It’s A Great Feeling (1949)
This movie about movies is a cameo festival! Stars and Warner Bros. personnel pop up in guest appearances throughout the film, hence the “Guest Stars Galore” emblem on the poster.
We get Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, Joan Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, Michael Curtiz, Jane Wyman, and many more! Not to mention the stars of the film, Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, both of whom play themselves. The third star is Doris Day, who is one of the few actors in the film who doesn’t play herself.
All of the cameos and the Hollywood plotline make this film a treat for classic movie nerds, and perfect for the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s Fall Blogathon, “Hollywood on Hollywood.” Be sure to check out the other entries on classic movies about Hollywood such as Sunset Boulevard, Sullivan’s Travels, The Bad and the Beautiful, and many others!
It’s not just the cameos that delight in It’s A Great Feeling. It’s also packed with behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Warner Bros. backlot, plus a satiric quality that makes it fun to watch. We see places like the commissary, the recording studios, and the screening rooms, but it’s not as fluffy and Hollywood-glorifying as you might imagine from the Technicolor glow and light comedy cast.
The movie stars Dennis Morgan, Jack Carson, and Doris Day. And although Day is the most famous of the three today, when this movie was filmed she was the rookie on the lot. In fact, this was only Day’s third film after Romance on the High Seas (1948) and My Dream is Yours (1949), both of which also starred Jack Carson.
Carson started in vaudeville and enjoyed radio stardom before and during his work in Hollywood. He was a popular character actor (in movies such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) and Mildred Pierce (1945)), before he was promoted to leading roles with Dennis Morgan in the mid-1940s. Warner Bros. teamed the duo in an effort to duplicate the success of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope buddy films. Morgan and Carson made fifteen movies together and were good friends, which makes their frenemy status in It’s A Great Feeling doubly amusing.
Like Carson, Morgan had been in show business for a while. He started making movies in 1936 (originally under his given name, Stanley Morner, and the pseudonym “Richard Stanley” before “Dennis Morgan”). He found his greatest success in the 1940s with films such as Captains of the Clouds (1942), Kitty Foyle (1940), and Christmas in Connecticut (1945). He was a handsome boy-next-door with a big, smooth voice and youthful vigor. He was almost forty years old when he made this movie but I swear he could pass for 24.
As I mentioned, Day was a relative newcomer to Hollywood, but she had been in showbiz for years as a successful big band singer and radio star. But movie work hadn’t come quickly for Day; in fact, It’s A Great Feeling somewhat mirrors her real-life Hollywood trajectory of the talented but undiscovered star on the brink of giving up.
In 1948, Day was frustrated after failing to get movie roles. She reportedly had her bags packed to skedaddle before getting the part in Romance on the High Seas! You’ll see how that comes into play in this movie in a moment.
If you assume that this is another light Hollywood story, you might be surprised! It’s certainly drawing on a familiar Hollywood fable, but this movie actually spoofs Hollywood more than it honors it. I had watched it years ago and didn’t remember how funny, satirical, and even biting it is, so it was great fun to give it another look for the blogathon.
The movie is based on a story by I.A.L. Diamond, who is best remembered today as Billy Wilder‘s writing partner. (Which helps explain the sharp satirical edge.) The screenplay was written by Jack Rose and Mel Shavelson, two veteran screenwriters with long careers in Hollywood.
We open with a travelogue view of the Warner Brothers Studio lot as a voice intones about the wonders happening beyond its gates. As a movie studio backlot nerd, I’m already hooked.
We head to a set where the director’s chair helpfully informs us that Raoul Walsh is presiding. He takes a phone call from a producer about a new movie called Mademoiselle Fifi starring Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. But Walsh flatly refuses to direct the picture because it stars Carson…The same thing happens with famed Warner Bros. directors King Vidor, Michael Curtiz (who had directed Carson and Day in Romance on the High Seas), and David Butler (who actually directed It’s A Great Feeling! So meta.)
