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  • Watching after her rich employer's motherless brood, elderly housekeeper EMMA finds love in a very unexpected place. But an accusation of murder is only one of the burdens she'll have to bear on her weary old shoulders before she finds a way to be useful again.

    At the time she made this film, Marie Dressler was Hollywood's greatest star. An unlikely celebrity sensation, with her homely face & shapeless body, Dressler was nonetheless adored by the American public who could sense her basic decency & goodness. For a few brief years she became the nation's grandma, someone with whom the public could feel completely comfortable. Dressler seemed to typify the virtues of hard work & plainspoken honesty - attributes which counted for much in the Great Depression's darkest days.

    This in no way is meant to denigrate Dressler's talents as an actress; she earned her accolades. She had complete command of her craft, mobilizing her pliable face & large body into capturing & holding first the audience's attention & then their admiration, followed quickly by their deep affection. Marie Dressler was a unique cinematic phenomenon; she stands alone, never replicated, duplicated or effaced - except by the vagaries of fickle time. Today in this new millennium, when her special earthy benevolence is needed more than ever, she is virtually unknown to any but the oldest or most nostalgic of movie mavens.

    As sole star, and with a script penned by her dear friend Frances Marion, Dressler is given free rein to beguile in EMMA. Whether dealing with tragic death, or engaged in comedic high jinks (Dressler in an airplane simulator run amuck or chasing her lingerie-disgorging suitcase across a crowded train station is nothing less than hilarious) she is as completely unforgettable as she was to prove utterly irreplaceable.

    Firm support is given by gentle Jean Hersholt as Dressler's kindly employer. As his son, Richard Cromwell gives an energetic performance. Lovely Myrna Loy, not-quite-yet a star, is strangely awkward as Hersholt's spiteful daughter. John Miljan is effective in the role of a relentless District Attorney.
  • Hefty housekeeper Marie Dressler (as Emma) becomes the surrogate mother to a wealthy Long Island family, after their mother dies, giving birth to Richard Cromwell (as Ronnie). While helping her prepare for a well-deserved Niagara Falls vacation, family father Jean Hersholt (as Smith) startles Ms. Dressler by proposing marriage; and, the trip becomes a honeymoon. Back home, only Mr. Cromwell, Dressler's favorite "son", celebrates the marriage. The three other Smith children (George Meeker, Myrna Loy, and Barbara Kent) are furious; they feel the ailing Mr. Hersholt married a mere "servant", who will steal the family fortune.

    This is Marie Dressler at her sentimental best; assisted by an apt MGM team, including Clarence Brown (director), Oliver Marsh (photographer), and Frances Marion (writer). Dressler won a "Best Actress" Academy Award" for a previous effort, "Min and Bill" (1930); however, her "Emma" is a stronger characterization. This more deserved "Best Actress" nomination became the Academy Awards' #2 choice for the 1931/32 eligibility period; in the voting, Dressler was just behind winner Helen Hayes (in "The Sin of Madelon Claudet"). Dressler should have won for "Emma", rather than "Min and Bill".

    Richard Cromwell and Jean Hersholt might have been nominated as "Best Supporting Actors"; but, the category was not introduced until 1936 (Dressler would have likely won the 1929/30 award, in this category, for "Anna Christie"). Parts of "Emma" have not aged well, especially some of the early, yet important, scenes. But, its strengths make up for these weaknesses. Watch for the scene in which Dressler throws her ungrateful step-children out of the house. This is followed by a scene with Dressler being "haunted" by the "ghosts" of the little Smith children; it's an extraordinarily touching "special effect". And, it all works so well due to Dressler.

    Dressler is unfairly called a "scene stealer"; most of the time, she was just very good. If you were good, you kept up with her. With material to work with, Dressler's co-stars are just as memorable. Note, how, in lesser roles, Cromwell and Hersholt compliment Dressler's "Emma" perfectly. Both Hersholt and Dressler play his "death scene" beautifully. And, Cromwell's one-word description of "Emma" is the film's most lingering. You won't forget it.

