The Gay Sisters (1942)

This film was viewed for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project, in which I am attempting to watch and review every film starring Ms. Stanwyck. To view more posts in this series, check out my progress on Listography!

Penn Sutherland Gaylord is a New York widower of great wealth who is leaving for combat during World War I. Before setting off for Europe, he writes a will, which dictates that his large home and riches shall continue to be controlled by Gaylords and their servants. Their land should never be sold.

Having no sons, he leaves everything to his three daughters — Fiona, Evelyn and Susanna — in the event that he should be killed in the war. “The land is the Gaylords’ religion,” he tells eight-year-old Fiona just before he leaves, as he instructs her of the terms of his will.

(Image via Cinema and Chocolate)

(Image via Cinema and Chocolate)

Penn is killed in the war, and a second will surfaces in France, with terms so different from his New York will that it is contested in court over the next two decades.

While the will business is figured out, the now-adult Fiona (Barbara Stanwyck) and her sisters (Geraldine Fitzgerald and Nancy Coleman) are left with little access to their father’s estate. Desperate to keep her promise to her father that she would never sell the Gaylord land, Fiona tries to find a way to save the family house.

Irving Rapper directs 1942’s The Gay Sisters. This film is possibly most well-known as the film that gave Gig Young his name. He took the stage name from his character here after previously being credited under his birth name, Byron Barr.

The Gay Sisters has a very strong cast. Stanwyck is predictably great in her role — another stubborn woman who stands her ground with an admirable level of dedication. She’s a bit conniving, and there’s an incredibly amusing monologue/montage of Fiona sharing how she roped George Brent’s character into falling for her.

Fitzgerald and Coleman are very good as her sisters, too, and rather than being thin supporting characters, they add a lot to the film. There’s a bit of a rivalry between them and it makes a nice subplot to Fiona’s never-ending courtroom battles.

The film runs a little long, but overall is a pretty good watch. I wouldn’t count it among my top five Stanwyck films, but it’s certainly entertaining, with a nice mix of comedy and drama. The score: 3.5/5

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