Wednesday, March 02, 2016



Jake Cohen is the patriarch of the Cohen family, owners of the successful Empire department store in London. But with his older son Sam running day-to-day operations and his younger son Jackie working in the advertising department, Jake has gotten bored with sitting behind the desk as a figurehead. When he goes for a walk down the street to greet customers, Sam tells him that's undignified, so Jake winds up walking all the way down to Levy's small clothing store and volunteers to help him out. In the midst of his career frustration, Jake is hit hard by two events: his wife dies suddenly, and Jackie announces he wants to marry Sally O'Connor, an Irish Catholic girl he met on a transatlantic ship, rather than Julia, the girl everyone assumed he'd marry. When Jake meddles in Jackie's affairs by telling the O'Connors that the marriage can't take place, Jackie leaves the family business and takes a job with a rival. This late-midlife crisis finally takes its toll and Jake hitches a ride out to the country and "takes a walk" that lasts several days. Along the way, he helps out a homeless man, rewards a do-gooding minister, and even picks up a stray dog. Meanwhile, back at the store, Sam has badly mishandled a conflict between staff and management, and a strike is imminent. Can Jake get back to London in time to ward it off, and more to the point, does he even care anymore?

This British film is light and sweet and doesn't wear out its welcome. It reminds me of any number of 30s movies about patriarchal businessmen who either feel old and in the way, or are pushed out of the way by the younger generation, or who are on the verge of ruin (SWEEPINGS, THE MILLIONAIRE, LOOKING FORWARD). The unique aspect of this one is that there's a Jewish family at the center, but that aspect of the story isn't played up too much until the end—thankfully, the stereotypes are kept to a minimum—though Warner Bros. apparently felt like they had to reduce what little Jewish identification there was in the US, as the name "Cohen" was taken out of the title. The cast is mostly unfamiliar faces and names (Paul Graetz as Jake, Mickey Brantford as Jackie, Kenneth Villiers as the hobo who gets cleaned up and gets a job at Empire), but they're all fine. The light tone is undone only once—Mama's death, which is jarringly melodramatic. I liked the opening line: at the store, Sam asks a clerk, "Have you seen my father?" The clerk replies, "Yes, I think he's in ladies underwear." Pictured are Brantford and Graetz. [TCM]

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