    ********* Emma (1/2/32) Clarence Brown ~ Marie Dressler, Richard Cromwell, Jean Hersholt, Myrna Loy
  • blanche-227 August 2008
    I saw "Emma" as a child over 50 years ago. I only remembered three scenes in it and never knew the names of the stars or the name of the film, for that matter. Thanks to IMDb, I was able to go on one of the message boards and find out the name of the film and that the star "who was a Marie Dressler type" as I recalled was indeed Marie Dressler (what instincts I had, even in childhood). I was just able to actually see the film on TCM. I'd love to know why it is we remember certain phrases and scenes growing up - the parts I remembered in "Emma" were exactly as I recalled them.

    "Emma" is the story of a housekeeper who cares for a motherless family, actually raising the youngest, Ronnie (Richard Cromwell) when his mother dies in childbirth. The entire family is very dependent upon her. Mr. Smith (Jean Hersholt) over the years becomes very wealthy as an inventor, so his kids grow up in wealth and, with the exception of Ronnie, become horrific, ungrateful brats. Emma, of course, thinks they're wonderful and is blind to their faults. When Emma leaves for her first vacation, Mr. Smith accompanies her to the station, buys an extra ticket for Niagara Falls and proposes. The two enjoy their time there, but it's to be their only time as man and wife. Mr. Smith's chronically bad heart gives out, and he dies. All of his money is left to Emma with the proviso that she take care of the children, who would squander every cent unsupervised. The children (Myrna Loy, Kathryn Crawford and George Meeker) assume Emma is going to take all of the money for herself. To break the will, they accuse her of murdering their father. Emma is put on trial for murder. Ronnie is away in the wilds of Canada and doesn't learn about this until the trial is underway.

    This is such a sweet story, buoyed by the magnificent performance of Marie Dressler. What an actress! Warm, strong and honest, she pulls at your heart. The very handsome Richard Cromwell, Angela Lansbury's first husband, is the adorable and adored Ronnie, and he gives an energetic performance. Cromwell had an interesting life. Not only did he enjoy some years as an actor in A productions, but he was a successful artist his entire life. Eventually, he opened his own studio. After years out of films, he was scheduled to make one, but withdrew when he was diagnosed with cancer. Jean Hersholt is excellent as Mr. Smith. Myrna Loy as one of the brat kids is absolutely stunning, though she doesn't have much to do except to act stuck-up.

    Highly recommended. Any movie that can stay in your mind and heart for over 50 years has something going for it. Emma had several things, the best being Marie Dressler.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This was an outstanding movie and Marie Dressler was at her best, as usual!!!! This was slightly different from other Dressler roles because this was more of a dramatic role, rather than her usual brand of comedy, although she does have comedic scenes within the movie.

    She has so much depth to her role as Emma, the housekeeper (and nanny), and one can actually feel the joys and happiness when she's working with the family, as well as the pain, suffering, and sorrow she feels when her husband (played by Jean Hersholt) passes away. The scene that really got me the most, though, was right after inheriting her husband's money, his grown children turned on her. (These are the same children whom she looked after from their childhoods.) After demanding they leave the house, Emma begins to feel saddened by seeing visions of these young children she helped to raise from infancy. That scene really got to me. I felt her pain, wondering "How could these children grow up and turn on her like that?" And when her beloved step-son, Ronnie, died, that was really the clincher! I basically predicted THAT would happen but, nonetheless, I could still feel her pain.

    When watching this movie, grab your popcorn AND a box of Kleenex, because you will need them!!!!
  • This is one of the rare melodramas from 1930's MGM that is really not outdated as others. It is a funny, but genuinely touching story of a devoted housekeeper (Dressler) who marries her wealthy employer, which does not settle well with his grown children. Dressler is just perfect and the ending is so perfect and bittersweet.
  • ivan-2218 February 2004
    So few movies have a woman as the main protagonist, much less an older woman. Marie Dressler is wonderful, as usual, but the script helps a great deal, and the good, unpretentious direction. Old movies really have something special, a sense of compassion and humanity. Richard Cromwell makes a very good impression. It is sad that he lived only 50 years and was forgotten. One wishes Angela would reminisce about him. He had a very pleasant speaking voice. A voice is an instrument, and speech is music.
  • Saw this early am today 2/10/04 on TCM want to see again..sentimental, weepy yes but so well done, and a beautiful Oscar Nominated performance by Marie Dressler... have not seen this before was impressed good cast, Jean Hersholt (who has an award named after him I believe ?). a very young Myrna Loy, and Richard Cromwell as Ronnie... couldnt place hin, seen before, thanks to Imdb I was reminded that he played Julie (Jezebel) other boyfriend(Ted Dilliard) in the classic Bette Davis film Jezebel... Emma is a little gem, and Dressler more than deserved her Oscar nomination ..She was so funny in the airport scenes & the train station scene where she losses (amongst other things)her corset...and so moving in the final scenes...Watch again,, thanks TCM & Imdb for the info....
  • This is just one of several films that make me wish Marie Dressler had lived to make more movies after the advent of sound movies. Her career was on the quick upswing when she died and every movie I saw her in was greatly improved by her performance.

