Hi Kiddies! It’s that time of year again. TCM’s annual SUMMER UNDER THE STARS event, where every August, TCM has one full day of programming to celebrate a different classic movie star. 31 Count ‘em 31! This year the likes of Lucille Ball, Hedy Lamarr, Humphrey Bogart, James Edwards, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer and many more will be featured. The blog Journeys in Classic Film, helmed by Kristen Lopez, will host the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon ( or SUTS as we vets like to call it ) where bloggers write about the day’s star.

You need only click on Marilyn above, to see the other entries in this blogathon. For my contribution, I’ll be weighing in on today’s star: M-G-M’s VAN JOHNSON on today his 100th birthday. ..And it’s my sister’s birthday today too, but I can’t say the year! Hey Sis! 

♠  ♠    ♠  ♠


HIGH BARBAREE is a romantic journey of a young couple in love; in love since childhood…in love since before they knew what “in love” meant. What a sweet movie; sweet but not saccharine…and with some of life’s hard knocks mixed in. 


I’m starting to like Van Johnson the more and more I see of him. He’s attractive, a big beefy guy. I love his voice and boyish good looks. I’m attracted to his earnestness most of all. I don’t know that he has edge, but definitely earnestness. He’s got the perfect partner with M-G-M girl-next-door, June Allyson. She’s pretty as a picture with the right hint of tomboyishness, femininity and yes, sexiness. ( I know…I know: June “PETER PAN-COLLARED” Allyson? Yeah…it’s the husky voice thing. ) I really saw something underneath Allyson’s wholesome sheen: her determination and sex appeal. Now I’m not suggesting they’re Lunt & Fontanne, Leigh & Olivier, Tracy & Hepburn or Hume Cronyn & Jessica Tandy. And no, they don’t have the sizzle of Ladd & Lake. But Van and June fit each other like a hand in a velvet glove. It is an easy, comfortable to watch in the films they made together: ( “Two Girls & A Sailor”  “Till Clouds Roll By”  “The Bride Goes Wild”  and “Too Young to Kiss” ).


A flashback is used for this story of old Ameri-cana; a bu-colic child-hood from another era. And it was your typical take of a girl and boy in love: he leads, has adventures…and she follows, adoringly – giving him the unending encouragement that he can do ANYthing. No, she doesn’t receive the same support and validation that life is her oyster. He doesn’t prop her up with cries of “You can do it Nancy!” Oh boy, is this ever another time. ( Or is it? ) But it’s all good. Because she’s his cheerleader, he’ll love her all the more. See how that works? Its a win-win situation, no? Hey…every couple falls in love their own way. The fact that she joined the military makes me think there’s some independence to her.


Thomas Mitchell is the very facile and engaging Uncle Thad, an endearing old windbag with a Peter Pan complex, telling tall tales of the sea to his hero-worshipping nephew. I am struck by the character Tangaros ( Al Kikume ). He makes me think of the regal bearing of a Rex Ingram I especially like the Mother ( played by Geraldine Wall ). She wasn’t the apron-wearing type of Mom like Mrs. Hardy. She was cool, calm and collected with a calming voice and a bearing that makes one think she could have had her own life ( read: career ) if she hadn’t chosen to fall for a country doctor ( Henry Hull ). My favorite scene in the entire movie is her playing the piano with her son, played as a youngster by Jimmy Hunt ( before he saw “Invaders from Mars” ). Finally a Hollywood casting agent got it right in picking the right child star to play the adult star as a kid. The little boy’s wonderment of the “G” key of her piano was so nicely done. What does this mean? See the movie.


I didn’t expect the movie to show the down side of life:

 Puppy love torn apart

“What-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up” dreams deferred
   for “The Good Responsible Profitable Adult Life Of A Grown-
   Up Who Wants To Get Ahead” reality

Competition from a sleek blonde ( Marilyn Maxwell ) – Is it
   only in movie fables that warm apple pie can compete and
   win out over a sizzling tall drink o’ water?

 Burying men at sea


What is sadder still is seeing Van’s character face reality; he’s carried a tale from boyhood into manhood during a life and death situation. Van Johnson puts across the dramatic moments of the film very well. The camera, steady on Johnson, tears welling up in his eyes… is a great dramatic moment for him. The movie has the bittersweet sensibility of “The Human Comedy.” It’s the kind of movies they did so well in the 40’s. Nothing fancy, no trickery, not auteur-y. Pretty linear. A sweet story of a boy and girl in love.

I don’t know if it all should have really worked at all, but emotionally, I enjoyed the movie. I came away with wanting to give Van Johnson’s career another look too. ( That can either be seen as a good or bad thing; but I like him. ) As a filmmaker, I probably should have been checking out Jack Conway’s directing style. But usually my first impression of a movie is its telling of the story.


“High Barbaree” is certainly rich in adventures for the young boy to help shape him into the man he is to be. ( That “G-note road” scene between mother & son is small but particularly poignant to me. Even Mom senses something special about her little boy. ) 


In a lot of my classic movie-viewing, I don’t have to go all-Hollywood with a happy ending but boy, I really hope for one in this movie. Im telling you, see the movie and you’ll know what I’m talking about. 


