In January 2021, the World War II era is especially relatable: separations, shortages, fears of death, and threats to the American way of life are daily concerns, just as they were then. Thus, when the 1947 film “The Voice of the Turtle” begins with “It was December, 1944, in New York and it seemed as though the war and the winter were never going to end,” we understand. However, the leading characters, played by Ronald Reagan and Eleanor Parker, rather than wallowing in despair, display admirable qualities. Refreshing in these gender-confused times, they are the distinctly masculine and feminine, and Parker is an especially endearing example of the latter.
The movie focuses on Sally Middleton (Parker), a struggling young actress in New York City who has “only been in flops.” Her most recent flop was her romance with Broadway producer Kenneth Bartlett (Kent Smith), which ended after they realized that he was interested only in a casual courtship while she wanted a serious relationship, including marriage.
By spring, Sally is upholding her vow to keep further romances light by not falling in love again. In contrast, her friend Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden), another actress, flits from man to man for her own convenience and pleasure without caring about anyone except herself.
Olive plans to entertain a soldier friend during his weekend leave but learns at the last minute that her sailor beau (Wayne Morris) has a leave on the same weekend. When the soldier, Sergeant Bill Page (Reagan), goes to Sally’s apartment to pick her up, Olive lies to break their date. Bill then has no dinner companion.
After everyone Bill calls proves busy, he asks Sally to dinner. She hesitantly accepts, and they go to the French restaurant next door that she and Ken considered “their place.” Bill and Sally bond over the shared experience of having had their hearts broken in past romances. After dinner, Bill is exhausted, and it is pouring rain outside. Concerned about the hotel room shortage in New York, Sally invites him to sleep on her couch. Bill, appreciating her generosity, accepts.
The next morning, Sally reads for a major role in a play. Afterward, she meets Bill at the market, where he is buying items to restock her kitchen. They decide to spend the whole weekend together, although Olive tries to reclaim Bill for at least one meal.
Bill and Sally feel the beginnings of love when they prepare breakfast together, but she is afraid to commit herself again. Similarly, Bill doesn’t want to be unhappy in love, as he was with a girl in Paris seven years earlier. Both must overcome their fears and learn to trust each other as “the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Some classically feminine characteristics are gentleness, compassion, sensitivity, and the desire to nurture, all of which Sally Middleton displays. She is so sweet and sensitive that she cringes when she sees eggs being broken. She’s even concerned about leaving a coffee pot on the stove while she’s out of the apartment, saying that “it’s like leaving a child.” Bill thinks she’s a little silly, but her uncomplicated nature charms him.
Sally is an aspiring actress who left her hometown to go to New York. However, she is genuinely happy for the first time in the film when Bill is her houseguest. She meticulously prepares her apartment, making the daybed, emptying ashtrays, filling a pitcher of water, and rearranging magazines until everything looks perfect.
During the weekend, she gets her big break, a near-starring Broadway role. She reminds Bill that “Londonderry Air,” which they heard on the radio the night before, is her lucky song. He agrees that the weather and her luck seem to be changing. However, her newly hopeful outlook on life is not because of her career advancement but because she is finally able to care for someone.
In contrast to Olive, Sally would never use a man or enter a casual, frivolous relationship. She tells Olive that she thinks it’s wrong for a woman to let a man kiss her unless they’re thinking about marriage, since she would be cheapening herself. Because of her high moral principles, she is extremely dismayed to think that someone might infer something wrong about Bill’s spending the night.
Since Sally is such a feminine, wholesome young lady, good things happen to her. Bill instinctively treats her with respect, while he quickly realizes Olive’s true nature.
Familiar Faces, New Appreciation
Everyone will recognize Ronald Reagan as the future 40th president of the United States. However, it is easy to forget that, before he was one of our most beloved presidents, Mr. Reagan was a successful Hollywood actor who appeared in 57 movies from 1937 to 1964. He is best remembered for his role in the dramatic “Kings Row” (1942), which made him a star before he was called to active duty in World War II.
When his career waned in the 1950s, he turned to television, becoming the host of “General Electric Theater” (1953–1962). While in Hollywood, he served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947 to 1952 and again in 1959–1960. He eventually retired from acting in 1965 to enter politics.
Just as Ronald Reagan is primarily remembered for his later political role, Eleanor Parker is best remembered for her later acting role of Baroness Elsa von Schraeder in “The Sound of Music” (1965). Although this regal villainess is her most iconic part, she had a highly successful career before that. She made her film debut in 1942 and had a contract with Warner Bros. for several years before moving to Paramount Pictures.
She was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards for her roles in “Caged” (1950), “Detective Story” (1951), and “Interrupted Melody” (1955). For her dramatic performance in “Caged” as a woman hardened by 15 months in prison, Ms. Parker also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. She appeared in about 80 films and television series before retiring in 1991.
If you want to see the early work of these two well-known figures, “The Voice of the Turtle” is a great starting point. As Bill Page, Reagan is honorable, considerate, and genuine. He himself had recently been a serviceman, having acquired the rank of captain in the Army Air Forces, so he is comparable to his serviceman character. As Sally Middleton, Parker is sweet, innocent, gentle, and caring, wanting only to give of herself to bring happiness and comfort to others. With her adorable, girlish hairstyle and flatteringly delicate clothes, she is the epitome of a feminine 1940s woman.
The Turtle and Spring
On their second day together, Bill tells Sally: “The weather has changed. ‘The rain’s over and the winter has passed. And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.’” He is paraphrasing the Bible and tells her that the titular turtle is not a reptile but a turtledove, which not only explains the voice but also serves as a symbol for love and faithfulness, hinting that the couple will bond for life.
Right now, we can relate to the feelings of characters in “The Voice of the Turtle.” In early 1945, it seemed like the war would never end, so it was easy to lose hope and forget how to be happy. During their first dinner together, Bill tells Sally that he was very happy while in love in Paris. “And you’re not now?” Sally asks. Bill responds, “Is anyone?” Sally looks wistfully at a young couple at a nearby table, who are obviously happy.
Like Bill and Sally, let’s cherish love, friendship, and kindness to find happiness until spring comes!
Tiffany Brannan is a 19-year-old opera singer, Hollywood historian, travel writer, film blogger, vintage fashion expert, and ballet writer. In 2016, she and her sister founded the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to reforming the arts by reinstating the Motion Picture Production Code.