    This is a heart-wrenching movie about a lonely bachelor who marries the nanny who helped raise his kids. He incorrectly assumed that since she was like a member of the family that the kids would readily accept her. However, he soon dies after the wedding and the kids instead treat her horribly--especially when they find out the fortune was left to her. Watch it and be prepared to watch excellent acting and writing--there's just too little of it in most movies.
  • I don't think that I could ever fully explain how wonderful this movie is, since it is just SOOO good. I caught it on Turner Classic Movies last year, and I've been dying to see it since then, but it isn't on DVD or VHS so I''m out of luck. (If anyone runs into a copy PLEASE post on IMDb!) The last post really covered the basic plot. Marie Dressler as Emma is the sweetest, most darling character to ever appear on the screen. She cares for these kids from when they are born to when they are in their twenties and thirties, loving them as if they were her own. Btw, you can catch Myrna Loy in an early non-exotic film role as one of the kids! Equally amazing is Jean Hersholt's performance as the dad. This is the only performance of his that I have ever seen, and anyone who wonders what the Hollywood humanitarian's acting talents looked like should definitely see this movie. It's very interesting that they give out an Academy award in his honor, but they don't have any of his films widely available.

    If I could pick just five movies in the universe to recommend, this would undoubtedly be one of them. (Primrose Path w/ Ginger Rogers, The Man with the Golden arm w/Frank Sinatra, Easy Rider, and Stage Fright w/Jane Wyman would be the other four== and they were VERY hard to pick just five!!)

    So next time it's on TV, make sure you watch it!
  • This was truly Marie Dressler's finest hour. She was justly nominated for an Oscar for the lead role of Emma in this film. Clarence Brown, who directed so many of Greta Garbo's films, had directed Dressler as Marthy in ANNA Christie (1930/1) with Garbo, and clearly appreciated her unique screen power by casting her in EMMA. It is not often that a 64 year-old actress can entirely dominate a film, but that is what happens here. Among the cast was the young Myrna Loy. The film is based on an original story by Dressler's close friend, the screenwriter Frances Marion. It concerns a middle-aged woman named Emma who is the maid to a family of a man with three children. When the story starts, his wife is in the middle of childbirth. She dies and the baby is also not breathing, but Emma saves the little boy. She then acts as mother to the four children until they are grown up. She also nurses Mr. Smith, the ailing father, a gentle and caring person excellently played by Jean Hersholt. After serving the family selflessly for 32 years, Emma's worth becomes suddenly clear to Mr. Smith and he proposes marriage. He then tragically dies on their honeymoon, having made a will leaving everything to Emma because his unruly children are not responsible enough to handle the money, so that he entrusts Emma with managing it for them. The eldest three turn on her viciously and take her to court, accusing her of having murdered their father to grab the money. This is a very emotional film with lots of comical moments, but it is also a bit of a weepie. It is a magnificent film of its time, and deserves wider recognition. It shows the best and worst sides of human nature. As for Marie Dressler, may her reputation never die.
  • EMMA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1932) directed by Clarence Brown, is not a screen adaptation to the famous Jane Austin novel of the same name, but actually an original screenplay by Frances Marion for Marie Dressler, whose popularity soared following her Academy Award winning performance in MIN AND BILL (1930). In the format tradition of Dressler's leading roles, she appears in another sentimental tale with insertions of comedy where her character wins both heart and admiration from those around her, particularly the movie going public of 1932.

