Forty Little Mothers is a 1940 American film directed by Busby Berkeley and starring Eddie Cantor. It is a more-or-less straight drama with some musical numbers and a little comedy thrown in.
Out of work professor Gilbert Jordan Thompson stops a suicidal stranger named Marian Edwards from jumping off a pier and helps her get a job so she can support herself. Then he finds an abandoned baby with a note asking someone to give him a good home. When he can't find anyone to claim the baby, Thompson "adopts" him so he won't end up in an orphanage.
Meanwhile the baby's mother - Marian - arrives a few minutes too late to reclaim her son and frantically tries to find him, not knowing that the man who saved her life is taking care of her child.
Soon Thompson gets a teaching job with live-in quarters at an all-girls school that doesn't allow teachers to have families. This forces him to hide the baby, who he calls "Chum." The students harass Professor Thompson and try one scheme after another to get him fired because they're angry at him for replacing the heartthrob professor they loved.
When the girls discover Chum and hear his story, they become his "forty little mothers" and fight for the privilege of taking care of him, also deciding that the professor isn't so bad after all.
After staff members see the girls making baby clothes and assume the worst, they alert the strict, no-nonsense headmistress who finds Chum and fires Professor Thompson for breaking the rules. The girls stage a mutiny and barricade themselves in their dormitory, vowing that they won't come out until the professor gets his job back. The professor talks sense into them and prepares to leave, not knowing that Marian has shown up and reclaimed her son.
Because she thinks Professor Thompson is the husband who deserted Marian and her baby, the headmistress tries to turn his students against him by bringing the mother and child to the classroom to tell them about it. However the professor comes in before she can tell them the story, and he and Marian recognize each other.
Marian explains that she had to give up her baby after being deserted by her husband, and Thompson explains that he took the baby in. He says the baby had the "best care in the world and the love of forty little mothers." Marian thanks the girls for taking such good care of her baby. The professor walks outside and Marian follows so he can say goodbye to Chum. As the professor is leaving the campus, the remorseful headmistress with all the students in tow gives him his job back.
- Eddie Cantor as Gilbert Jordan Thompson
- Judith Anderson as Madame Granville
- Ralph Morgan as Judge Joseph M. Williams
- Rita Johnson as Marian Edwards
- Bonita Granville as Doris
- Diana Lewis as Marcia
- Nydia Westman as Mademoiselle Cliche
- Margaret Early as Eleanor
- Martha O'Driscoll as Janette
- Baby Quintanilla as Chum
- unbilled players include Joe Yule, Adrienne D'Ambricourt, Esther Dale, Veronica Lake, Selmer Jackson, Virginia O'Brien, and Virginia Sale
The "Granville Girls" students seen here include many of MGM's starlets of the time, including an unbilled Veronica Lake and the deadpan singer Virginia O'Brien.
- Forty Little Mothers at the Internet Movie Database