Apparently no one likes working with Jack Carson because he is such a “ham.” The producer of Mademoiselle Fifi, Arthur Trent (Bill Goodwin), is at a loss. So he assigns the only person who can stand to direct Carson: Jack Carson himself.
Dennis Morgan reads the disappointing news in Variety while Gary Cooper nurses a Coke next to him. Cooper responds to Dennis’ conversation solely in cowboy “Yups.” It’s quite funny. You can watch the opening scenes here. Basically, Warner Bros. wrote as many of its people into the movie as they could. But the cameos don’t feel forced. They all make sense even though they’re definitely winking at the audience.
The idea of starring with and being directed by Jack Carson the ham is too much for Dennis. (Remember that in real life, the pair made fifteen movies together and were good friends!) So Dennis tries to get out of the movie by signing a contract with a Broadway producer. He’s going to return to the stage! Anything to avoid working with Jack Carson…
This characterization of Carson as an obnoxious egomaniac is especially funny because by all accounts he was a charming, smart man and a generous performer. For example, Doris Day wrote in her autobiography that Carson, her frequent co-star and sometime boyfriend, was an indispensable ally in her early days of movie making:
[Carson] helped me enormously with my technical indoctrination into movie acting. He taught me dozens of tricks about how to move to precise camera marks without actually looking for them, how to handle myself in close-ups so that my face or profile rather than the back of my head would be in a shot, how to sustain the evenness of a performed scene…. Since we were also going together, we’d often discuss some of these things in the evening, and there’s no doubt that my relationship with Jack helped me considerably in my early going.
You can read more about the real Jack Carson here.
Back to the film! We find Jack Carson in the studio salon getting some grooming done. Next to him is Ronald Reagan! Cameo, check! Dennis joins them and hears Jack trashing his abilities as a co-star. So Dennis angrily tells Jack about his plans to leave Hollywood for New York.
This is very bad news for Jack. He desperately needs his salary from Mademoiselle Fifi because he has overextended himself building a new house. He knows that Warner Bros. may cancel the film without the star power of Dennis Morgan, so he goes to work trying to keep his “best pal” in the picture.
Meanwhile, we visit the Warner Bros. commissary where costumed stars and extras mingle over meals. The biggest stars could order their food to their well-appointed dressing rooms, which is what Jack has done. And that sets the plot in motion…
A pretty blonde named Grace (Claire Carleton–how great are those name tags!) is tasked with delivering Jack’s “hot cheese and sauerkraut,” (I’m hoping that’s a grilled cheese sandwich with sauerkraut, not just piles of both foods…) but she dreads the job. Apparently, Jack Carson has a reputation for harassing the waitresses. It’s played for comedy in this film as just another unsavory element of Jack’s character, but it’s horrible if you think about it.
Anyway, another waitress named Judy (Doris Day) volunteers to take Carson’s lunch instead. She is desperate to audition for someone, anyone! at the studio. Maybe this is her chance!
She hurries off with the tray and bumps into actor Sydney Greenstreet.
He thinks it’s very funny to see a waitress running towards Jack Carson’s dressing room instead of away. Yes, sexual harassment is hilarious!
Anyway, Judy dramatically enters Jack’s dressing room (notice the picture of Dennis Morgan on the coffee table!) and tries to audition for him.
When he asks what her name is, she says “Judy Adams. But if you don’t like it I can change it!” She’s well-versed in the Hollywood starlet protocol. But she’s also acting overly dramatic and sophisticated, which hides her natural adorable quality.
Jack isn’t interested until she starts playing a scene about being a young mother who is abandoned by her lover. He gets an idea, and promises Judy a part in his new movie if she will help him get Dennis Morgan to sign the Mademoiselle Fifi contract. She agrees. Remember, she is desperate. You can watch the scene here.
