Comedy

Frances Langford’s Big Break

Frances Langford and her voluminous locks look for a break on Broadway.  -Image borrowed from Songbook
Frances Langford and her tresses hunt for a job on Broadway.
(Image: Songbook)

Sometimes you have to respect a movie for reasons other than the movie itself.

You’re probably thinking, “Next!” But hear us out.

Today we’re looking at the 1944 comedy Career Girl, a “B” movie about aspiring Broadway actresses who live in a girls-only boarding house in New York. This modestly-priced flick stars Frances Langford as a gal determined to hit the Big Time.

If you look closely at our movie, you’ll see that it is a knock-off of 1937’s Stage Doorthe designer version of the aspiring-actresses-in-a-girls-boarding-house tale. The MGM A-lister stars Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and a million other big-name movie stars.

So we, as viewers, have to decide right away that if we’re going to get anything out of Career Girl, we have to pretend the MGM film was never made. But once you shut off that part of your brain, you’ll actually enjoy this charming little movie.

Langford plays a spunky singer who leaves her fiance in Kansas City in an effort to make a Name for herself on Broadway. We learn this in the opening scene as Langford calls her irritated fiance, who insists he come to New York and bring her home:

Irritated Fiance: “Your real career is being back here in Kansas City, being Mrs. James Blake.”

Langford: “If and when I’m ready to come home, I’ll buy my own transportation.” (Ca-lick!)

Langford moves to the budget “all-girls’ hotel” because she doesn’t have a job and she’s running out of cash. Here she meets aspiring actresses and – bonus! – a potential new boyfriend (Edward Norris). She’s presented with opportunities to sing which, of course, is what made real-life Langford a star in the first place.

There are plenty of great lines in this film. For example, when a producer’s secretary (Gladys Blake) brings Langford to the office to meet The Boss, Langford is visibly impressed:

Langford: (looking around) “It’s quite swank.”

Blake:  “When you get ‘no’ for an answer around here, you get it with all the trimmings.”

When she finally meets the producer – a man with a grand piano in his office – Langford is persuaded to sing and we realize why she was so famous in real life.

(Digression: Langford is accompanied on piano by Blake’s character, who, apparently, can play any tune at a moment’s notice. Why her boss hasn’t gotten her a gig on Broadway is beyond us.)

Langford has real star power – when her hair isn’t stealing the scene. (See photo, above.) Her singing is impressive, of course, but she isn’t entirely without acting ability. There is a scene where Langford, discouraged by not finding work on Broadway, gives a little speech about how hard it is to break into show business. The scene is surprisingly touching.

Now, our descriptions may not be enough for you to respect Career Girl, so you may have to respect the movie for Langford herself.

Langford was a huge supporter of the American troops during WWII, and was a regular fixture on Bob Hope’s USO tours as he traveled to entertain troops overseas. Rumour has it that during one of these tours, Langford impulsively climbed into a fighter plane that was actually used in an attack on a Japanese ship.

The Telegraph says that Langford “would sweetly sing the ballad I’m in the Mood for Love in a way that reminded GIs of the girls they had left at home…”

By itself, Career Girl is a forgettable “B” movie but, considering what Langford meant to troops and the American war effort, you can respect it as a film that was trying to give audiences more of what they wanted.

And what they wanted was Frances Langford.

Another review of Career Girl can be found at The Motion Pictures.

Career Girl: Starring Frances Langford, Edward Norris, Iris Adrian. Directed by Wallace W. Fox. Written by Sam Neuman. Producers Releasing Corp., B&W, 1944, 67 mins.

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29 thoughts on “Frances Langford’s Big Break

  1. There are no words for how much I adore Frances Langford. I have loved her since I was 13 or 14 (yes, I was that weird kid). Also, I have always coveted her hair.

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      1. Oh, her hair is amazing. I cannot understand why fashion mags don’t use her hair for old glamour inspiration, instead of being stuck on the same 5 or 6 actresses. Oh, well. Her voice is divine, and so is her incandescent presence.

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  2. I enjoyed your write-up, Ruth — the Irritated Fiance line made me laugh out loud, and I have developed a minor curiosity now about Frances Langford even though I’ve never seen her in a film.

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  3. Fantastic review! I haven’t read as much about Langford Langford as I’d like to. I had no clue she was so popular with the troops, though I can see why — she comes off as being very charismatic and sweet, not to mention her talents as a performer.

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  4. At first I wasn’t too interested but I must say that you have peaked my curiosity. It sound like a good way to spend some time, even if only to enjoy the singing.

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  5. I will always remember Langford for her stirring renditiion of the song “Over There” in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Langford and Cagney were awesome together.

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  6. Ruth, I must confess that the only time I ever heard about Frances Langford was when I heard a Looney Tunes short with Bugs Bunny singing “I’m in the Mood for Love”! Clearly I need to check out her work pronto! And yes, judging from the photo, Langford had a lovely head of hair, too! Swell post, Ruth, as always!

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  7. This is a fun, fun movie. And this is a great post about it. I love knowing more about Francis Langford! I know, the next time I watch this I’m gonna notice that hair in every scene 🙂 Thank you for this Ruth! As is becoming typical with me, I’m printing it out and keeping it with the movie. Yes, I recorded on DVD the last time it was on, lol.

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    1. That is a good idea, Sarah, and I might steal it. I read a lot of blogs about movies and I want a system where I mark which blog talked about which movie, so I can go back and comment after seeing it. Plus, I like linking to other reviews of movies I’m covering.

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      1. Yep, that’s what I do! Of course, I also have a spreadsheet with all the movies I’ve seen and those I want to see and any links for blog posts on that movie. Ohhhhhh don’t get me started, lol!

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  8. I love learning about movies I’ve never heard of, especially from the 40’s and 50’s. I had never heard of Frances Langford either. Thanks so much for the recommendation! I am going to try to find it online.

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  9. I don’t recall seeing this film but your review has me interested. And with my memory being as bad as it is, I’ll have no problem pretending Stage Door was never made. Your comment about the studio featuring Ms. Langford was merely giving America what it wanted rings true. During the War, Dad met Ann Sheridan, The Oomph Girl, when she toured with the USO. He remained a big fan of hers for the rest of his life. As a devoted USO entertainer, I’m sure Ms. Langford had many who felt the same way about her.

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    1. What a thrill it must have been to meet Ann Sheridan!

      Both Sheridan and Langford were terrific sports to do all that touring with the USO. Sure, they would’ve been given the best possible comforts while on tour, but sometimes what’s “best possible” doesn’t come close to what you’re used to at home. And then it’s the scheduled performances you have to give regardless of how you feel or what’s happening in your life. These stars didn’t have the same conditions that the fighting men had, but it certainly wasn’t a life of glamour.

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