Shopworn Angel, The (1939): H. C. Potter’s Romantic Melodrama, Starring Margaret Sullavan (Top Billing), James Stewart, Walter Pidgeon

Time described The Shopworn Angel as “a tearjerker in the grand manner — simple, senile and heroically sentimental,” and its critic was not wrong.

H. C. Potter directed the melodrama, starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Walter Pidgeon. It was the second screen pairing of Sullavan and Stewart after their successful teaming in the Universal production, Next Time We Love, two years earlier.

Waldo Salt’s script is the third feature adaptation of a Dana Burnet short story, “Private Pettigrew’s Girl,” published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1918.

Recycling:

The first version was Pettigrew’s Girl, a silent released in 1919, and the second The Shopworn Angel (1928), a part-talkie released by Paramount, starring Nancy Carroll, Gary Cooper, and Paul Lukas.

After the US enters World War I in 1917, a limousine carrying Daisy Heath (Margaret Sullavan), a sophisticated Broadway musical theatre star, knocks down Bill Pettigrew (James Stewart), a young, naive soldier from Texas. (“She ain’t a dame,” he claims, “she’s a lady”)

The chauffeur to take Bill back to camp, and during the ride, he gets to know the cynical Daisy.

Bill lets his buddies assume that Daisy is the date he had lied about, though he has none. When they find out the truth, they get even. On their leave, they take Bill to Daisy’s show, so he can introduce them. However, Daisy pretends she is Bill’s girl.

As they spend more time together, she begins to warm to him, much to the jealousy of her wealthy boyfriend, Sam Bailey (Walter Pidgeon), who is financing Daisy’s show.

Bill’s unit is about to ship out for fighting in Europe. When he cannot get leave, he goes AWOL so he can propose marriage, and Daisy accepts so that he can sail for France. Sam objects to the odd, but refrains from telling Bill the truth.

The two marry, as Bill has to leave immediately, but he sends cheerful letters every day.

Then, a letter with Bill’s ID tag falls out, and Daisy realizes that Bill has been killed. Nonetheless, she bravely finishes singing “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile.”

Cast
Margaret Sullavan as Daisy Heath
James Stewart as Bill Pettigrew
Walter Pidgeon as Sam Bailey
Hattie McDaniel as Martha
Nat Pendleton as “Dice”, one of Bill’s army buddies
Alan Curtis as “Thin Lips”, another army buddy
Sam Levene as “Leer”, an army buddy
Eleanor Lynn as Sally
Charles D. Brown as McGonigle, Daisy’s boss
Production

The directing assignment first went to Richard Thorpe, then Julien Duvivier, before Potter was given the task. Originally cast as Daisy Heath was Jean Harlow, but she died before filming began. She initially was replaced by Joan Crawford, who then yielded the role to Rosalind Russell, before the newly signed MGM contract player Sullavan finally came on board. Melvyn Douglas originally was signed to play Sam Bailey, but the role went to Walter Pidgeon.

First-time screenwriter Salt had to adhere to the regulations of the Hays Code, which required him to dilute the more sexually explicit elements. Thus, Daisy was transformed from hard-edged chorus girl into a leading lady, and Sam from a gangster lover into a wealthy, high society guy.

Although not deemed official remake, Paramount’s film That Kind of Woman (1959), starring Sophia Loren, shared a very similar plot.

The soundtrack included tunes popular, such as “You’re in the Army Now,” “Over There,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “K-K-K-Katy,” “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” “(There Are) Smiles,” and “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit-Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!.” Margaret Sullavan’s vocals were dubbed by Mary Martin.

The film earned $722,000 in the US and Canada and $320,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $146,000.