13 November 2000 | Ron Oliver
Superior Drama Graced By Performance Of Mr. Lionel Barrymore
After the Great Chicago Fire, a fiercely determined man slowly builds his business into the city's mightiest department store. However, the dreams he has for his children's success become as worthless as the SWEEPINGS off the dirty floors, destroyed by the young people's willful & wanton lives.
Lionel Barrymore dominates this fine, neglected character study which serves as a showcase for his talents. Less flamboyant than his celebrated younger brother John, Lionel was a marvelous actor, as well as a true eccentric (not long before this film was made he began living in a loft above one of MGM's sound stages and, according to the rumor which circulated around the studio, had completely stopped bathing). With his fascinating voice & stage-engendered mannerisms, Lionel was always worth watching. And so he proves here, playing a man who could be warmly loving & completely ruthless by turns.
Kudos should also extend to Ninetta Sunderland as Barrymore's faithful, tragic wife; George Meeker as his cheery brother; and Gregory Ratoff as Barrymore's shrewd store manager. They each flesh out a small role and make it notable. Young Gloria Stuart, who would have a resurgence of fame more than 60 years later in TITANIC, plays Barrymore's daughter.
Movie mavens will recognize Mary Gordon as Mrs. O'Leary (with cow) and Franklin Pangborn as a nervous photographer, both uncredited Look fast in the early train station scene for champion athlete Jim Thorpe, unbilled, playing a passing Indian; he was reduced to making appearances like this to pay the bills.
RKO gave the film excellent production values; Slavko Vorkapich, a true master of what was termed `transitional effects,' supplied montages which are especially noteworthy.
Max Steiner composed the full-bodied score.