Judy goes to Dennis’ dressing room and pretends to be Jack Carson’s secret, pregnant wife. (Though she never actually says she is pregnant, and just uses the old Hollywood standby of “I’m going to have a…” before trailing off in misty-eyed emotion. This is not uncommon in an era when such “vulgarity” was controlled by the Production Code’s guidelines. )
Judy tells Dennis that if Mademoiselle Fifi is cancelled, Jack won’t be able to afford their new home with the little nursery, and she won’t be able to stay in Hollywood. Their new family will be broken apart, and it will all be Dennis’ fault! She begs him to make the movie for her baby’s sake.
Soft-hearted Dennis falls for the trick and signs the contract to make Mademoiselle Fifi. But then Carson reneges on his promise to Judy to give her a part in the movie, and instead slips her five bucks for her help.
Judy is disgusted with Jack for using her, disgusted with Dennis for turning his back on his “best friend,” and disgusted with Hollywood for crushing her dreams yet again. She announces that she is through with horrible Hollywood and is going to go home and marry her old boyfriend, Jeffrey Bushfinkle, if he will still have her. Then she storms off to catch a train home to Goerke’s Corners, Wisconsin. Morgan and Carson are rightfully shamed.
Fun fact: both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson were from Wisconsin. Carson was actually born in Canada but moved to Wisconsin as a kid and he considered it home.
Meanwhile, when Trent the producer tells Jane Wyman that she is assigned to star in Mademoiselle Fifi, she faints at the terrible news! (This movie mocks Jack Carson so hard, but it makes me like him and Warner Bros. even more for being in on the joke!) Wyman’s daughter, Maureen, is on hand to provide a glass of water, so we get two cameos in this brief scene.
Fun fact: this movie was a family affair for the Reagans. From 1940-1948, Jane Wyman was married to Ronald Reagan. Maureen is their oldest child. But Wyman filed for divorce from Reagan in 1948, though I don’t know if it was before or after they filmed their scenes for this film. This movie was in production from mid-August to October 1948.
Anyway, Trent informs Jack that Wyman’s doctor has ordered her to rest so she can’t make the movie. They still need a female lead, but no actress will agree to take the part. So Dennis and Jack get the idea to cast an unknown. And they know just who to hire…they rush to the train station to catch Judy before she leaves.
They convince her to come back and star in the movie, and then they run into Danny Kaye. Because we needed another cameo!
Carson and Morgan decide to give their new leading lady a makeover because that’s how the Hollywood goes. The big star drops out, the “country girl” comes in, gets a movie star makeover, and immediately becomes a star. Right?
So the gang heads to a fancy dress shop. I love these scenes of personal fashion shows! Warner Bros. costume designer Milo Anderson worked on this movie, though there aren’t too many show-stopping outfits because it is mostly “everyday” scenes. Though his dream sequence work is pretty great…
Joan Crawford just happens to be at the shop, and she overhears Carson and Morgan talking about “using” Judy and trading off who gets to spend time with her. She assumes the worst and says she is disgusted by “Two grown men acting like two grown men!” She goes into a furious monologue that ends with her slapping both guys. They ask, “What was that for?” and she replies “I do that in all my pictures!” and walks away.
Meta fun! (Especially because Jack Carson was in one of Crawford’s most famous movies, Mildred Pierce (1945)! You can watch a scene from that film here.) Crawford’s cameo is one of the best moments in this movie:
Anyway, the makeover falls flat because Trent won’t even discuss casting an unknown in Mademoiselle Fifi. But then Jack and Dennis remember that Trent likes finding his own stars, so maybe if Trent is the one to “discover” Judy he will change his mind.
So the gang follows Trent around in the hopes he will notice Judy and decide she is Hollywood’s next big thing.
Judy poses as an elevator girl, a waitress, a taxi driver, and even a nurse, but whenever she sees Trent, she poses with a weird smile and frantic eye-lash fluttering. This strikes Trent as creepy rather than lovely, so he is never tempted to discover her.
Eventually he goes to his eye doctor because he keeps seeing the same blonde with the same sickly smile all around town. But Judy even pops up there as his nurse! Trent thinks that he is losing his mind.