    With the opening credits rolling to the underscoring of "In My Merry Oldsmobile," the story begins with a 1911 prologue set in a Long Island home where Emma Thatcher (Marie Dressler) works as a nanny in the Smith household. As Mrs. Smith (character unseen) struggles with her pregnancy, she finally gives birth to an infant son born without breathing. With Emma's help, the baby survives while Mrs. Smith succumbs, leaving her husband, Frederick Smith (Jean Hersholt), an inventor by profession, to go through life rearing the infant and older siblings, Gypsy (Edith Fellows), Isabel (Dawn O'Day) and Billy (Wally Albright) with Emma's help and guidance. Twenty years pass. Mr. Smith, is now a millionaire living in an estate with additional servants, Matilda (Leila Bennett), the maid, Drake (Wilfred Noy), the butler, with Emma still in charge of the household, while the children, now adults, still looking up to Emma for advise and insurance. Unlike the others, Ronnie (Richard Cromwell), the youngest raised by Emma as her very own, looks up to her with great admiration, even addressing her as "beautiful." Of her many worries, Emma's biggest concern is Ronnie's love for aviation. After 32 years of steady employment, Emma finds it's time to take her long awaited vacation, thus, leaving the Smith family to be on their own. Frederick, however, after taking her to the train station, proposes to Emma. They marry and go to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon. Having learned of this news in a newspaper, the Smith children, Gypsy (Barbara Kent), married to Count Pierre Marlin (Andre Cheron); Isabelle (Myrna Loy), a snob; and Bill (George Meeker), find it very humiliating, with the exception of Ronnie, who finds it to be great. After Smith dies of an unexpected heart attack, Emma is left everything according her late husband's will. The Smith children, however, feel Emma married their father only for his money and take her to court on a murder charge.

    Marie Dressler, far from being a physical beauty, gives a beautiful in depth performance as Emma, a hard working, devoted nanny in a much deserved Academy Award nomination. A well scripted theme on how lovable little children grow to become mean enough to turn against the one who sacrificed everything for them is quite essential, even today. What makes this particular Dressler comedy-drama succeed is the absence of her frequent co-star, Polly Moran, who's presence is usually more annoying than amusing, something that would have thrown this story off balance had she appeared. Rather than having Moran in support, there's Leila Bennett in the minor role of a comical housekeeper. Though comedy has its limitations, one scene played strictly for laughs is where Emma encounters a "flight tutor" airplane that goes way out of control when pressing the wrong buttons.

    Of the Smith siblings portrayed, Richard Cromwell stands out as Emma's very own Ronnie. His very likable performance doesn't take any attention away from both Dressler and the youthful Myrna Loy, early in her MGM career. Loy offers a fine characterization of an unsympathetic rich girl. Her charming and witty screen personality for which she's become famous would develop with each passing movie over the next few years. George Meeker, Kathryn McGuire and Barbara Kent as the other snobbish siblings, do well enough for themselves, but don't gather enough attention from contemporary viewers to post comments as opposed to the more famous Loy. Jean Hersholt, however, up to this time notable for playing villains, offers a heartwarming portrayal in whatever scenes he's in. One worth noting is where he tries to bid farewell to his housekeeper, Emma (Dressler), at the train station, capably handled with charm and humor. Other members of the cast consist that of John Miljan and Purnell B. Pratt as rival courtroom attorneys, and Dorothy Peterson appearing briefly as Mrs. Winthrop.

    Of the handful of movies for which Dressler appeared, starting with the Mack Sennett feature length comedy, TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914) that co-starred the legendary Charlie Chaplin, for years her name simply rests on the frequently revived all-star production of DINNER AT EIGHT (1933). As for EMMA, it's certainly Dressler's finest achievement on screen and her most underrated. Regardless of its age, it's still a timely story with a moral message quite relevant after all these years. Available on DVD, EMMA can be seen and appreciated whenever broadcast on Turner Classic Movies cable channel. The next time anyone interested in hiring a nanny wonderful with children, Emma, like the movie itself, is highly recommended. (***)
  • This is a totally outstanding film of a woman's devotion as a maid to 4 children, the youngest who adores her and the special relationship they endured, since she held him when his mother died in childbirth.

    Fast forward to years later when the 4 are now adults, the older 3 really miseries, stuck up to the core as their father (Jean Hersholt) has amassed a fortune.

    Hersholt marries Emma at the spur of the moment when she is leaving for a much deserved vacation to Niagara Falls. When he dies shortly afterward, the older 3 bring Emma (Marie Dressler at her finest) up on charges of murder. They were greedy and it's basically the same story of greed over-taking all. While Emma is vindicated, her beloved Ronnie dies in a plane crash on his way back to defend her.

