Following the death of Selena's father, she's offered a job as a teacher in a small town and a new chapter of her life begins.Following the death of Selena's father, she's offered a job as a teacher in a small town and a new chapter of her life begins.Following the death of Selena's father, she's offered a job as a teacher in a small town and a new chapter of her life begins.
Barbara Stanwyck stars as Selina, a motherless girl who lives a well-to-do existence with her professional gambler father in big city hotels. Despite his rather shady calling, her father has taught her the finer things in life and raised her properly. Her father is shot and killed when she is a young woman over an apparent gambling dispute which leads to having to go to work as a schoolteacher in a small farming community. There she befriends a young preteen named Rolf (the wonderful Dick Winslow in a superb performance) who is forced to work on his father's farm instead of go to school, giving him books and encouraging his artistic endeavors and his dreams of life beyond farm work. Barbara marries a young farmer and gets trapped herself in the hard life of farm work, particularly after she is widowed young with a little son Dirk to raise on her own. Dirk benefits from his mother's sacrifices and becomes a young architect but is bored and impatient and fails to share his mother's love of beauty and a good work ethic that she successfully installed in Rolf.
The cast is generally superb - this is one of Barbara Stanwyck's finest early roles and she is quite moving at times. She has fine support from teen Dick Winslow, whom I don't recall seeing before, and from some generally unnoticed supporting players like Dorothy Peterson as Winslow's prematurely aged mother, Robert Warwick as Stanwyck's loving conman of a father, Earle Fox as the rather good-looking but common man she marries, and Blanche Fredrici as the rich old spinster who pines for Fox herself. There's also a delightful appearance of the much loved character Elizabeth Patterson, dressed to the nines in period costumes as Stanwyck's city landlady and excellent work by a startlingly beautiful young Bette Davis as the young artist the adult Dirk fancies. Alas, the adult Dirk, Hardie Albright, is not particularly good (and there's a particularly bad scene in which he and Mae Madison, as his married paramour, are not able to carry by themselves) but at least George Brent as the adult Rolf is better than normal if not quite capturing the fire, intelligence, and drive Winslow did as the younger Rolf. I'm surprised no one has noticed the young Selina is played by lovely Anne Shirley, who would go on to her greatest fame as Stanwyck's daughter in their classic STELLA DALLAS five years later. Talk about superb casting for a young Stanwyck!!
This story really cries out for a film of a least two hours with it's multi-decade scope, it really jumps years much too often, much too quickly, but still it's a highly satisfying, often quite touching film that's well worth seeing. This movie also makes me want to seek out Ms. Ferber's rather forgotten novel, which surprisingly is still in print.
- Aug 18, 2009