Thus, Jack and Dennis’ grand plan backfires. So they go to the Hollywood Bowl to relax and regroup. But as they watch the concert, Dennis begs Judy to go back to Wisconsin because he doesn’t want to see her disappointed anymore. They don’t know how to get her in the movie, so maybe she should marry Jeffrey and settle down to a happy life without show business. But Judy refuses, and then they sing a nice song. It seems that a romance is developing between Judy and Dennis…
Fun fact: a working title for this movie was Two Gals and a Guy, which makes a lot of sense. The actual title comes from the song “It’s a Great Feeling,” which was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song.
The song on the hill shows the boys that Judy has a lovely singing voice. Duh. So they change their approach to making her a star.
Fun fact: the scene looks almost exactly like the Hollywood Bowl date in Double Indemnity (1944), though in that movie Fred MacMurray and Jean Heather are discussing murder and betrayal, not singing cheerful songs!
Back to our Technicolor fantasy! Jack, Judy, and Dennis head to Schwab’s Pharmacy to make a plan. The movie spotlights the exterior of the drugstore because Schwab’s was a famous place. It was located on Sunset Boulevard and became a well-known hangout for Hollywood big shots and those hoping to become big shots. The syndicated Hollywood gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky rather infamously co-opted Schwab’s as his office, and even called his Photoplay column “From A Stool At Schwab’s.” So the average audience member would probably have recognized Schwab’s in this movie.
As drugstores did back then, Schwab’s had a soda fountain and sold ice cream and other victuals as well as the more typical drugstore stuff. Over banana splits and sodas, the gang decide to have Judy record a song and then do a screen test to show Trent. They’re sure that her voice will convince him that she’s perfect for the part.
But Trent bars Jack from the Warner Bros. lot because he is determined not to cast an unknown and he’s fed up with Jack’s machinations. Fortunately, Edward G. Robinson happens to be there, and he does his gangster routine to intimidate the guard. (Actually, his tough guy routine fails, but he pulls the guard aside and begs him to let them in because it’s important to the studio to uphold his gangster reputation!) It’s funny stuff.
Then Judy, Dennis and Jack head to the recording stage where they convince famed music director Ray Heindorf to record Judy’s song. Jack does his best Maurice Chevalier impression of the same tune after Judy finishes.
Fun fact: Ray Heindorf may not be a recognizable face (that’s him in the dark shirt and light grey pants in the bottom left image), but he was a big time music director. And also an accomplished composer, arranger, and conductor. He worked at Warner Bros. for about forty years and racked up 18 Oscar nominations.
One was for Best Song (“Some Sunday Morning” for San Antonio (1945)), and the rest were for Best Score. He won three Oscars all for Best Score for Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), This is the Army (1943), and The Music Man (1962). Heindorf was also known for hiring African-American musicians before that was common, and he was a friend and supporter of pianist Art Tatum, considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time.
You can watch the scene here:
After recording the song, they somehow get hold of a soundstage and film a screen test.
Then they arrange to have it shown to Trent and his assistant in a projection room. But it goes terribly wrong. The sound gets messed up–when Judy opens her mouth it’s Dennis’ voice they hear and vice versa. (It’s the Singin’ in the Rain (1952) sound mixup but three years earlier!) Then the color goes wonky and the film spins and bounces in a dizzying nightmare.
Poor Trent was on the verge of a breakdown, and this sends him over the edge. He is carried out of the projection room by the studio’s medical staff. It seems the plan to make Judy a star has failed, yet again!
Sidenote: this whole movie feels like Hail, Caesar! (2016), the Coen brothers’ recent classic Hollywood satire. Trent’s assistant even looks like the super-capable assistant to Eddie Mannix in that movie! The backlot setting and loving spoof of Hollywood, plus the color design and behind-the-scenes focus all make me wonder if this film was part of the Coen’s inspiration. You can read more about that movie here.
