Sunday, November 28, 2010


Prologue: Cedric Hardwicke, a mild-mannered gentleman, hitches a ride with a couple; when the car goes careening off a cliff, only the bodies of the couple are found by police.

Act 1: The elderly Lionel Barrymore and his wife Beulah Bondi live in a small town and have custody of their grandson (Bobs Watson), whose parents were killed in the car crash. The boy loves Barrymore and dislikes his meddlesome maiden aunt whom Barrymore calls a "pismire" (basically, a piss ant). However, Bondi suggests to the aunt that she might be given custody of Watson if anything happens to them. After Barrymore does a good deed, the boy tells him if he makes a wish after doing a good deed, it will come true. The old man wishes that anyone who climbs his beloved apple tree to steal apples would be stuck there until he lets them down. Oddly, the wish seems to come true.

Act 2: Hardwicke appears in Bondi's bedroom; calling himself Mr. Brink, he is Death personified, and he gently takes Bondi with him to her reward, with "Beautiful Dreamer" playing in the background. A little later, when Hardwicke comes to take Barrymore, he tricks Death into climbing the tree, so Death gets stuck up the tree and Barrymore is safe and happy until he realizes that no one on earth is dying. When Watson is tricked into climbing the tree by Death, he falls and is seriously injured, with the doctor saying he doesn’t know why Watson isn’t dead. Barrymore knows, and soon must make a fateful decision.

This is one of those gentle Hollywood fantasies about death, Heaven, and the afterlife that are popular in waves (there was a cluster of them during and right after WWII). Based on a play, the production is stagy and the storyline rather sappy, but the ending is a little surprising in that [SPOILER] both the old man and the boy die, though to cushion the blow, we last see them heading off to heaven to meet Bondi. Barrymore is an actor I appreciated more when I’d only seen him in a handful of roles; the more I see of him, the tireder I get of his homespun scene-stealing antics. Bondi, who was only 50, does a nice job as the sweet-natured matriarch; Watson cries well, but seems to have been tutored in over-the-top sentimental acting by Barrymore. Eily Malyon, who specialized in playing cranky spinsters, is good as the aunt, and other familiar faces include Una Merkel, Henry Travers, and Grant Mitchell. [TCM]

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