Paddy O’Day (Jane Withers) is a young girl traveling from Ireland to America, where her mother is already living. On the boat, she befriends and wins the hearts of just about every passenger and crew member, including Tamara Petrovitch (Rita Hayworth, billed as Rita Cansino).
Upon arrival to New York, Paddy is excited to be reunited with her mother and start a brand new life, but that wish becomes difficult to achieve when she discovers that her mother has passed away.
Scared that she’ll be deported back to Ireland, Paddy escapes from customs and takes refuge at the Ford home, where her mother worked. Luckily, young Roy Ford (Pinky Tomlin) is willing to let her stay, but will the immigration authorities catch up with her, or will she be able to remain in America?
Lewis Seiler directs the 1935 musical drama Paddy O’Day, based on the story by Sonya Levien and adapted for the screen by Lou Breslow and Edward Eliscu.
It can be tricky for a child star to carry an entire film in a leading role. Few have been able to accomplish such a task successfully, the most well-known and highly capable young lady being Shirley Temple. Jane Withers’ legacy isn’t quite as enduring as Shirley’s, but she did acquire a neat chunk of stardom in her day. Here she appears in only her fourth credited role (though she had many uncredited roles under her belt, beginning in 1932).
Withers does a decent job of carrying Paddy O’Day. She’s cute and does have quite good screen presence. Her performance can be a bit overzealous, but she shows a whole lot of enthusiasm and brings real emotion to her character of a tough, determined and extremely endearing young girl who wants to make a life in America even though she’s lost her family.
Also appearing is young Rita Cansino, who already shows the considerable charm, talent and screen presence that would later launch her to super-stardom as Rita Hayworth. She remains one of the most memorable stars of the mid-20th century. This is also her fourth credited role, and even so early on in her career, it was clear that she had the spark legends are made of.
As for the film itself, there are a number of very funny moments (though it’s frequently billed as a drama). Especially entertaining are the scenarios that include Ford’s very stuffy aunts, who are appalled that he has decided to become friends with immigrants.
You can’t help but root for the character of Ford when he’s rebelling against such closed-minded ladies. He’s also so nice to Paddy, so willing to help and befriend her rather than turn her in, that he wins over the audience with ease. This is in part due to the character himself and in part due to Tomlin’s performance in the role. He brings both a sense of reclusive oddity and a certain sweetness to the character.
The story of Paddy O’Day comes with its ups and downs, but overall is very pleasant and simple. It’s fairly well-executed, not 100% predictable but not necessarily unpredictable either. There are a few unexpected moments intermixed with sweet but completely expected moments, which can be comforting for the viewer, especially given the anxiety caused by Paddy’s situation.
The featured songs are also very fun, usually upbeat and sometimes extremely adorable. Particularly “aww”-inducing is the song that Roy Ford writes and performs for Tamara. It’s called “Changing My Ambitions” and was written by Tomlin himself.
Paddy O’Day is a light-hearted, fluffy comedy/drama/musical showcasing the happily-ending story of one young immigrant girl. If you’re not into cutesy films, it’s still worth watching for lovely young Rita and a few great songs. The score: 3.5/5