Anyway, Trent cancels Mademoiselle Fifi and decides to go away for a while to recover from his nervous breakdown. But Jack and Dennis get another grand idea: they pretend that Judy is a famous French actress named Yvonne Amour. Then they call the Hollywood columnists to dish on the casting of Amour in the hotly anticipated film Mademoiselle Fifi. The reporters besiege the Warner Bros. Publicity Department with questions about Miss Amour, but of course the publicity guys have never heard of her. Because she doesn’t exist…
But the publicity men are pros, so they immediately concoct an entire biography for Miss Amour. They spread the fake story to the gossip columnists and trade papers. Then they organize a grand reception for the star they hadn’t heard of five minutes ago. They know they’re lying, but that’s their job!
One of my favorite moments comes when the head of the Department starts inventing Yvonne’s life story. He says she was “Born in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower,” and when one of the men asks, “How do you know?” he spits back, “It’s a big tower.” This is one of the most pointed satirical moments in the film. The Publicity Departments were notoriously loose with the truth: their job was to make stars and keep them popular, so they did whatever they had to do. We see that in this scene.
At the reception, Judy speaks in a terrible French accent and wears a terrible dark wig. They really didn’t think this plan through. But somehow the entire studio, including Trent, are convinced that Judy is Yvonne. Trent has even postponed his recovery trip and restarted Mademoiselle Fifi now that a French movie star is available!
There are some more fun cameos when Eleanor Parker (the Baroness in The Sound of Music) and Patricia Neal welcome “Yvonne” to Warner Bros. and tell her a little about Hollywood moviemaking.
As Yvonne walks away, Eleanor says to Patricia, “They’ll probably make her a blonde.” They sigh at the Hollywood machine.
Then Yvonne performs a song in a very French accent. Trent gets very confused again.
It’s going well until Yvonne tumbles off the stage and her wig comes off. Eleanor quips to Patricia, “I told you they’d make her a blonde!”
Mademoiselle Fifi is cancelled yet again.
Jack and Dennis go to Judy’s apartment for dinner to plot their next move. They meet Judy’s roommate, Grace from the commissary, who gives them a stern talking-to. She’s jaded and cynical after being in Hollywood so long, and she doesn’t want sweet Judy to end up like her.
Plus, she knows that Judy is still interested in Jeffrey back in Goerke’s Corners, and she also knows that Jeffrey still wants to marry Judy. She shames Jack and Dennis for stringing Judy along with this Hollywood fable nonsense that won’t come true. They shouldn’t keep Judy from living a nice, normal life with nice, normal Jeffrey. Grace has a good point, but I wish she hadn’t included a line about “Why choose a career over a guy who wants to marry her?” Remember, this was filmed in 1948.
Jack and Dennis are chagrined. They know it’s still a long shot to get Judy cast in the film, and they decide that maybe Grace is right. They should let her go. The problem is that Judy is still gung-ho about Hollywood because she believes in Jack and Dennis and their promises to make her a star. So they concoct a plan to convince Judy to go back to Wisconsin. They will be cruel to be kind.
They give Judy’s pretty neighbor downstairs the same “Hollywood fable” spiel they’ve been telling Judy. And they make sure that Judy can hear everything from the balcony. She is furious and believes that Jack and Dennis have just been toying with her the whole time. She packs her bags and takes the train home.
She doesn’t realize that Arthur Trent is on the same train. Judy can’t escape Hollywood! Trent settles down in his cozy compartment, and Judy does the same in her tiny upper berth.
She goes to sleep and dreams about being a jaded, be-sequined saloon singer. Jack and Dennis are there as shiny sailors. With a French twist? It’s not important. Dream-Judy sings about how “there’s nothing rougher than love,” but it’s also kind of great sometimes.
Her skin-tight, skin-colored top with striped sequins is quite risqué! You can watch the scene here.
Judy wakes up from the dream screaming, which disturbs the entire car’s slumber, including Trent’s.
Confused and sleepy, Judy wanders into an empty club car and starts singing along with the radio. She doesn’t see Trent come in and sit down to listen. He recognizes Judy as the girl that Jack and Dennis kept trying to cast in Mademoiselle Fifi, and now that he has heard her voice, he completely agrees with them!
