke Girl, from 1942, with Reagan getting second billing behind his Kings Row co-star, Ann Sheridan.
I need to get a couple things out of the way first. You probably know Alan Hale, who apparently had some sort of world's record for most times playing Little John (including in the Errol Flynn version), besides from being the Skipper's father. He's in it, as sort of a happy-go-lucky guy who befriends everyone. But the real find here for those of us raised on TV is that the main plot is about a struggling farmer called Nick the Greek, who is played in fine ethic form by, of all people, George Tobias. Coming up blank? I don't blame you, and there's no way you would guess it if you saw the movie, either...he's Abner Kravitz! You know, the guy who's married to Gladys Kravitz, the woman who suspects something's odd over at the Stevens house. Now imagine him as a poor Greek farmer in Florida...yup. Same guy.
OK, back to the movie. Ronald Reagan and his buddy are drifters, more or less, and they settle down in a fly-by-night Florida company town, run by an evil capitalist who exploits the farm workers. Reagan's character sees injustice and sides with the poor & downtrodden; his friend is ambitious and goes to work for the Big Boss. Meanwhile, Ann Sheridan is the title character, a cynical "juke girl," one of the women provides the entertainment for the town. As a movie? It's OK, nothing special...I like Ann Sheridan, and she's fine here, and the supporting cast is fine, but nothing to write home about (original NYT review here, BTW).
As far as the politics of it are concerned, it's mainly interesting because it fits so well with Reagan's ideology. He immediately picks a side (clearly the correct one, within the movie), and fights for it. He's on the side of the little guy against big bad greed. However, the solution for the little guy isn't, really, collective action -- I believe there's a word starting with a "u" that does not make any appearance in this movie. Nor is it government, represented by an ineffectual local lawman. When we do see co-operation among the little guys, it's more in the spirit of barn-raising than in political action. Except, that is, for the time that they become an ugly mob (easily manipulated by the Big Boss) and try to lynch our heroes
At any rate, the moment to watch this movie for, Reagan's big moment in the movie (not the movie's climax; the plot mutates after this) -- is when he takes a bold, decisive action to "win" a negotiation. Let's see...Nick the Greek is trying to sell his crop in Atlanta because he's feuding with the big boss back in Florida, the packer who dominates the local farmers and farm workers. Alas, the guy in Florida has called ahead, and no one in Atlanta will buy his crop, either. But then Reagan dramatically takes the wheel of the truck and blocks traffic coming into and out of the market, and the buyer has no choice but to agree to Reagan's terms. It's really a perfect Reagan moment. Clear good guys, clear bad guys, bold action, and never mind whether any of it makes sense or not.
So: recommended for Reagan fans (that is, anyone who finds him interesting). If you're only going to see one Ronald Reagan movie, you want Kings Row. After that, probably Hellcats of the Navy (for Ron & Nancy), Knute Rockne, or Murder in the Air. But beyond those, I found more to enjoy in this one than in some of the others I've seen. I'm not sure how strong a recommendation that is, but if you give it a try, enjoy!