    While the adult children to beg for her forgiveness, in a poignant scene, Emma tells them that she must leave them. Dressler is so convincing here is her comic-dramatic performance. Her scene in the make shift plane is outrageously funny and her final scenes evoke emotions beyond belief.

    This is certainly a film where one will need a box of tissues. For those who love these kind of films, I heartily recommend 1951's "The Blue Veil," with Jane Wyman and a phenomenal cast. See the film and you'll see somewhat of a connection.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There are some very humorous and poignant moments sprinkled throughout EMMA, though it is largely a drama.

    Myrna Loy is good in a supporting role, just before she shot to stardom with THE THIN MAN series. And so is Richard Cromwell as Ronnie. But this is Marie Dressler's film all the way.

    Miss Dressler received an Oscar for Min and Bill (which she deserved), but the actress is even better in this film. She was nominated for Emma and in this writer's opinion should have had a second Oscar. The courtroom scene is truly spectacular. And the ending is sublime.

    I am surprised MGM never turned this one into a weekly television series.
  • It wouldn't be Surprising that this Movie was Underwritten by Kleenex. It is a Sorrowful Weeper that is also a Very Charming Picture. Movie Buffs are Aware that Marie Dressler was a Fine Actress who Achieved Major Popularity and Acclaim late in Life but for a Few Brief Years She was at the Top of Her Game and was Awarded for Her Craft both by Her Peers and the Public.

    Virtually Unknown Today, Dressler and this Film become a Gem of a Discovery for those Searching for Character Studies. This is a Heartwarming Movie with Comedic Elements and High Drama. It could Even be said that this is a Litmus Test for Hard Boiled Eggs who Pride Themselves on Emotional Restraint.

    After all, Everyone has a Mother, real or Surrogate, and here the Depth of this Nanny and the Realism in the Portrayal are Something to Behold and to Hold on to for a Memory of a Wonderful, Selfless Soul. Once You meet Emma You will Never Forget Her. This Movie is Simply…Beautiful.

    p.s….of course Hattie McDaniel is the Mother of all Mammies.
  • I recall an old friend telling me of this thoughtful film years ago. At the time I had little interest in early talkies so made no attempt to see it. Even though, at that time I was watching and enjoyed several vintage gems on TV, it was not until that same dear friend screened several classic's (on 'film' in his home thr) for me, that I came to fully appreciate the importance and power of strong writing, combined with professional craftsmanship, as a serious art form in film making.

    I imagine many folk today may still not know how to look at a movie like "Emma" ~ even I was wondering if it would sustain me to the end. While I might have edited a short sequence from early on, I soon found myself being drawn in...the striking mobile camera shots, the subtle controlled direction, the changing moods of a well written story. This films young photographer, Oliver T. Marsh ('San Fransisco' '36 ~ A Tale of Two Cities' '36) seemed to work so well with the great humanities director Clarence Brown, each bring such rich imagery to a variety of diverse moods within some unexpected situations. Such a pity this superb image maker was lost to us at just 49 yrs of age - seemingly to the demon booze - more wasted talent!

    For those who know (or have yet to learn) how to 'read' vintage classics and don't give up too soon, this could prove rewarding. BUT, let yourself run with the varied emotions as situations alter. While this may not be known as one of Clarence Brown's major works, it is never the less, a fine one. Besides, how often do we see an overweight, aging matronly female, as the main 'star' (not easy to sell to the 'glamour' generation) she plays a character who gives unconditional, selfless commitment to her charges (even harder to sell to the 'me' generation). Award winning silent star Marie Dressler manages to convince all the way and gets good support from various troopers of the day, like youngster, Richard Cromwell (the DiCaprio of his day) playing her employers last born son and aviation enthusiast 'Ronnie', Jean Hershold as her gentle inventor employer, with a strong portrayal from John Miljan as the committed District Attorney. In the background is truly glamorous star-to-be, Myrna Loy, not yet in her top billing professional form. It's pleasing to see TCM being more generous with adding some surprisingly long missing pioneering gems!. Keep em' coming please.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Too bad Marie Dressler became a star only in the last few years of her life (she died in 1934, shortly after making her best-known films like Anna Christie, Min and Bill, Tugboat Annie and Dinner at Eight). From the evidence, her range was incredible -- she could play just about anything but a femme fatale, and that's only because age and girth got to her. In the early 1930s, she appeared in some utterly delightful comedies (Politics; Prosperity; Reducing). Emma is a conventional tearjerker. As the housekeeper/surrogate mom for a brood of kids who go from genteel poverty to riches, Emma, on her way to Niagara Falls for a long-overdue vacation, ends up marrying the widower head of the household. He up and dies, leaving all to Emma. All the kids she loves -- save one, her favorite -- gang up on her (and she ends up losing that favorite anyway, in a "twist of fate"). What's interesting is that a script today would give her an unqualified triumph and the kids their comeuppance. But in keeping with the late-Victorian sensibility of the times (big on self-sacrifice, down on blowing your own horn), the ending, while not tragic or pathetic, is much more low-key.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Producer: Clarence Brown. Copyright 18 January 1932 by Metro Goldwyn Mayer Distributing Corp. New York opening at the Capitol: 5 February 1932. U.S. release: January 1932. 8 reels. 73 minutes. (Available on an excellent Warner DVD).