[   H O M E   ]


23 thoughts on “HIGH BARBAREE ( 1947 )

      • The movie was erased from our line-up in a the great purge at the end of 2016. I finally watched the movie in May 2017. I was entranced by how they pulled us into the story through the characters. Van/Alec felt like a real person. I particularly like Claude Jarmin Jr. as the young Alec. Thomas Mitchell! Oh, how I felt Nancy/June’s heartbreak. A very emotionally satisfying film.


      • I’m so glad you liked the film. It felt very real to me. Especially Van walking down that long road. I was in tears. I especially also liked the actress who played his Mom.


  1. I recently saw it and I adore this movie so, so much. I definitely encourage you to check out more of Van’s filmography! It took me some time to warm up to him but he’s one of my favorites and he can do light comedy and drama extremely well.

    Great, loving post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there Simoa…yes, he CAN do comedy and drama. I believe in his dark drama with Deborah Kerr “End of An Affair” I think the title is, and as light romantic comedy…yeah ( “Easy To Wed” etc. ). He’s very natural. “Command Decision” “State of the Union” “The Caine Mutiny” and his MGM fare. I like him. And I’ll check out more of his work. Thank you for enjoying my post. Thank you for commenting.


  2. The film High Barbaree was originally to end like this but the public wanted something happier. Here’s how it was suppose to end like this: The studio followed the plotline of the original novel which had a “Romeo and Juliet” ending with Allyson’s character dying, Johnson hearing that her ship had been sunk, and subsequently dying before he is rescued. When previewed in Los Angeles with this ending, 40% of the audience cards wanted a happy ending with Johnson not dying. A costly $50,000 remake had both of the screen lovers surviving. This ending would have been too downbeat even though the novels ends this way, I think MGM made the right decision on this film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never knew about this, and I agree Marc, that would have been too downbeat. You’ve got to leave folks with some kind of hope, don’t you. What’d you think of the film?


  3. Pingback: The 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon | Journeys in Classic Film

  4. I adore Van Johnson. It might be the earnestness you’re talking about, combined with those straightforward good looks. He’s got a nice steady gaze and a square jaw line. You’ve really made me want to see this one. I liked he and June alot in The Bride Goes Wild, where they had a nice yin-yang chemistry. I think I’ll catch this on WatchTCM this week. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m sorry to go against the warm feelings but I hated this particular movie. I’m not the biggest Van Johnson fan so perhaps that was part of it since it was much more his story than June’s but I found it rather sticky and dull.

    I had high hopes for it before watching since there were so many performers in that I like, Henry Hull, Geraldine Wall, Thomas Mitchell, Marilyn Maxwell, Cameron Mitchell and June of course are all favorites but for whatever reason it just struck me as puerile. I stuck with it to the end though since it was one of the last two June Allyson films I had to see to complete her filmography. The other being The McConnell Story which I’ve since tracked down and wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either and better than this with June in her perfect 50’s wife mode. It also had a more realistic ending, it couldn’t help it really being based on a true story.

    I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is about Johnson that puts me off, and there have been a few occasions-State of the Union, Washington Story and particularly Wives & Lovers (I really recommend this one which has a couple of really gem performances from Ray Walston and Shelley Winters-hers is awards level), where I really like him, but more often than not to me he comes across as unctuous and overbearing.

    I do love Summer Under the Stars! It’s a great way to explore lesser known performers, this year I was able to dig much deeper into both Fay Wray and Constance Cummings’s work both of whom I was very sketchy on. I can’t say I’ve become a devoted fan of either but some of the films were very interesting.

    The one complaint I have is that when they have a day devoted to a big name like Bette Davis, Jean Simmons or Bogart they don’t dig as deep into their obscurities as I wish they would often throwing one crumb like they did with “Housewife” for Davis this year and then trotting out the same famous films like All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? that they show frequently. Those are great films but they have 24 hours, it seems like the balance should be spotlighting their lesser known stuff and throwing in a couple big titles not the other way around. A small quibble I suppose but it’s a disappointing when it’s a performer who I really like and I look through the lineup and realize I’ve seen everything scheduled at least once. Okay rant over, sorry.

    Anyway though I didn’t like this particular film I liked a couple of the other Allyson/Johnson pairings, Two Girls and a Sailor and Remains to Be Seen, but their movies together are neither players strongest pictures.


    • Joel I absolutely disagree with your assessment of “High Barbaree”. Puerile? Too too harsh. I found it a sweet film, and not overly sentimental or cloying. Not a Van Johnson fan? I hear ya. There’re many classic stars whose charms are completely lost on me.

      I do agree with you re TCM’s Summer Under the Stars series. It would be great if they offered up more stars’ films that were less known. But we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes with TCM’s programming and rights issues to get these films. If they showed the lesser known films to introduce something new….folks would be complaining about “Where’s ‘All About Eve’’The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘The Letter’?!” TCM can’t please everyone. Least of all classic film fans.


  6. Thanks for confirmation of the “G” note. Just bought a Tibetan singing bowl on my remembrance of the note in High Barbaree–and also because it rang true.


  7. I first saw this movie on The Late Show a million years ago. It stuck with me and I remembered the G Note Road scene like yesterday. Now, I have a DVD copy.

    This movie is as corny as Kansas in August and just dripping with sincerity, but it is corn raised to a high art and well worth a look-see!


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