H.M. PULHAM, ESQ
.(director/writer: King Vidor; screenwriters: Elizabeth Hill/based on the novel by John P. Marquand; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Hedy Lamarr (Marvin Myles), Robert Young (Harry Pulham), Ruth Hussey (Kay Motford), Charles Coburn (Mr. Pulham, Sr.), Van Heflin (Bill King), Fay Holden (Mrs. Pulham), Bonita Granville (Mary Pulham), Leif Erickson (Rodney “Bo-Jo” Brown), Phil Brown (Joe Bingham), Charles Halton (Walter Kaufman), Douglas Wood (Mr. Bullard), Sara Haden (Miss Rollo), David Clyde (Butler), Connie Gilchrist (Tillie), Frank Faylen (Sergeant), Anne Revere (Miss Redfern), John Raitt (Soldier), Ava Gardner (Girl); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: King Vidor; MGM; 1941)
“An MGM prestige film that was poison at the box office.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An MGM prestige film that was poison at the box office. It’s solidly directed by silent film director of note King Vidor (“The Big Parade”/”Hallelujah!”/”The Crowd”), but Elizabeth Hill’s (Vidor’s wife) screenplay is not as good as John P. Marquand’s bestselling novel and there’s little excitement in the predictable storyline. It has our honorable hero, Robert Young, say aloud to himself that “I’m as happy as the average man could hope to be” and then spend the rest of the pic wondering if that’s true. Costar Hedy Lamarr said this was her favorite movie character and Young was her favorite costar, even though he’s all vanilla to me. Hedy did a fine job in the acting department and is certainly gorgeous, but her heavy Viennese accent was too misplaced for her to be the Iowa farm gal she was supposed to be portraying.
The fortyish Harry Moulton Pulham, Jr. (Robert Young) is a stuffy Back Bay Boston blue blood, who is set in his conservative ways and his routine orderly life. One sunny fall morning he hooks up with Harvard classmate Rodney “Bo Jo” Brown (Leif Erickson) over celebrating their twenty-fifth year college reunion and is asked to write the class biography. This gives Harry pause to start thinking about his unfulfilled life and what it would have been like if he married Marvin Myles (Hedy Lamarr), the ambitious working-class woman he always loved instead of the family-approved Kay Motford (Ruth Hussey) he knew from childhood and was destined to marry. Marvin is now Mrs. John Ransome, when she also rings up a surprised Harry that morning while in Boston on business. They have one last fling in her hotel room before Harry returns to his loyal and steady wife from his own upper-class, who bore him two children and knows exactly how to coddle him.
The film in flashback shows Harry when born and his proud poppa (Charles Coburn) that very same day registering him in an elite prep school for twelve years down the road; later it shows Harry in prep school and then interacting with his upper-class pals at Harvard; his brave heroics as a young officer in battle during WWI; and during the most controversial time in his life when he stays in New York to work for an ad agency and romances fellow copywriter Marvin. But when his dad dies, Harry gets homesick for his family and friends and returns to Beantown with Marvin. When he asks her to marry, she chooses career over marriage to Harry and his high hat Boston society crowd. On the rebound, Harry marries Kay. For the next twenty years the successful businessman leads a humdrum contented conventional life, while workaholic Marvin rises to the top in her field as an aggressive businesslady. But it’s Marvin’s changed hardness compared to his wife’s familiar softness that has Harry return obediently like a good little lap dog to his wife’s bosom, content to know things worked out just fine despite almost thinking otherwise and to his further satisfaction his wife also says she now knows she loves him. With that, Harry goes truant from his office and goes by car with wifey for a spontaneous leaf peeping holiday in the Berkshires.
REVIEWED ON 4/13/2008 GRADE: B-