    SYNOPSIS: Emma, who in 1911 is the nanny of a famous inventor's large family by 1931 has married the inventor (Jean Hersholt), to his snobbish children's consternation. The only child who truly loves and understands her, Richard Cromwell, whom she had slapped into life after his existence was despaired of at birth twenty years before, is killed in an airplane accident. Loy is on hand as the meany daughter who tries to rob Dressler of inherited fortune and reputation by claiming in court that she dispatched her father under suspicious circumstances. But of course, Dressler triumphs in the end.

    NOTES: Another box-office triumph for Marie Dressler, this one was third at American ticket windows to The Kids from Spain and Grand Hotel in 1932. Miss Dressler was nominated for a prestigious Hollywood award for Best Actress, losing to Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet.

    Number 7 in the Film Daily's annual "Best Movies of the Year" poll of U.S. critics.

    COMMENT: This weepie was obviously designed solely as a star vehicle for Marie Dressler. If you like Miss Dressler, fine. Otherwise you're left with a rather sudsy story, against which the director's flowing camera-work can make little headway. However, it's unusual to find Myrna Loy as the heavy, even though she was playing such roles at this stage in her career. She plays a murderess who menaces heroine, Irene Dunne, in "Thirteen Women" (1932) for instance. No, I'm not spoiling that excellent movie for you. We know she's a killer in this thriller right from the start!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This 1932 movie is about a housekeeper who is most responsible for raising a family of four kids after their mother dies. It's a good drama that portrays a kind woman who sacrifices her own personal life for the children of a widower. It has some good twists as the father becomes wealthy from inventions and the family moves into a mansion. The woman likes all of the children, but has special affection for the youngest son who was born when Mrs. Smith, died.

    When the children are adults, all but the youngest are snobbish and condescending of Emma. Mr. Smith has been in poor health and finally marries Emma. Shortly thereafter, he dies and the three oldest children accuse Emma of killing their father to get his inheritance, which she knew nothing about. She is found innocent in a murder trial, but the youngest child, her favorite Ronnie, is killed in a plane crash trying to get back to help her defense.

    Emma, with her attorney, finally gives all of the inheritance to the three remaining children. They have some sort of repentance for their treatment of her, and beg her to stay. But, she moves on to another family that needs her help. The movie seems to portray Emma as an unselfish person who sacrificed herself for others, especially children. And, it shows the conversion of the three adult children.

    But, reading between the lines in this story, is a shortcoming of Emma. She was in charge of raising those children, and could discipline and train and educate them. She failed in that area, because the oldest three grew up to be selfish and spoiled. So, while she may have had a good heart and love for kids, her weakness in not disciplining them led to their rotten characters. She even defended any strong words against them in the course of her trial. So, this was the story of a well-meaning woman who wound up doing more harm than good by her overly lenient supervision in raising children.

    This movie is not based on the famous novel of the same name by Jane Austen. Austen's "Emma" was later made into a number of movies. But this earliest "Emma" is from an original story by Frances Marion. Marion is little known in the 21st century, but she was one of the best and most productive screenwriters of the 20th century. She did some acting and directing but became known as one of the greatest screenwriters of her time. She has nearly 200 writing credits for movies, many during the silent era, and nearly 50 for sound pictures.