He tells her that she’s wonderful and he can make her a star. So she slaps him and runs away. She is tired of hearing that.
At the next stop, Trent sends a telegram to Jack and Dennis telling them that he has found Judy and he wants her to star in Mademoiselle Fifi. (For more on telegrams, visit my History Through Hollywood post here.) But she got off the train and he doesn’t know where she is.
They know, of course, and decide to go after her. They arrive in Goerke’s Corners just as her wedding is starting. She’s getting married at home, as many people did back then. (Read my History Through Hollywood: Love for more on that.) But at most it has been a week since she left Hollywood, so she sure got engaged and planned a fancy wedding quickly!
Jack and Dennis are about to protest at the “Speak now or forever hold your peace” part, but then they get a glimpse of Jeffrey Bushfinkle, Judy’s groom. Why, he looks exactly like Errol Flynn!
So they don’t say anything. I suppose they would have if she was marrying someone ugly? It doesn’t make a ton of sense. Anyway, Judy is happy, Jeffrey is happy, and Jack and Dennis decide to let this one go. Maybe Hollywood wasn’t right for Judy and she will live a happier life back in Wisconsin. And that wraps up the cameos and the movie!
You can watch the final scenes here:
The ending always surprises me. Hollywood doesn’t usually make movies about “giving up” on your dreams! We’re supposed to think that Judy has gotten her perfect happy ending because she’s marrying an Errol Flynn lookalike. But I’m so used to Hollywood stories ending with the unknown getting her big break that it’s a little jarring to have Judy leave Hollywood for good and “settle” for a normal life. Usually, if the aspiring actress is a good person with plenty of talent she makes it! But this movie paints a more realistic picture of show business where even pretty, pure of heart, and extremely talented people don’t succeed.
And so we’re not too disappointed that Judy “gave up.” Instead, it seems as though she made the smart play. Her roommate really laid out a bleak vision of Hollywood, and so we are glad she got out while she still could.
But the ending is also weird because it really seemed like Dennis and Judy had a romance cooking. But instead she marries Jeffrey, and presumably Dennis and Jack go back to Hollywood and keep making movies. It’s unusual to have the heroine marry someone we don’t even see until the wedding!
This movie was in production from August 20 to October 16, 1948. Day’s first movie, Romance on the High Seas, only hit theaters in June 1948, but Warner Bros. was so confident about Day’s potential that she had already filmed most of her second movie, My Dream is Yours, before her first one was released!
Dream was in production in March through June of 1948, and was released in April 1949. It’s a Great Feeling followed in August. It was a whirlwind for Day, who, like Judy Adams, had been about to leave Hollywood for good before her surprise casting in Romance on the High Seas.
Fortunately for Warner Bros. (and for Day!), these three films were hits, and Day would go on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It’s fun to watch her in these early movies knowing what lies ahead.
The New York Times’ review of It’s A Great Feeling has the unintentionally comic headline, “Gay Story Lampoons Studio.” (Words change!) The critic found the film enjoyable especially because of its clever cameos and overall spoofing of Hollywood and Warner Bros.
“Credit the Warner Brothers with being able to take a joke. [It’s a Great Feeling] is lightly lampooning its stars, directors, producers and publicity men and having a genuinely nice time doing it. And, what is more important, it is a gay and impudent lark which transmits its broad humor to the viewer with a helping of surprises.”
He calls the plot “intentionally pure hokum,” but notes that the story isn’t “the thing. The players and gags are and they are used to full advantage.” He concludes, “As the actual stars of this romp, Jack Carson, Dennis Morgan and Miss Day are busy performers relishing their assignments,” and “the feeling [It’s A Great Feeling] leaves may not be great precisely but it is pleasant.” I agree!
And for more movies about Hollywood, be sure to check out the other entries in the CMBA “Hollywood on Hollywood” Blogathon! As always, thanks for reading!