16 October 2010 | bkoganbing
The Old Lady Shows Her Medals
Seven Day's Leave was actually Gary Cooper's first all talking film, but Adolph Zukor at Paramount decided to hold up the release of it until after The Virginian was on the big screen. I'm guessing that Zukor must have thought that if The Virginian were not a surefire hit for Gary Cooper with that western drawl of his, Seven Days Leave would tank at the box office. But The Virginian was a big hit and in early 1930 Paramount released Seven Day's Leave and Gary Cooper's career in sound was assured.
Seven Days Leave is a screen adaption of one of James M. Barrie's plays, The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. And it's one of the saddest stories I've ever seen on screen and stage. It's New York premier was in 1917 and Beryl Mercer who plays the title role recreates the part she did on Broadway.
Beryl Mercer plays a charwoman, someone who has passed through most of life without making any kind of mark. Though she calls herself is Mrs. Dowey in fact she's never been married, has no family at all and to keep up with her peers, the other charwomen, brags about a son she never had who is serving in the Scottish Black Watch. In fact she read about a soldier in the Black Watch with her last name and showing it to her fellow charwomen, she claims this as her son. She even sends him cakes she bakes and corresponds with him.
Of course when Gary Cooper gets leave and goes looking for the woman who's been writing him, he gets quite the shock. But he too is a person without home or family ties and the two of them kind of adopt each other until his leave is up and he has to return to France.
Casting Cooper in this role may have been assured when he scored a success in The Shopworn Angel playing an American doughboy. If you recall that film was later remade by MGM with James Stewart in the role that Cooper originated on the silent screen. Of course to explain Cooper's distinctly American speech pattern, he was made a Canadian, the first time maybe in sound films that plot device was used. It was used again for Cooper when he was Lives Of The Bengal Lancers.
Beryl Mercer is probably best known on screen for playing James Cagney's mother in Public Enemy which would come the following year for her. But in fact this one might be her signature role. Mercer is a person taken best in small doses, but her usual cloying personality is well suited for this kind of part. And Barrie as author did a good job in writing about someone who most of us wouldn't separate from the scenery and he gives her a heart and soul.
Seven Day's Leave and the play it's based on is a two person story, the other characters themselves don't really register. It's not a play likely to be revived today, it is a much dated story. Still it's sad and touching about two lonely people connecting in World War I Great Britain.
And you get to see Gary Cooper wear a kilt.