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THESE WILDER YEARS (director: Roy Rowland; screenwriters: Frank Fenton/from a story by Ralph Wheelright; cinematographer: George J. Folsey; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Jeff Alexander; cast: James Cagney (Steve Bradford), Barbara Stanwyck (Ann Dempster), Walter Pidgeon (James Rayburn), Betty Lou Keim (Suzie), Don Dubbins (Mark), Edward Andrews (Spottsford), Grandon Rhodes (Roy Oliphant), Basil Ruysdael (Judge), Dorothy Adams (Emily’s sister); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jules Schermer; MGM; 1956)
The film features for the first time, late in their careers, veteran stars James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roy Rowland(“Hollywood Park”/”Our Vines Have Tender Grapes”/”The Outriders”) directs this old-fashioned soap opera weepie about a wealthy industrialist trying to track down his adopted illegitimate son from twenty years ago. The film features for the first time, late in their careers, veteran stars James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck, and their uplifting performances elevate this modest affair. It’s adapted from the story by Ralph Wheelright and the tepid script by Frank Fenton.

Steve Bradford (James Cagney) leaves his Detroit steel company for an extended leave to go on a personal mission to find the address of his adopted illegitimate son. In Steve’s hometown of Bufton, he visits with the do-gooder foundling home director Ann Dempster (Barbara Stanwyck) and explains he never searched before because he was too busy. Ann respects Steve’s feelings, but refuses to go against the strict state adoption laws that prevent the agency from giving out information about the adoption. The high-powered businessman brings in expensive hot-shot NYC attorney James Rayburn (Walter Pidgeon) to help circumvent the law. But when they bring the case to court, they lose.

Steve, anyhow, gets to meet his son (Don Dubbins), as Ann notifies him of his dad’s visit and he comes to Bufton. Steve apologizes, and the kid forgives him. They say goodbye, but the kid remains with his loving foster parents. Steve learns some life lessons and adopts the 16-year-old orphan Suzie Keller (Betty Lou Keim), living with Ann, so she wouldn’t have to put her illegitimate baby up for adoption.

Sentimentality rules the day, but Cagney and Stanwyck make it worth watching.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”