Moments after the opening credits are done a sixteen-year-old girl steps onto the stage at Daniel Webster Junior High School. The girl’s name is Pinkie Wingate and she impresses with a beautiful rendition of James F. Hanley’s “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.” Dottie Wingate, the girl’s mother is in tears as her daughter performs and we are enchanted by her talent. Unfortunately, when the number’s over the movie has still just begun and we’ve already seen its highlight. That is in Listen, Darling (1938) a lighthearted musical comedy from MGM directed by Edwin L. Marin.
Dottie Wingate (Mary Astor) is unable to support her children, Pinkie (Judy Garland) and Billy (Scotty Beckett) after the death of her husband. So when Judge Arthur Drubbs (Gene Lockhart) asks her to marry him Dottie considers it despite the fact she doesn’t love him. Unable to live with the sacrifice her mother has in mind in order to secure her future, Pinkie and her best friend Buzz Mitchell (Freddie Bartholomew) kidnap Dottie.
Traveling in the small Wingate trailer across the open road, Buzz and Pinkie decide to play cupid and find a suitable husband for Dottie. Just then – as such things happen in the movies – the family meets fellow camper Richard Thurlow (Walter Pidgeon), a bachelor lawyer from New York City out pursuing his hobby, photography. The easy-going Thurlow and Dottie are instantly smitten except he’s not in a hurry to take on the responsibility of a family. Or so Dottie believes. But in steps millionaire J. J. Slattery (Alan Hale) (who the family run into while camping) to ensure the course of true love prevails. And in the end the family is once again whole – plus Buzz.
Listen, Darling is not terrible by any means, but it is fluff with the only ZING! being the number Judy sings at the beginning, a song she would perform again countless times in her career and a personal favorite of mine. Judy sings two other numbers in Listen, Darling and her extraordinary voice shines, even though just like the movie they have no meat to them.
The cast in Listen, Darling is enjoyable to watch even in a movie with such a lean script. I mean we’re talking Garland, Astor, Pidgeon, Hale, Lockhart, popular child stars Bartholomew and Beckett who get plenty of screen time in this family endeavor, and character actor Charley Grapewin, who plays Buzz’ Uncle Joe.
If you’re not expecting depth with Listen, Darling it should do for a pleasant 70-plus minutes. Or, for extraordinary, play “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” on a loop.
Since I post this on the eve of what would have been Judy Garland’s birthday, it’s worth noting that Listen, Darling is the film that precedes The Wizard of Oz in the timeline of her legendary career.
Two things to note: TCM will be airing Judy Garland movies all day tomorrow in celebration of the anniversary of her birth – a DVR-worthy schedule if there ever was one. However, if you want to watch Listen, Darling in HD and judge it for yourself you can go to Warner Archive Instant as it is not on the planned TCM schedule.