14 April 2019 | lugonian
The Courtship of Bobby's Father
WEDNESDAY'S CHILD (RKO Radio, 1934), directed by John S. Robertson, is not an early screen adaptation about a sibling of Wednesday Addams from "The Addams Family," but a sensitive story about an 11-year-old boy who becomes the center of divorce court involving his parents. Making his motion picture debut is Frankie Thomas in a role he originated on stage earlier in the year of the film's release. Feature billing goes to Edward Arnold and Karen Morley in the opening credits, while Karen Morley and Edward Arnold are credited in that order for its closing casting. Arnold, basically a heavy-set character actor usually in supporting roles since his movie debut in 1932, gets his chance to carry on this photo-play of a loving husband and caring father whose life gets a turnaround after his wife decides she doesn't love him anymore.
The story opens with Ray Phillips (Edward Arnold) camping with his 11-year-old son, Bobby (Frankie Thomas), showing a good bonding relationship between father and son. The next scene follows Bobby and his mother, Kathryn (Karen Morley) bidding farewell to Ray at the train station heading for Florida on a business trip for a month. While playing with his friends, Bobby notices a woman in a car kissing a man, Howard Benson (Robert Shayne) in the front seat. The woman turns out to be his mother. Returning home two weeks earlier from his business trip. Ray is greeted happily by Bobby while his mother returns home, surprised he's home earlier than expected. All she could think about now is telephoning Benson warning him about her husband's arrival without arousing any suspicion, though she has noticed Bobby's strange reaction towards her lately. After Ray learns the truth about Kathryn's illicit affair, Bobby, awaken from their argument in the next room, becomes even more disturbed hearing his mother say she never really wanted Bobby in the first place. At divorce court, the judge (Frank Conroy) awards Kathryn custody of Bobby, with summertime with his father from June until September. Miserable living with his mother and her new husband, Bobby is overjoyed with his summer visitation with his father, until a strange woman, Louise (Shirley Grey), walks into their home. Because of his unhappiness living in both homes at separate times, Ray must decide whether Bobby would be happier away in military school, or come up with a better solution keeping Bobby from his state of depression. Others in the cast include: Paul Stanton (Attorney Keyes); Frank M. Thomas (Attorney for the Defense); Elsa Janssen (Martha, the Swedish Maid); and David Durand (Chick).
A well-acted story as seen through the eyes of a child, Frankie Thomas gives a fine performance in the title role. Though he starred in another movie, A DOG OF FLANDERS (RKO, 1935), he would be more in popular demand as a teenager and beyond, known for such roles as in BOYS TOWN (MGM, 1938) opposite Spencer Tracy; memorably playing Ted Nickerson opposite Bonita Granville in four "Nancy Crew" mysteries for Warner Brothers (1938-39); ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN (Warners, 1941) opposite Fredric March, as well as the title role in television's "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" (1951-1955), among others. For WEDNESDAY'S CHILD, Thomas honestly shows his true affection towards his father, as any boy would, and his loss of affection towards his mother after finding her to be unfaithful towards his dad. Edward Arnold and Karen Morley do well in their roles, especially Arnold, who's believably likable as a father-like figure. Short and sweet, and overlooking some of slang-talk amongst kids from the 1930s, WEDNESDAY'S CHILD is simply told and well-directed during its 68 minutes.
RKO Radio remade this sensitive story as A CHILD OF DIVORCE (1946) changing the gender from boy to girl, wonderfully played by Sharyn Moffett. The difference between these two screen adaptations is the ending. Both are satisfying but the Moffett remake is effective and tear-inducing to say the least. Though both films are not relatively known or often revived, especially on video cassette or DVD, WEDNESDAY'S CHILD and CHILD OF DIVORCE have had cable television broadcasts either on American Movie Classics (1990s) and once in a while on Turner Classic Movies where each can be seen and compared. (***)