The only reason I even came across this film was because I was looking at Eleanor Parker’s filmography. Eleanor Parker herself is a somewhat forgotten actress today, except for her role as the Baroness in The Sound of Music, and The Voice of the Turtle seems somewhat forgotten even compared to her other films. But it is a sweet, gentle, funny romance that I think would be much better known if it contained bigger stars (Ronald Reagan is certainly well-known, but no so much his movies).
The movie was based on an extremely successful play that ran during the war and was still running when the film was released in 1947. The story, however, is still set during the war. Quirky Sally Middleton (Eleanor Parker) is a young actress who takes love too seriously, or at least so she is told by producer Kenneth Bartlett (Kent Smith). He just wanted them to be able to have a good time together, but she fell in love and he feels in all fairness he must break it off. She, in turn, determines never to take love so seriously again. This has happened to her before.
But Sally has a friend, Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden), who knows exactly how not to take things too seriously and has a string of men in quick succession, or sometimes at the same time. She has a date with Sergeant Bill Page (Ronald Reagan), who she knew years ago and is in New York on leave just for the weekend. But when another man Olive knows shows up in town – who has a higher rank – Olive determines to ditch Bill and go with him (Wayne Morris).
Bill comes to Sally’s apartment to pick Olive up, but Olive spins him a rather feeble story about how her estranged husband has suddenly appeared and she simply must have dinner with him, but Bill realizes he’s being dumped. Olive leaves him and Bill asks Sally if he can borrow her phone. He calls every girl he knows in New York. Some are married, some are out on dates and he can’t find a single person to spend his weekend with. In slight desperation, he asks Sally out to dinner.
The rest of the film deals with how these two people discover that they have a lot in common and tentatively fall in love. They’ve both been in love before and were hurt and are now cautious. There’s a housing shortage in New York (The More the Merrier deals with the comic results of a housing shortage in Washington DC – this was a common problem during the war and made its way into several films) and since it’s so late at night and unlikely that Bill will be able to find a hotel, Sally invites him to sleep at her apartment. Meanwhile, Olive has become disenchanted with her date (he’s put on a little weight since she last saw him and shaved his mustache) and keeps calling Sally’s apartment to check up on them. She doesn’t at all appreciate Sally going out with him. She calls it beau-snatching.
You can tell the movie is based on a stage-play. Much of the action occurs in Sally’s apartment, but I didn’t find it too stagy or house-bound. It made it intimate, more closely focused on these two people who found each other in the midst of a big world.
Eleanor Parker is the heart of the film and plays a rather different role for her. I’ve mostly seen her as poised and sophisticated, but in The Voice of the Turtle she is quirky, not exactly flighty or scatter-brained, but definitely quirky is the best word I can come up with. She’s sensitive and hates to have anything alone, like a radio playing with no one to hear it or a coffee pot boiling with no one in the house. It makes them seem to her to be lonely. Her favorite question to ask is if Olive or Bill was in love with someone they mention. She can’t bear to have a phone ring and not answer it. If there are two glasses of milk or champagne or anything, she takes a sip out of one to make sure their are both equally full. One suspects the reason she offered to let Bill stay in her apartment was so she wouldn’t be so alone, not so much because she was looking to kindle a romance.
Eleanor Parker takes all these quirks (and she has more) and makes Sally adorable and sweet. Ronald Reagan is also good here. I haven’t seen him in many movies, but this is my favorite of his by far. Bill’s essentially a really nice guy and he and Parker have a sweet interaction. I keep using the word sweet, but that is the best word for this film. But not in an overly sentimental way. Eve Arden usually played the best friend to leading ladies, offering blunt and caustically funny advice that is usually ignored, but never resented. In this film, she’s more of an acidic flirt, but a welcome character, all the same.
There’s not a lot of physical comedy or slapstick. There is one very funny scene when Bill and Sally are having breakfast together when Olive comes over and Bill must hide in the kitchen while Sally tries to keep Olive out. Sally does have a lot of eccentricities, but Bill never makes fun of her. Another thing I liked about the film is that there are no artificial obstacles or misunderstandings to create unnecessary tension. The film is simply an exploration of how these two people fall in love and the main obstacle is Sally’s fear of being hurt again. But what’s nice about it is that Bill understands and is willing to address the issue; there’s none of this talking at cross purposes with the man stumping off hurt and leaving me yelling at the screen that if they’d just talk about the issue everything would be fine.
It’s a delightful film and I enjoyed it far beyond my expectations. Incidentally, the title of the film is a reference to a verse in the Bible. It’s quoted, or paraphrased, by Bill and comes from Song of Solomon 2:12: “For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; The time has arrived for pruning the vines, And the voice of the turtle has been heard in our land.” The turtle actually refers to Turtledoves.