HUMAN COMEDY, THE (director: Clarence Brown; screenwriters: from the story by William Saroyan/Howard Estabrook; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Conrad Nervig; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Mickey Rooney (Homer Macauley), Frank Morgan (Willie Grogan), James Craig (Tom Spangler), Marsha Hunt (Diana Steed), Fay Bainter (Mrs. Macauley), Ray Collins (Mr. Macauley), Van Johnson (Marcus Macauley), Donna Reed (Bess Macauley), Jackie “Butch” Jenkins (Ulysses Macauley), Barry Nelson (Pat), Robert Mitchum (Horse), Mary Nash (Miss Hicks), Dorothy Morris (Mary Arena), David Holt (Hubert Ackley III), Rita Quigley (Helen Elliot); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Clarence Brown; MGM; 1943)
“Outdoes Capra in cornball melodrama, but does it well.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Outdoes Capra in cornball melodrama, but does it well and has one of Mickey Rooney’s best sensitive performances. Director Clarence Brown (“Anna Karenina”/”Idiot’s Delight”/ “National Velvet”)gets the close-knit community mood right of small town America during World War II, and keeps it from becoming bloated with sentimentality (though it’s unquestionably sugary). The Human Comedy is based on a story by populist author William Saroyan and written by Howard Estabrook. Saroyan wanted to direct and write the screenplay, but the studio rebuffed him and he thereby made his short story into a novel–which was published when the film opened. Whether its depiction of America is true or not, it nevertheless reminds Americans of an innocent time when they believed they were warm-hearted decent people who cared about their country, community and others. It depicted in certain terms a morally correct country where one could advance by getting a good public education and the people in the country felt they could safely leave their house doors unlocked. It’s an America that probably no longer exists, which makes this film relic a memorable look back at a typical patriotic American family that we all can appreciate for being nice in a way Americans like to think of themselves.
The pic made a big profit and brought Saroyan an Oscar for his only film assignment.
In the small town of Ithaca, California, feisty high school student Homer Macauley (Mickey Rooney) works the night-shift as a telegraph messenger to support his widowed mother Katie (Fay Bainter) while big brother Marcus (Van Johnson) is in the army during the war. Also at home is college age sis Bess (Donna Reed) and the always questioning spirited six-year-old Ulysses (Jackie “Butch” Jenkins). Marcus’ sweet college student girlfriend Mary (Dorothy Morris) is the family’s next-door neighbor. Homer’s dad (Ray Collins) died two years ago and peeks down on the family from heaven and offers in a voice-over monologue approval of his family’s wholesomeness. Homer’s young boss Tom Spangler (James Craig) is the best boss one can have, while the old-timer 67-year-old telegrapher Willie Grogan (Frank Morgan) forms a strong relationship with the kid he takes a shine to.Willie frets that the company heads want to force his retirement due to age, and asks Homer to wake him with a splash of water to the face if he’s too drunk to answer an incoming telegram. Homer’s problems revolve around a track hurdle race he hopes to win and if he can lure away his pretty classmate Helen (Rita Quigley) from his rich boy rival Hubert Ackley III (David Holt ). In one instance, Homer must sing a ‘Happy Birthday’ telegram to Helen from Hubert, which gets us prepared for the sad last telegram received by Homer that the pic tragically closes on.
It’s an earnest family value film gooey to a fault, but preserves enough dignity before it signs off to the author’s pretentiousness.
REVIEWED ON 5/12/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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