    Marion won two Oscars for her writing - for "The Big House" in 1930 and for "The Champ" in 1932. She was also nominated for "The Prizefighter and the Lady" of 1933. Besides the story for this film, Marion also worked on the 1931 screenplay that won Marie Dressler her best actress Oscar for "Min and Bill." Marion began her writing career as a journalist and was one of the few female war correspondents of World War I.

    After winning her best actress Oscar in 1931, Marie Dressler was again nominated in 1932. That was for her role in this film. Dressler was a grand lady of cinema, but her career was not that long. She was 46 when she got her first silent role in 1914. She made only 31 films, but is most well-known for the last half of her films that were in sound.

    Dressler was a large, heavy-set woman with a distinct voice and much talent. Audiences of her day enjoyed her acting. She played diverse roles. This "Emma" is a good movie that shows Dressler's film persona and abilities. Here, a trait from her silent film days stands out. In doing double takes, she suddenly becomes very wide-eyed as though astonished. Marie Dressler died of cancer two years after this film came out.

    This is also a good film for a look at Jean Hersholt who plays Frederick Smith. Hersholt was born in Copenhagen in 1886 and trained for acting on the Denmark stage. He emigrated to the U.S. at age 27 in 1913, but bypassed Broadway for the movies in Hollywood. Hersholt was in more than 140 films, and though a very good actor, he never was nominated for acting awards. However, he achieved fame and popularity for his work and promotion of the film industry and performers, and for his humanitarian efforts. The motion picture academy later created and named its honorary humanitarian award after Hersholt. He was 69 when he died of cancer in 1956.

    One other performer who would later reach stardom appears here as well. Myrna Loy was 27 when this film was made, and she already had 62 films to her credit - many in the silent era. Her 1934 pairing with Clark Gable and William Powell in "Manhattan Melodrama" began her climb to fame with audiences. She and Powell would make 14 films together, mostly comedies and comedy-mysteries after that. She would also star with other leading men in films of various genres through the 1940s. And, she would continue to play leads and major supporting roles in movies well into the 1970s. Loy died at in 1993 at age 88.
  • Classic early almost-perfect film for its day. Marie Dressler, at 64, was one of the biggest box office attractions for a few years during this time period. "Emma" was written specifically for her as a starring vehicle where she would be the only lead. The film was a box office sensation in 1932.

    The film presents another very early Myrna Loy performance, in which she plays against type in the role of a spoiled and selfish daughter. Loy was moving away from the "Oriental" parts she had been saddled with for years. Now she could be who she was and did not have to effect any geographical impersonations.

    Marie Dressler was to continue her success in Hollywood throughout the 1930s and appeared in several critically-acclaimed films.
  • I find Marie Dressler vehicles fascinating, not because I entirely enjoy watching her (she's kind of scary) but I find it so interesting that glossy MGM had a star who was aimed at that whole class of old-before-their-time, world-weary housewives and mothers who would put on their frumpy best, walk in ill-fitting shoes after a long day of doing things for everyone but themselves, and sit down for 75 minutes of intense identification with one of their own. Once labor-saving devices and family planning conquered America, women stopped being so tired and worn at such early ages, and so there's never been another star quite like her; the equivalent audience is seeing things like Mamma Mia! today, fantasies of late-middle-aged youth, not premature old age.

    In this one she's a housekeeper who is really the only mother a bunch of rich kids ever had; the dad finally marries her in old age, she inherits the estate, and three of the kids come after her to get the money. The setup doesn't entirely bear scrutiny (the spoiled grown kids hardly act like they've even met her before, let alone were raised by her) but it doesn't matter, it's all about her frumpy-old-lady common sense telling the world what's what, a Mr. Deeds for the support hose set, and you can see why her audience ate it up and she got an Oscar nomination.
  • Has there ever been another Hollywood story quite like Marie Dressler's?

    Is it even imaginable that in today's world an overweight, late middle age, and let's face it -- not very attractive -- woman could be the number one box office draw among movie audiences? But that's exactly what Marie Dressler was for two years running in the early 1930s. She won an Oscar for the 1931 film "Min and Bill" and received her second and last nomination for "Emma," the story of a nanny in a wealthy household who marries the father years after the mother has died in childbirth, and then sees the children turn on her when they become jealous of her inheritance. It's a short film (about 70 minutes or so) but nevertheless packs in a lot of plot. It covers decades and manages to work in a murder trial among everything else, and still manages to have moments that feel like padding. Poor Dressler is really put through the ringer. Everyone she likes best ends up dying, and she never gives us the catharsis we are begging for, which is to see her punch the spoiled brat children who accuse her of murdering their father in the face. No, Dressler stays good and true, choosing to see the best in them and never thinking of herself.

