Watching Four Daughters today, it is hard to imagine what it was about the film that so excited the public that it led to three sequels and a remake. The film is the story of the Lemp family, a father (Claude Rains) and his four daughters who are talented musicians who run a boarding house. Various tenants and neighbors of the house have interest in each of the daughters, and a romantic triangle is created between Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn) and Mickey Borden (John Garfield), both of whom seek the affections of Ann (Priscilla Lane).
Coming into this film, Warner Bros. was very high on Jeffrey Lynn as "the next big thing," and while he does demonstrate some charm, he mostly blends in with the blandness of the rest of the Lemps, played by the singing Lane sisters and Gale Page, none of whom display any great charisma or verve. What excited audiences in 1938, and is still the highlight of the film, is the screen debut of John Garfield. Though his performance seems mild by today's standards, Garfield's performance was one of explosive rebelliousness, the predecessor to Marlon Brando's role in The Wild One or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. His character was so appealing to audiences that Warner Bros. used some extremely creative ways to have his character appear in the following year's sequel Four Wives (ways that can't be revealed without being a spoiler). Garfield gives a subtly exciting performance, and it's clear why he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Aside from the Best Supporting Actor nomination, the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Writing Screenplay (Lenore J. Coffee and Julius J. Epstein), and Best Sound Recording (Nathan Levinson). The film did not win any Oscars due to a particularly strong year that included You Can't Take It With You, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Boys Town, The Citadel, Pygmalion, Jezebel, Grand Illusion, and numerous other exceptional films.
Though the film's overt reliance on melodrama and the blandness of the cast have not aged well, Garfield's performance remains fresh, and it is easy to see why the audiences of 1938 were so electrified by his performance.
Remaining: 3175 films, 882 Oscars, 5465 nominations