Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Jane Withers
JOHNNY DOUGHBOY (1942). Director: John H. Auer.

16-year-old Ann Winters (Jane Withers) is sick and tired of playing 12-year-olds in her movies, and runs off to be a woman. She winds up staying at the home of playwright Oliver Lawrence (Henry Wilcoxon of Cleopatra), and gets the wrong idea about his feelings for her. Meanwhile Penelope Ryan (also Jane Withers), the winner of an Ann Winters lookalike contest, comes to visit Ann and is importuned to temporarily replace her by Ann's manager, Harry (Willam Demarest). A group of has-been child actors, played mostly by, well, has-been child actors, want the real Ann to take part in a show they want to do for soldiers; they've been told that they can only go on if a "real" star also participates. Penelope tries to appeal to the spoiled Ann's better nature to get her to do the show, but it may be a losing battle.

Alfalfa, Jack Boyle Jr, and Spanky McFarland
Johnny Doughboy was one of several pictures Jane Withers did for Republic studios as a teen lead when her long run as a child star was over. Nowadays most baby boomers remember Withers, who is still alive, as Josephine the Plumber in many commercials for Comet cleanser (which is also still around), while she may be completely unknown to younger people (aside from film buffs), especially Millennials. Johnny Doughboy is a pleasant minor musical with some snappy tunes in it, including "Baby's a Big Girl Now;" "You Better Not (With Somebody Else);" and "A Guy Like I." An amusing but also strangely sobering number, "All Through," has several former child stars, including Bobby Breen, Baby Sandy, Spanky and Alfalfa, essentially singing about how they're washed up in Hollywood, a song with built-in pathos when you consider the fate of some of these young actors. (Actually Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer was not washed up, appearing in a few Gas House Kids comedies as well as other movies and shows for several years afterward.)

Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer does his singing routine
Three other cast members of Johnny Doughboy are of note. Jack Boyle Jr. (billed as "Patrick Brook") makes an impression as the handsome singing actor Johnny Kelley and does a great dance routine with Withers, but he had very few credits. Ruth Donnelly [The Family Next Door] is as adroitly acerbic as ever as Miss Biggsworth, who looks after Ann; and Etta McDaniel, sister of the more famous Hattie, is amiable as Oliver Lawrence's housekeeper, Mammy.  "Alfalfa" reprises his funny tone-deaf singing routines from Little Rascals.

Verdict: Another amiable Republic musical. **1/2. 


angelman66 said...

Miss Withers is still alive as of this writing...92 years young. Was just watching a bio on Mary Pickford and the plot of this film reminded me of that...Pickford played little girls well into her 30s! And then her career fizzled. I loved Shirley Temple as a young adult in films, but then she was no longer a superstar...Pickford and Temple retired, while Withers became a wonderful comic character actress and made a lot of money as the Comet lady plumber as you note!!

William said...

Seeing the Comet commercials years ago I had no idea that she'd ever been a movie star, and I believe this is the first of her movies that I've ever seen.