    Dressler is a bit of an acquired taste. I found her Oscar-winning performance in "Min and Bill" to be tiresome. She mugs and grimaces, and that film gave her several "comedy" bits that were played up in an exaggerated, yuck-yuck vaudeville style. "Emma" has a couple of those moments as well, but overall her performance in this is much more varied and nuanced. I can see why she seemed unique at the time. So many actors in early sound films planted themselves in place on the movie set and delivered their lines like they were reading them off of cue cards. They didn't seem to be able to both move and speak at the same time. But Dressler is always doing something while she's talking -- she fidgets and dithers, and when she's not delivering actual lines, she's muttering and ad-libbing.

    "Emma" is certainly guilty of being one of those sentimental melodramas so popular at the time, but for all that it does have some emotional force, and I found myself lingering over it for a little while after I watched it. There's a scene in which Emma walks through her house seeing the ghosts of the young children that once were, before they all grew up to be vile adults. It's a bit corny, but also strangely moving, and the whole movie is kind of like that.

    Grade: B+
  • One thing about this vintage tearjerker—Hollywood seldom builds a story around a 64-year old woman with a figure like a fullback and a face like a mashed potato. Probably, Marie Dressler shapes up as the unlikeliest movie star in Hollywood history, especially from glamour obsessed MGM. The movie amounts to a Dressler showcase, tailored to highlight her unusual presence. As an actress, she has more furbelows than a x-mas tree— which is to say, few scenes pass without a number of eye-catching mannerisms. But, as her career shows, she was also an actress of impressive range.

    The movie's heart is in the right place. The trouble is Emma's (Dressler) self-sacrificing nobility is spread on with a trowel a foot deep, while the comical interludes only mildly succeed. Nonetheless, it's good to see the life of someone like a nanny-- commonly overlooked in glitzy Hollywood-- receive appreciation on the screen. I guess a sudden concern with the lives of those faceless men and women who make the country actually work was one positive result of the Depression upheaval.

    I agree with the reviewer who lauds the last 15 minutes. It's a very well thought-out resolution that hits just the right emotional notes. Too bad the rest of the film doesn't reach that expert level.
  • I am shocked that this clunky; poorly acted, filmed and written; mediocre 72-minute film has been given generally 3-1/2 of 4 stars by the critics and in the user comments here. The final 5 or 10 minutes aside, the rest of the movie is not just not good, it is bad. It is an embarrassment in every way. You are in for a big disappointment to see this for the first time after seeing the high critical rating. I am not surprised that one hardly ever hears about this film, that there are virtually no external-newsgroup reviews, and that the user ratings are generally poor (ratings of either 6 or 7 are voted more often than 8 or 9 or 10).

    The final 5 or 10 minutes were touching/tearful/rewarding, but don't make up for the dull previous hour. This must be a prime example of a film that did not age well. I rarely write film user reviews, but felt compelled to here. It doesn't live up to its build-up.

    The beginning of the 72-minute movie dragged (the trip to Niagara falls), and the end part (confrontation with the kids, and trial) seemed rushed. I would recommend the movie solely for fans of Marie Dressler, who was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Purnell Pratt (Mr. Haskins, the Lawyer) did a commendable acting job.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In its first part ,"Emma" is a comedy the highlight of which is the housekeeper's first "flight" ;but in the second part ,the story turns really dramatic .Clarence Brown was the poet of childhood ("the yearling" " National Velvet" ) and in "Emma" ,the children (and even the husband)now in their twenties have remained very childlike.There's a good chemistry between Marie Dressler and Richard Cromwell (who is best remembered as one of the three Bengal lancers in Hathaway's great classic)who calls her affectionately "beauty".

    The moral may seem a bit reactionary today : a housekeeper must stay a housekeeper ,just like a black servant must stay a black servant in the contemporary " imitation of life" ;but it was the thirties and one of the rules of melodrama .Emma is an endearing character anyway.
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