Make A Wish
(1937) 75 min. b&w

By 1937 Basil Rathbone was well-known for his portrayals of villains, such as Murdstone in David Copperfield. This light-hearted musical offered Rathbone a welcome opportunity to play a nice guy and romantic lead. Make a Wish was primarily a vehicle for child star Bobby Breen to sing several songs. NBC radio star Marion Claire also sang in this film, the only film that she ever made.

The story was set at a summer camp in the Maine woods, Birchlake Camp for Boys. (It was actually filmed at Malibu Lake in California.) Rathbone plays John Selden, a composer who lives in a rustic lodge across the lake from the boys camp. His neighbors are Brennan and Moreta, composers of popular tunes. Selden, on the other hand composed classical music. He is supposed to be composing an operetta for a fall production in New York, but he has a creative block.

While reading the paper Selden gets a phone call from Mr. Wagner, the producer of the operetta. Selden doesn't want to talk to him; Joseph, Selden's servant, takes the call. Mr. Wagner is very anxious about the production and worried that Selden hasn't written any music yet.

Joseph, Selden's servant, fancies himself a poet. He'd like nothing more than to help with the operetta. Selden declines the help, and decides to go fishing.


 

This is how men dressed to go fishing in the 1930s!

While fishing, Selden hooks a pair of swim trunks. A boy calls out from the lake, Hey, mister, those are mine!" He explains that they came off because they are too big. He had tied them with a knot, but it slipped. Selden, who loves kids, laughs and tosses the trunks to the boy. He introduces himself as Chip Winters. Chip swims back to the boys camp.

That evening Selden hears the boys singing around the campfire. He is inspired and goes to the piano and starts writing. The next morning, he rows across the lake to visit the boys' camp. He meets Chip's friends, but Chip is the one who becomes Selden's muse. Chip shares a letter written by his mother, and Selden is impressed with her imagination. Chip and Selden become good friends, and Selden composes the first two acts of his operetta.


Rathbone with Breen and other boys

Rathbone roasting wieners with Breen and other boys

One day Chip tells Selden that his mother is coming to visit and her fiancé Mr. Mays is coming with her. Chip's mom is a singer, but Mr. Mays made her give up her singing career. Chip doesn't like Mr. Mays, but his mother feels it's better for Chip if she marries a responsible man instead of touring the world, singing. Chip tells Selden that he's looking for a treasure to give to his mother. Selden suggests that Chip could give her a song. He says it's something that you can give and still have. It's something that you can carry with you wherever you go. It's good when you're sad and when you're glad. He plays the song and Chip sings "Make a Wish."

Selden is working on the third act of the operetta when he sees Chip standing in the doorway. Chip says that he's brought his mother because she wants to thank him for the song. Selden is very pleased to meet her. Chip says he has to get back to camp, so he leaves his mother at Selden's house. Selden and Irene Winters talk of Chip, of camp, of singing, of the stage, and of her giving it all up to make a new life for Chip. Selden plays over the score of the operetta for her. Finally, it's time to leave, and he takes her back to the boys' camp in his rowboat. He finds himself falling in love with her.


Rathbone with Marion Claire

Rathbone with Marion Claire

Selden decides that Irene is perfect for his operetta. He tells his producer that he has found his prima donna. But when he tries to persuade Irene to star in his operetta, she says, "You mustn't tempt me that way. I've given up all thought of the stage. I'm making a new life for Chip." Even when he tells her that he wrote "Music of My Heart" for her, she wouldn't agree to perform in the operetta. The next day, she and Mr. Mays head back to New York, taking Chip with them. 

Selden became depressed. He thought that without Irene, the world would be barren of music. Life, itself, would be futile. Selden entrusts Joseph to deliver the third act of the operetta to Wagner in New York. "I've sent him the first two acts. Tell him I shan't be there for rehearsals." Since Irene won't be singing the operetta, Selden has completely lost interest in it. "I never want to hear a note of this music again." Joseph asks where he is going, and Selden answers cryptically, "The world is wide, and the world is round."

Joseph approaches Moreta and Brennan about inserting a few of their songs into the operetta. Selden will never know the difference; he won't be at rehearsals. But then Joseph loses the manuscript, so the three of them have to recreate the entire third act. The result is awful.

Back in their city apartment, Chip and his mother spend their days singing songs from the operetta. One evening Mr. Mays mentions that it's a good thing that she didn't get involved in Selden's production. He reads aloud an item from the newspaper: "John Selden's new operetta, "Music of My Heart," scheduled for opening at the Lyceum is reported in difficulties. The prima donna, Miss Pauline Manners, has walked out on the show. Can Selden be slipping?" Chip and Irene are puzzled and concerned.

