Primeorse Path (1940): Family Melodrama, Starring Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, and Marjorie Rambeau

Made in the same year as Kitty Foyle, for which Ginger Rogers won the Best Actress Oscar, Primrose Path is a modest melodrama about a young woman determined not to follow her mother and grandmother and become a prostitute.

Our Grade: B- (** out of *****)

The film, one of the last directorial outings of Gregory La Cava, was based on the play of the same name by Robert L. Buckner and Walter Hart and the novel February Hill by Victoria Lincoln.

Ellie May Adams (Ginger Rogers) keeps her virtue despite difficult circumstances. Her alcoholic, Greek scholar father Homer (Miles Mander) is unemployable, leaving her loving mother Mamie (Marjorie Rambeau) to support the family. Her ex-prostitute grandmother (Queenie Vassar) sees nothing wrong with their shared profession.

Ellie May warily accepts a ride to the beach from Gramp (Henry Travers), who runs a beachside restaurant and gas station along with wisecracking Ed Wallace (Joel McCrea).

Ellie May falls in love with Ed and eventually, after lying to him about being thrown out by her family over him, gets him to marry her. She becomes an industrious, well-liked waitress in the restaurant.

However, she makes a mistake when she finally agrees to take Ed to meet the rest of her family. When her lies about her relations are revealed, Ed leaves her. To add to her woes, her father accidentally shoots her mother during one of his drunken, half-hearted attempts at suicide. Before she dies, Mamie gets Ellie May to promise to take care of the family.

Unable find work, she finally takes up the family profession. Thelma (Vivienne Osborne), Mamie’s friend and co-worker, arranges for Ellie May to accompany her, her boyfriend, and “Mr. Smith”  on a car trip to San Francisco.

On the way, Ellie May gets them to stop at Ed’s favorite nightclub, where she bitterly pretends to be what her husband thinks she is. However, after a private talk with a sympathetic Mr. Smith, Ed figures out the truth and takes Ellie May back, accepting the burden of her family.

Oscar Context:

Marjorie Rambeau was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Ginger Rogers as Ellie May Adams
Joel McCrea as Ed Wallace
Marjorie Rambeau as Mamie Adams
Henry Travers as Gramp
Miles Mander as Homer Adams
Queenie Vassar as Grandma
Joan Carroll as Honeybell Adams
Vivienne Osborne as Thelma
Carmen Morales as Carmelita, Ed’s former girlfriend
Charles Lane as Mr. Smith/Mr. Hawkins (uncredited)


TCM showed this movie on April 24, 2020.