The Critical Eye: Primrose Path (1940)

Welcome to the first installment of The Critical Eye, TMP’s non-chronological continuation of the “One Year, One Film” project! These posts will follow the very same format as those bi-weekly “One Year” posts — a brief plot synopsis and review from me, followed by snippets from reviews published around the time of the film’s original release. Today we begin with a Ginger Rogers drama…

Primrose Path, dir. Gregory La Cava
Starring Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE

(Image via Doctor Macro)

(Image via Doctor Macro)

Ginger Rogers is Ellie, a girl with a rough lot in life. Her father is an alcoholic, her mother and grandmother both prostitutes. When she meets Joel McCrea’s Ed Wallace, Ellie sees a way to distance herself from her family and their problems — and from a future joining her mother and grandmother’s business. She decides to marry Ed and work with him at the beachside restaurant run by Gramp (Henry Travers). But what will happen if Ed discovers the truth about her past?

I absolutely loved Primrose Path when I discovered it in 2012, giving it a “5/5!” score. A dramatic story with a few unexpected turns to the plot, and fantastic performances — it became an instant favorite. But what did the mags and papers say back in 1940?

Modern Screen gave a very favorable review in the June 1940 issue, saying that the film improves on a “fair-to-middling Broadway play.” The casting of Ginger Rogers is described as “brilliantly right,” and as for director La Cava, the mag says he proved that the “bona-fide folk life of America” can make for great films. It doesn’t all have to be “pre-fabricated characters” and “imported accents.”

Photoplay also offered a very positive take on the film, naming it one of the best pictures of the month in the May 1940 issue. While “not a pretty story,” the review states, the film is “different” in a good way. An unusual role for Ginger Rogers, and McCrea is “perhaps the most convincing he’s ever been.”

Screenland took it a step further than your average film review, publishing an open letter to Ginger Rogers, congratulating her for forging ahead and breaking out of the Astaire and Rogers bubble to become “an artiste.” They did review the film as well, calling it “gripping” and Rogers’ performance “a revelation in artistry.”

All of that universal praise from the fan mags was more than warranted, as Primrose Path is a great watch, especially for those who enjoy Ginger Rogers’ acting talent just as much as her dancing.

Advertisements