Welcome, Theodora!Dennis Morgan
. *sigh* I liked the guy and the sight of his crooked grin and surprisingly resilient decency, a quality that may never really have been box office alone, but that made him a likable presence, especially in certain Warner films between 1940 and 1948 after his breakthrough role in Kitty Foyle as the appealing if weak society publisher who beguiles Ginger Rogers' working class striver for a good portion of the film. Btw, Morgan told an interviewer in the '50s that he made the screen test for this RKO film without the knowledge of his home studio. He really wanted that part and he was terrific in the part of a man who is not quite strong enough to break away from his roots. (Kitty Foyle
can be seen in its entirety online here
)With Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle (1940).
My favorite Dennis Morgan films are: The Hard Way, In This Our Life, The Very Thought of You, God Is My Co-Pilot
and Shine On, Harvest Moon
. I always thought that as a utility player at Warners, Morgan was always rather under-appreciated, often being paired with bigger female stars whose electric presence, flamboyance or grittiness were cast in high relief against his gentle, quiet manner. This is particularly noticeable with Ida Lupino (The Hard Way), Bette Davis (In This Our Life) and Joan Crawford (This Woman Is Dangerous), though my favorite co-star for Morgan may have been Ann Sheridan, an actress who made every actor she ever appeared with on camera seem somehow better.
Musically, despite his Swedish ancestry, when cast as a kind of Irish charmer with a sweet but manly tenor, Dennis could often be very entertaining, and I thought he was great in Shine On, Harvest Moon
with two performers I cherish, Jack Carson
and Ann Sheridan
. I also loved My Wild Irish Rose
as a child, though I was too naive to understand the black face sequences, which now seem so grotesque and make the film unwatchable for me unless I fast forward through those minstrel show scenes. I do love the part of the film
when Chauncey Olcott (Morgan) sings for his Mother (Sara Allgood, of course, unless of course, Warners favorite ersatz Irish Mom, the Scottish-born Mary Gordon wasn't available!?) in an empty theater with only the cleaning ladies as witnesses. Sentimental, sure. But done with such straightforward emotion it somehow works thanks in large part to Morgan's ability to present a song in a sincere and effective way.
One film of Morgan's that I recently saw for the first time was in the interesting Perfect Strangers
(1950), with Dennis and Ginger Rogers
as members of a jury who are sequestered while deciding the fate of a man accused of murdering his wife. Despite the presence of these two musical veterans heading the cast the dramatic script, from the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play, "Ladies and Gentleman," was a courtroom drama, which did a good job of delineating the various jurors' personalities (among them was Thelma Ritter, so I just had to see this one! Other character actors sprinkled throughout the film are Harry Bellaver, George Chandler and Alan Reed, whose faces are immediately recognizable, even if their names are not). Morgan and Rogers fall in love, though the ending of their story is hardly what one would expect. Not a great movie, but a delicate subject treated with some unusual maturity for an American film in the '50s.
A film that I would love to see, but which seems to be in copyright limbo is The Desert Song
(1944) with Morgan and Irene Manning in the leading parts of the operetta, (seen above) which in this version became a story of the Oppressed vs. the Nazis in North Africa. Has anyone ever seen this film? It appears to be in existence, since there are reports that this film was remastered and shown in revival theater setting in the '90s.
There are too few tributes to Jack Carson and his erstwhile partner, Dennis on the internet, but here are a few I know of:http://jackcarson.atspace.com/Dennis Morgan page on the Jack Carson siteDennis Morgan Page on FacebookDennis Morgan with Jack Carson and Joan Leslie in their Warner Brothers years.