Starring Ida Lupino, Robert Alda, Andrea King, and Martha Vickers, this romantic drama finds Lupino’s singer character, Petey, among a new crowd, and a new lover, San (Bruce Bennett). We’re in an almost a Peyton Place situation, West Coast (Long Beach) style.
Petey is amidst her younger siblings, Sally (King), Virginia (Vickers), Joey (Warren Douglas), and their neighbors Johnny (Don McGuire) and Gloria (Dolores Moran). Petey meets San after hearing about his unique music. Nicky Toresca runs a club; both Petey and Joey end up working for him. Nicky’s a bit of a gangster, who Joey emulates.
We start in a New York City jazz club, with Petey singing. Afterwards, she gets some teasing “Where’s your boyfriend tonight?” They start talking about San, his playing style. We segue to Long Beach, and the spaghetti joint where Sally works. Obviously, Nicky has designs on her. He tries to pick her up. Not to mention make out with her. When she brushes him off, he indirectly threatens Joey.
Anyway, she comes home to find her kid sisters, and dumb brother. Sally sort of lets on that Virginia needs to hang out more, or something. Johnny comes by, he’s been injured. Gloria appears, complaining that Johnny is a bummer; well, you know, it’s Christmas, and he’s got this little emergency thing… Ginny takes care of Johnny and Gloria’s twins; Gloria complains that she’d rather hear dance music than Christmas carols.
Enter Petey. She takes an instant like to Johnny. She asks Sally about Joey and Toresca. Sally relates to her sister about her husband Roy, who’s in a VA hospital with PTSD (they call it a “nervous breakdown”). Roy seems to know about Toresca’s moves on her. Joey comes in, with an expensive gift for Sally, but guess who it’s really from? Nicky.
“Do you realize what you’re growing up to be?” Petey tells her brother. At the club, it’s Petey in Sally’s dress: Nick is taken aback. Petey’s up to something.”So you’re a canary too?” he asks. She’ll sing them a number. He likes it, as does the crowd. Her motivation is complex: to look after herself, obviously, but her brother and sister too. She’s even in the paper as the club’s new singer.
Back home, Ginny’s actually getting ready to go out. Looks like it’s gonna be a New Year’s Eve night at the club–for everyone who isn’t babysitting. Joey needs to be bailed out for some monkey business. “Starting out the new year out like a good little rat.” Guess who Joey’s antagonist was (the guy that she actually bailed out)? Betcha it’s San.
Toresca doesn’t let up with Petey: “How about you and me blowing for awhile and take in another joint?” Amusingly, Gloria asks Petey what she’s “doing” at the club. Tony even schmoozes up to her. Pretty cool jazz numbers floating by at the other ‘joint.’ Nicky goes to talk to the owner there, leaving the tall stranger a clear path to see her.
She tells Nicky off so she can go out with San (he reveals to her his identity). Instant mutual attraction: “Want to go back?” [Inside the club] “I never want to go back” except to her place. These scenes are touching, very romantic. He plays piano for her. The idiot Nick calls, but she blows him off.
San talks about his failed/lapsed music career. He mentions Amanda Chandler, his ex-wife. San is the quintessential wronged man, strong, but misunderstood (in life and love). The ex was the one that tipped him over the edge. He tells Petey “I had an odd feeling that you might give me a spark of something that was once part of me. You have…” She lets on that they’re both “looking for something.” He’s afraid if dragging her down with him.
Back at the club, here’s Nicky checking in on her. “I’ve been worried about you” Sure Nick. “you still go for that big lug?” (That’s what I’d call San too). Apparently, the big lug’s ex is in town. Say it isn’t so, San! Petey’s in love by now “she [Amanda] still does something to you, doesn’t she?” Well, yeah, but he didn’t actually go to see her. He tells Petey that he’s not easy to deal with.
She’s done with him, she says. As soon as she leaves, she regrets what she said. Back home, the usual drama. Ginny is stuck at home mostly because of Gloria’s selfishness (using her as a de facto mom). Great line: Gloria “wouldn’t give you the time of day if she had two watches.” Johnny swings in, knowing that they’ve been talking about himself and Gloria. They give him the bald fact that she was with another guy New Year’s Eve.
Petey tells Sally that she ought to go and visit Roy. Johnny confronts his wife about her fooling around; incredibly, he placates her, kind of negating his statement. Meanwhile, Petey calls the club where San hangs out; she can hear him playing the piano, but the bartender says that he’s not there.
Gloria wants to spend time with Nick, but he knows that Johnny’s onto them. He gets Joey to ‘fix’ the situation with her; but Joe’s afraid of retaliation from Johnny. Instead of blowing her away, he offers to ‘take her for a ride.’ This is an interesting scene–Joey could just as easily warn her away from Nick as do Nick’s bidding.
Hey, there’s San at the club! Petey is completely happy to see her–he’s going overseas the next day, though. She’s reminiscing about their first date. And so is he. “Isn’t life difficult enough without mixing it up with memories?”
She doesn’t want him to leave and apologized for blowing him off earlier. They embrace…he basically admits that he’s damaged goods. Now, down in the foggy streets, both Joe and Gloria agree that Nick’s a jerk. But she literally bails out of his car. Instantly regretting that, she tries to run after him, but she’s hit by another car.
Joey and Nick argue about Gloria. Petey takes Nick on, but it looks bad for Joey. “Stick with me in my gutter!” The price of not ratting out Joey is, in effect, Petey. Her brother goes down for murder, or she gets to be Nick’s kept woman. Sounds bleak for Petey, but then Johnny shows; she stops him from shooting the creep.
She and Johnny leave. Now, Nick’s screwed, no deal with Petey. Back home, Roy’s come home. Catching-up time. Domestic stuff rules. Time for Petey to shove off–for parts unknown. She’s seeing off San; generously, she understands his attachment to Amanda. The lovebirds agree that they’re “standing in the mud”…”looking at the stars.” I’ll buy that.
Great ending–even if the “here’s looking at you” line seems copied-and- pasted from Casablanca. Well, it was a common saying then. The only plot point that seems a bit murky is how Gloria died. She was obviously hit by another car, not Joey’s. And, technically, he let her out; she wasn’t thrown in the path of the other car, she put herself there.
Also, Nick basically gave Joey carte blanche to deal with her. So I don’t see why he cares so much when he finds out that she’s indeed ‘taken care of.’ In a way, though, it doesn’t matter within the overall plot. Nick didn’t know what to do with her, neither did Joey, and Gloria was way too drunk to make any rational choice.
What really sells this movie is the Petey and San romance. It’s slightly underplayed, and somewhat short-changed in screentime, but that makes it all the better. Lupino and Bennett have great chemistry, and their characters make sense together. Bennett isn’t nearly as polished an actor as Lupino, but as a ‘big lug’, he’s understandably stiff.
I’m not sure if all the melodrama in Petey’s family, and all of those characters, are helpful or not. Virginia, for example, seems entirely superfluous. On the other hand, Roy has an interesting angle. In general, the women have more scenes, and also seem to have stronger personalities. All of the men, including San, are weak and compromised in greater or lesser ways.
Gloria is sort of a special case; in many ways, she’s worse than Nick. He’s an operator and knows it; he doesn’t pretend to be something else. One might say that Gloria is a victim of not fitting the stereotypical woman’s roles–but Petey isn’t penalized for not conforming, she’s truly independent–wheras Gloria wants to use everyone around her.
This is very entertaining; the postwar milieu is captured perfectly– visually, psychologically, and socially. Highly recommended. 9/10