4 April 2012 | marcslope
In a word, enchanting
MGM's four big movies of 1935 were "Mutiny on the Bounty," "A Tale of Two Cities," "David Copperfield," and this one. It's the quietest of the four but to me the most impressive, a distillation of Eugene O'Neill's memory play (not his childhood, he said, but his childhood as he wished it were) that's bathed in nostalgia that's more potent and poignant than ever. Screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett get it past the Hays Office without really whitewashing its racier aspects (and Helen Flint's superb as the floozie who nearly corrupts our hero), and Eric Linden, who's entirely up to it, never again had this good a part. Top-billed Wallace Beery perhaps overdoes his drunken- charmer shtick, but Lionel Barrymore nicely underplays opposite him, and Aline MacMahon, always perfection, has one of her best roles--watch her reactions, how she plays love, disgust, and pity simultaneously. The rest of the family--Spring Byington, Mickey Rooney, Frank Albertson, Bonita Granville--are all exactly right. The MGM engineering--always-appropriate music, photography, costumes--helps rather than standardizes the material, the pacing's beautiful, and the warmth is unforced. You can weep at it and not feel like you're being manipulated.