Tuesday, September 12, 2017


A troupe of actors is traveling across the country, visiting small towns and giving performances of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hattie (Bessie Love), who has the juicy melodramatic role of Little Eva, travels with her kid sister Oriole, and is sweet on Mal (Raymond Hackett), the handsome actor who plays the villainous Simon Legree. While in Kansas, a couple of do-gooder citizens, concerned that the child Oriole is not getting a proper education, investigate. One of the two, Mr. Wampler, gets interested in Hattie and becomes part of a scheme to smuggle Oriole out of town away from the other do-gooders. But in the next town, the troupe becomes stranded due to floods and the manager takes off with all their money. The actors encourage Hattie to encourage Wampler and, with the understanding that she will marry him, he agrees to get enough money for the troupe to live on until they can move on. Of course, this doesn't sit well with Mal, and no one is very happy when Wampler insists that Hattie give up her career. When they decide to put on a benefit performance for victims of the flood, they let little Oriole go on as Eva, which makes Hattie realize that she still wants to act, even as part of a third-rate company. Will a happy ending be in store for anyone?

This romantic comedy is an early sound film but that's not the problem with it; instead, it's the bland and predictable script and the generally unlikeable characters, including Hattie, who treats Mal badly, leads on Wampler, seems unreasonably disgusted when she finds out he's an undertaker, and deliberately gets Oriole stuffed with chocolates to ruin her performance as Eva. And yet we're supposed to like her! Bessie Love manages to make Hattie just sympathetic enough to hope that things will work out for her. Hackett (pictured with Love) is a handsome, upright fellow who was a child star in silents—he's quite personable here so it's a bit of a mystery why he quit acting just a couple years later. Eddie Nugent, another attractive young man, is fine as Mal's friend Dave. 10-year-old Nanci Price is quite good as Oriole, especially in her amusing climactic scene on stage as Eva. The film has dated quite a bit, though it does document a real phenomenon—that of traveling acting companies dedicated to just performing versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin. [TCM]

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