The next day Chip goes to the producer's office to see Selden, unaware that no one can find him. While waiting in the reception room, he hears unfamiliar music coming from the office. Someone says that the music is from Selden's third act of the operetta. But Chip knows that the third act doesn't sound like this. "They're playing the wrong music! That isn't Mr. Selden's music!" When he is finally able to talk to the producer, Chip tells him that his mother knows all the right music for the third act. Chip and his mother sing the third act songs for the producer and save the operetta.

Wagner begs Irene to step in as prima donna. And Mr. Mays forces her to make a choice between a life with him or a life on the stage. So she chooses the operetta and it becomes a great success. Selden comes back because he heard that Irene was going to sing in it, so they are reunited in the end.


 

 

Canadian-born Bobby Breen was ten years old when he made this film. In the 1930s he was the most famous boy singer, singing on radio shows and starring in eight films from 1936 to 1939. When he became a teenager, his career nosedived. He made one final film in 1942, when he was 15 years old.

The film received an Academy award nomination for best score. Oscar Straus was a noted Viennese composer, who went to Hollywood and collaborated with Paul Webster and Louis Alter, lyric writers, to create the songs for the film:

  • "Make a Wish" (sung by Bobby Breen)

  • "Music in My Heart" (sung by Marion Claire; reprised by Bobby Breen and Marion Claire)

  • "Old Man Rip" (sung by Bobby and the St. Luke's Choristers, an organization of 68 boy singers)

  • "Birchlake Forever" (sung by Bobby and the St. Luke's Choristers)

  • "Campfire Dreams" (sung by Bobby and the St. Luke's Choristers)

Chip also sings "Polly Wolly Doodle," an old song from the nineteenth century.

Jay Silverheels, who later gained fame as Tonto, the Lone Ranger's faithful sidekick, had a small, uncredited role in Make a Wish.

"Basil Rathbone is co-starred in a refreshing role as an operatic composer and demonstrates his ability to play a light romantic part as deftly as the heavy types which he usually handles." (Variety)

"This film provided Rathbone with a change-of-pace. His undemanding role took him away from the heavier assignments he'd been used to and allowed to performer to relax in a part that required little more from him than to be pleasant." (Michael Druxman, Basil Rathbone: His Life and Films, page 186)


Rathbone

Director Kurt Neumann and cinematographer John J Mescall with Basil Rathbone and Leon Errol in a behind-the-scenes shot.

See more pictures from Make a Wish on page 2. (posters, lobby cards and promo photos)

       

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ............. Johnny Selden Production Co. .............. Principal Productions
Bobby Breen ................. Chip Winters   Distributor .................... RKO Radio Pictures
Marion Claire ................ Irene Winters   Producer ...... Sol Lesser
Henry Armetta .............. Moreta   Associate Producer ..... Edward Gross
Ralph Forbes ................ Walter Mays   Director ......................... Kurt Neumann
Leon Errol ..................... Brennan   Assistant Director ....... Joseph Boyle
Donald Meek  .............. Joseph   Story  ............................. Gertrude Berg
Billy Lee ........................ Pee Wee   Film Editor ..................... Arthur Hilton
Leonid Kinskey  ........... Moe   Cinematographer .......... John J. Mescall
Herbert Rawlinson ....... Dr. Stevens   Sound engineer ............ Hugh McDowell Jr.
Fred Scott ..................... Minstrel   Gowns ........................... Brymer
Charles Richman ......... Wagner   Costume supervisor .... Albert Deano
Lew Kelly ...................... mailman   Original music .............. Hugo Riesenfeld
Spencer Charters ......... station agent   Other music ................... Louis Alter
Johnny Arthur ............. Antoine music supervisor ..... Abe Meyer
Lillian Harmer ............... Clara   musician: score ............ Oscar Straus
Barbara Barondess ...... secretary   dance director .............. Larry Ceballos
Dorothy Appleby ........ telephone girl   writers (dialogue) ........ Bernard Schubert, Al Boasberg, Earle Snell and William Hurlbut
Richard Tucker ............. Grant    
Phillip McMahon ......... Chunky   Art Directors ................ Harry Oliver, Willy Pogany
Billy Lechner ................ Judge    
Jackie Egger ................. Bud    
Tommy Bupp ............... Boy    
Herbert Holcombe ....... (uncredited)    
Lon McCallister ........... (uncredited)    
Carlyle Moore .............. (uncredited)    
Tommy Ryan ................ (uncredited)    
Jay Silverheels ............. (uncredited)    
Jack White .................... (uncredited)    

Order the DVD of Make a Wish from Amazon or Movies Unlimited.

 

 

 

 

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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2011