Fredric March and Martha Scott in One Foot in Heaven (1941)


(director: Irving Rapper; screenwriters: Casey Robinson/ from the book by Hartzell Spence; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: Warren Low; music: Max Steiner; cast: Frederic March (William Spence), Martha Scott (Hope Morris Spence), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Lydia Sandow), Gene Lockhart (Preston Thurston), Elisabeth Fraser (Eileen Spence), Casey Johnson (Fraser Spence at 7), Harry Davenport (Elias Samson), Laura Hope Crews (Mrs. Preston Thurston), Grant Mitchell (Clayton Potter), Moroni Olsen (Dr. John Romer), Frankie Thomas (Hartzell Spence), Jerome Cowan (Dr. Horrigan), Ernest Cossart (Mr. John E. Morris), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Morris), Roscoe Ates (George Reynolds), Clara Blandick (Mrs. ‘Sister’ Watkins), Hobart Bosworth (Richard Hardy Case), Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Jellison), Sonny Bupp (Boy), Chester Conklin (Crying Man), Creighton Hale (Church Usher), Olin Howland (Train Station Master), Milton Kibbee (Alf McAfee), Audra Lindley (Mother), Gig Young (Groom); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Warner Brothers; 1941)

Touching crowd-pleasing family drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irving Rapper(“Shining Victory”/”Rhapsody in Blue”/”Now Voyager”) directs this touching crowd-pleasing family drama on the struggles of a Canadian-born Methodist minister to administer to his church and raise a family in early 20th century America, while frequently being relocated because of his unique gifts to keep run-down churches from folding. It’s based on the best-selling biography of Hartzell Spence, who told the true story of his father William Spence (Frederic March). Casey Robinson writes the tender screenplay. Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is on hand as technical adviser to make sure the film got the church parts right. The slow moving black-and-white film appealed largely to the religious crowd in small-town America. To its credit, it largely eschews sentimentality.

Frederic March is at the top of game, giving a winning performance playing a strong character with common sense and moral principles. The film’s highlight is the minister going to the movies for the first time in 1917 and enjoying the silent “Silent Men” starring William Hart despite disapproval of movies proclaimed by the Methodist leaders.

It opens in Stratton, Ontario, in 1904, where the brilliant medical student, William Spence, hears a minister preach and gets so carried away he abandons medicine for the ministry. His fiancee’s wealthy family objects but the would-be bride, Hope (Martha Scott), goes along with the career switch and marries him. Over the years she proves herself to be a devoted wife and they raise three children (Frankie Thomas, Elisabeth Fraser and Casey Johnson).

William’s first church is located in rural Laketon, Iowa. After administering spiritual guidance to this spiritual needy church and living in poverty, he is transferred to other needy churches across the country. The episodic film moves along nicely following the minister’s accomplishments and personal struggles and distinguishes itself as a sincere religious film–something Hollywood rarely gets it as right as it does here.