In a small American town, a young man from a good family faces some of the realities of maturity.
Clarence Brown's fond recreation of Eugene O'Neill's popular stage play AH, WILDERNESS! makes a wonderful celebration of basic American virtues. Attention to detail, coupled with excellent performances & MGM's best production values, results in a film full of quiet joys & sorrows.
The story follows young Eric Linden (in his best film role) during the one month period from his 1906 high school graduation until the Fourth of July, as he deals with the pangs & confusions of puppy love. His yearnings for his pretty neighbor and his experimentation with an older, much rougher sort of female, perfectly underscore the angst so often found in young adults regardless of the era. This is brilliantly displayed in the film's most hilarious sequence, the graduation ceremony which Linden hopes to sabotage, which reveals the honest insecurities and mawkishness of the senior class.
Wallace Beery, playing Linden's dyspeptic bachelor uncle receives top billing, and he is a scene stealer with much experience, but he acts alongside an equally good Lionel Barrymore, as Linden's father, who quietly underplays his role as head of the family. Each actor had a powerful screen persona, however neither attempt to dominate what is in effect a prime example of ensemble acting from the entire cast.
As Barrymore's spinster sister, Aline MacMahon is especially fine, her romantic feelings for Beery barely canceled beneath her prim exterior. Spring Byington, as Barrymore's wife, shows a touching sensitivity in her sometimes flustered, nervous concern for her brood.
Playing Linden's collegiate brother, Frank Albertson is good-natured and sturdy, and in a poignant moment gives a gentle parody of his own considerable musical talent by crooning When Other Lips' from The Bohemian Girl. Bonita Granville & Mickey Rooney portray the youngest siblings in the family, with Rooney in particular having some very funny moments.
In smaller roles, Cecilia Parker is all innocence as Linden's sweetheart, while crusty old Charley Grapewin almost spits vinegar as her cantankerous father. Helen Flint gives a forceful performance, considering Production Code restrictions, of the wanton woman who attempts seducing the much younger Linden.
Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Eily Malyon as the family's Irish maid.
The title is an ironic reference to a line from The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Will Rogers was originally pegged to play the role which ultimately went to Barrymore, but he backed out in order to make his tragic plane flight to Alaska.
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