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5. Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
30 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Of Human Hearts is one of those poignant family dramas remembered fondly by older audiences but neglected by DVD marketers who shun religious themes. It's a film that tells a story, rather than just a bunch of stuff that happens - a story about austere Reverend Ethan Wilkins, played perfectly by Walter Huston (Rain, Dodsworth, The Devil and Daniel Webster) who takes a position as the new preacher in Pine Hill Ohio, bringing his wife Mary, played by Beulah Bondi (On Borrowed Time, So Dear To My Heart) and young son Jason, portrayed as a boy by Gene Reynolds (who appeared in many movies as a boy, including In Old Chicago, Boys Town, and Love Finds Andy Hardy, and went on to direct many TV episodes including Leave It To Beaver, MASH, Lois and Clark - The New Adventures of Superman, and Touched By An Angel).

Ethan is humble but strict, emphasizing courtesy and generosity while denouncing pride and selfishness with stern discipline. Jason is practical and wants to become a doctor. His curiosity provokes his fathers wrath, and as he grows into a young man, later portrayed by James Stewart (It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, etc.), he continues to defy him, at one point declaring "I'd rather save bodies than souls any day!" He runs away to medical school, often sending for money from his mother, who gradually sells her personal possessions to fund him, though he never returns to visit.

Civil War ensues, and Jason is one of the Union's best doctors, trying to save limbs rather than amputate whenever possible, though still neglecting his own parents. He's finally shamed by the President himself, Abraham Lincoln, played excellently by John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath, House of Frankenstein, Bluebeard, Peggy Sue Got Married, etc. etc. etc.).

This is still a great movie for the whole family, probably even more to the point in modern times, with relevant demonstrations of selfishness, pride, humility, courtesy, and transient material values. It's one of the first and best of those poignant family classics like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, I Remember Mama, Friendly Persuasion, etc., and a bit of a tear-jerker.

The terrific cast include a number of great character actors including Guy Kibbee (Little Lord Fauntleroy, Captain January), Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones, Kings Row), Ann Rutherford (Annie Laurie, Gone With The Wind, Andy Hardy series), Gene Lockhart (A Christmas Carol, That's The Spirit, Miracle On 34th Street, Going My Way, etc. etc.), Charley Grapwin (The Wizard of Oz, Grapes of Wrath, Ellery Queen series), Clem Beven, Sterling Holloway (Remember the Night, Meet John Doe, Dumbo, Bambi, Peter and the Wolf, Winnie The Pooh, etc. etc.), Minor Watson, Ward Bond, and others.

This one is not to be missed, and should be on DVD.
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Poignant Sea Adventure with Great Cast of Characters
23 May 2005
Down to the Sea in Ships is a grand sea adventure in the tradition of Captains Courageous, Moby Dick, and Treasure Island, full of great actors playing interesting characters, with decent special effects for it's time, and an intelligent, sometimes profound, script. Lionel Barrymore plays Captain Joy, the Master of a whaling ship about to be retired. He wants his young grandson (Dean Stockwell) to carry on the family tradition and eventually become master of the ship. But the boy lacks the appropriate education and seems unable to learn. On his last voyage, Joy appoints the new first mate, Lunceford (Richard Widmark) - also his tentative replacement - to the job of educating his grandson. It takes Lunceford a while to win the boy's confidence, and when he finally does, the old Captain seems to become jealous. Then when a boat is lost in the fog with the boy aboard, Lunceford launches a second rescue boat against regulations, and the Captain must discipline him. This dilemma between duty and personal devotion develops a tense situation between the three of them, with dramatic impact that makes Down to the Sea In Ships one of the most poignant films of it's kind, fully in league with those mentioned above. I don't want to giving away any more of the plot, but rest assured that the tension carries through suspense-fully to a perilous climax. The great supporting cast includes Gene Lockhart, Cecil Kelloway, Harry Morgan, Harry Davenport, and Jay C. Flippen.
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One of the first of the Technicolor big productions, entertaining.
23 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
One of the first of the best musicals, Anchors Aweigh features several memorable musical sequences, such as Kelly dancing with Jerry the mouse, Kelly dancing with 7-year-old Sharon McManus, Sinatra singing with Jose Iturbi playing piano, Kathryn Grayson singing with Iturbi conducting, and much more. The Technicolor is perfect, with some innovative camera work such as seeing a piano played from beneath, through transparent keys, and Grayson singing, seen through the finder of another camera. The plot is thin, but you get involved from Kelly's & Sinatra's enthusiasm. Sailor's on leave, they have to take home a runaway boy (Dean Stockwell) and Sinatra falls for his aunt. To set him up with the aunt (Grayson), Kelly suggests that Sinatra can get her an audition with Jose Iturbi. But Sinatra's young and naive in this one, and in his own sung words falls in love too fast. While they're trying to contact Iturbi, who's never available, he starts to fall for another girl (Barbara Britton); but Kelly's now falling love with Grayson. Anchors Aweigh is most often remembered for the combination live-action / cartoon sequence with Tom and Jerry, but there's a lot more here that's worth a look. I'm giving it nine stars because, while it's not quite as good as the best musicals - Singin' In The Rain, The Music Man, Oklahoma - it is one of the first of their class of Technicolor big productions (perhaps Meet Me In St. Louis was the first), and better than most others.
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Maryland (1940)
Good horse story with comedy.
8 May 2005
Maryland is about a woman (Fay Bainter) who loves horses, raises horses, rides horses, races horses, and when she get's her husband involved and he's thrown to his death - hates horses. She orders the horse involved killed and all her other horses sold. But she can't keep her son from learning to ride, and racing when he's grown up, played by John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street), though she tries. Walter Brennan, winner of numerous Academy Awards, is the horse trainer who continues to encourage Payne even years after being fired, and Charles Ruggles (Papa's Delicate Condition) is Payne's uncle. Not just a good horse story with great technicolor; some hilarious comedy sequences and a nice plot twist make Maryland a winner for all audiences.
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