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Paddy O'Day

Paddy O'Day(1936)

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Home Video Reviews

Fox Cinema Archives has just released a slice of film history onto DVD devoted to feisty Jane Withers, the second-most famous child star of the 1930s after Shirley Temple. Withers, in fact, made a mark in her first credited film, Bright Eyes (1934), playing opposite Temple. In that picture, Withers played the meanest of meanies, tormenting poor little Shirley; it was enough to launch her own career, and Twentieth Century-Fox gave her almost 30 starring vehicles over the next seven years. Six of them are now available on Fox's made-on-demand DVD label, as well as a seventh, The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), in which Withers has a supporting role to Henry Fonda and Janet Gaynor. (Unfortunately, Fox has done itself no favors by releasing them in mostly middling picture quality -- more on that in a moment.)

One of the best of the bunch is one of the earliest: Paddy O'Day (1935), a charming, sweet film that stops short of being cloying. In this remake of the Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell picture Delicious (1931), nine-year-old Withers plays Paddy, a little Irish girl on her way to New York via ocean liner to join her mother. Paddy charms her fellow steerage passengers with her singing and dancing, and makes friends with a Russian family on board, including a young woman played by 16-year-old Rita Cansino -- soon to be known as Rita Hayworth -- in one of her earliest screen appearances. When Paddy arrives at Ellis Island, she learns that her mother has recently died, and the immigration authorities will have to send her back to Ireland, where she has no one to look after her.

Paddy escapes and makes her way to the Long Island mansion where her mother had previously worked as a cook; the servants take her in, hiding her from the two buttoned-up, straight-laced aunts who live in the house with their scatterbrained nephew. Eventually, Paddy reunites with the Russian family and starts working as an entertainer in their new nightclub, but the aunts and the immigration officers are closing in.

The story, as directed by the underrated Lewis Seiler, moves fluidly along and features some clever comic build-ups and gags. It's also very well cast, with Vera Lewis and Louise Carter stealing the show as the two comically mean old aunts, Pinky Tomlin sufficiently likable as their nephew, Russell Simpson most appealing as the butler, Jane Darwell excelling as a cook, Francis Ford (John Ford's brother) fine as an immigration officer, and various other bit players doing their best. Paddy wins them all over, as she does us, with her pluck, talent and fine Irish brogue, in scenes that call on her to engage in comic banter, stand up to mean boys, plead with authority figures, and belt out two songs including "Keep That Twinkle in Your Eye." Withers comes off as a relatable, realistically drawn, enthusiastic, average kid, and that is surely what cemented her appeal in Depression-era America.

Finally, of course, there's Rita Cansino as a Russian immigrant who gets to show off some singing and dancing herself. Hers is a key and fairly prominent role, and she gets plenty of close-ups as well as a full production number. It's interesting to look at what Fox had in her when they decided to let her go after a handful of pictures in 1936. The rest is history, of course: she did a few more films as a freelancer and then was signed by Columbia, where Harry Cohn changed her name to Rita Hayworth and, over the course of about twenty films in four years, built her into one of the all-time great movie stars.

Jane Withers, meanwhile, was a huge star at Fox for a few important years, and as such she is well deserving of this recognition by Fox Home Entertainment. The only problem is one that has plagued Fox's made-on-demand discs from the start: very unreliable picture quality. Over the years, some Fox MODs have been fine, others have been awful, and many have been somewhere in between. Paddy O'Day has clearly not been remastered and is far from perfect, but it looks and sounds okay enough to watch without the print's scratches and dirt becoming a distraction. (Hayworth's close-ups are often radiant.) The other titles here are of varying technical quality. Little Miss Nobody (1936) has a consistently unsteady image, as if the transfer was made from a warped print, making this DVD almost unwatchable. It's so poor that Fox really should have acknowledged the problem on its packaging. Rascals (1938) is scratchy but watchable. Chicken Wagon Family (1939) looks beautifully remastered, but High School (1940) has a mediocre transfer that looks several generations removed from the original. The Farmer Takes a Wife, which has also not been remastered but ironically does contain an on-screen quality disclaimer, nonetheless looks much better than High School or Little Miss Nobody, while Golden Hoofs (1941) looks quite good.

By Jeremy Arnold