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  • Ron Oliver27 December 2002
    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.
  • This film is a veritable treasure for those who appreciate small-town Americana at the turn of the century. Set in New England in 1906, we see the plethora of events typical of the era: the high school graduation with individual seniors singing, reciting poetry and the valedictorian speech; the Fourth of July celebration with fireworks and picnics; the careful relationships between the young boys and girls; the close-knit family life with a sister and brother of the parents living with them. I thoroughly enjoyed Clarence Brown's depiction of this lost innocent era, which produced a warm glow within me as I watched. There are very few belly laughs - one I remember was when the protagonist Eric Linden says to his not-so-clever girl (Cecilia Parker) "I was born 100 years before my time" and she responds "I was born 10 days before mine." But I found myself smiling often at the goings on. Eric Linden carries the film beautifully.

    The rest of the cast is superb: Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington as Linden's parents; Mickey Rooney and Bonita Granville as his younger siblings; Aline MacMahon as Byinton's spinster sister and Wallace Beery as Barrymore's alcoholic brother. But I was particularly impressed with Helen Flint playing the vamp who Linden gets involved with when he was drowning his sorrows. The title, by the way, is a line from the poem "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám."
  • 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.
  • Eugene O'Neill's gentle comedy about an American family living in a small town in 1906 shows us that our problems haven't changed, only the way we deal with them.

    The story centers on Richard (Eric Linden) as he's about to graduate from high school. His summer is spent courting Muriel (Cecelia Parker) and planning to go to Yale in the fall. But he's restless without knowing why. His older brother (Frank Albertson) treats him like a kid, and his father (Lionel Barrymore) is having business troubles. And then there's drunken Uncle Sid (Wallace Beery) who breezes in and out of the house.

    The mother (Spring Byington) is busy with the younger children (Mickey Rooney, Bonita Granville) and the spinster aunt (Aline MacMahon). Feeling alienated and alone, Richard goes to town with a friend (Edward Nugent) and gets mixed up with a woman from another city (Helen Flint) who's passing through town. Richard has his rite of passage and learns something important about himself.

    Linden is excellent as the callow youth caught between adolescence and adulthood. His bravado shows itself in spouting poetry and speeches from plays. He's all talk. Beery gets top billing because of his box-office pull but plays a supporting role here. He's quite good as the boozy uncle who's sort of courting MacMahon (always good). Barrymore, Byington, Granville, Rooney, and Parker are solid.

    But it's Helen Flint as Belle who nearly steals the film as the fast-talking city woman. She's excellent.
  • Beautifully directed by Clarence Brown, the nearly perfect cast of this rare (but not quite *only*) O'Neill comedy shines from top to bottom even as one speculates the film this might have been had a Methodist minister not effectively murdered one of America's greatest entertainers over the minister's shallow objection to the depiction of a "fallen woman." He wrote to Will Rogers, who was touring in the George M. Cohan/Lionel Barrymore role of the father and slated to do this movie version, stating that he had had to leave the theatre with his daughter rather than expose her to such smut! Rogers prided himself on never doing "blue" material, and withdrew from the film in favor of that fatal trip to Alaska with Wiley Post; one suspects the unfortunate minister saw rather more than he liked of himself in Muriel's father, McComber, in the play, and that was the true source of his offense.

    Starting with this film, many productions of AH, WILDERNESS! and the works based on it, like the Broadway musical TAKE ME ALONG, have top-billed the showier role of "Sid" (Wallace Beery) over the core role of the stabilizing force, the father (Lionel Barrymore), whose relationship with his son (Eric Linden) the play turns around. One wonders if it would have been that way had Rogers ignored blue nose objections and made the film, but it is hard to imagine a better performance than Barrymore gives in the role.

    While recognizing the vast difference between the usual depth of O'Neill dramas and this warm remembrance of an idealized youth O'Neill might have imagined wanting in middle class Connecticut at the start of the 20th Century, students of the playwright must view this play (and film) next to his more obviously autobiographical masterpieces A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY... , MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN and the sea plays (filmed collectively as THE LONG VOYAGE HOME) for a complete understanding of the author.

    The greatest regret in the film is the fresh, forceful performance from Eric Linden as Richard - the boy on the verge of manhood, struggling with the same essential sexual/social issues every young man struggles with, even if they may seem "quaint" and even shallow in this period telling (we only imagine it's somehow different because of the period specifics). It's a fine performance and one wonders what happened to the actor. He lived on to age 85, only passing in 1994, but never made the transition to "adult" leads and after the minor role of an Amputee in the 1939 blockbuster, GONE WITH THE WIND, only made one more minor film during WWII, and called it a career.

    Nevertheless, glory in superb work from a balanced cast that showcases Spring Byington as the Mother, the wonderful character actress Aline MacMahon as Sid's love interest, Lily (seek her out as the Nurse in the superb "Play of the Week" filming of Judith Anderson in MEDEA in 1959 or as Ida in Judy Garland's final film, I COULD GO ON SINGING from 1963!) and Mickey Rooney as the almost too energetic younger brother Tommy.

    Yes, Wallace Beery breaks Lily's heart (and ours) with his drunk scene played for laughs, but O'Neill knows whereof he's writing, and gives us a depth and subtext to these scenes which most comedies of the period or later "comedy drunk scenes" couldn't imagine, and lets us understand the deeper meaning even while we permit ourselves to smile at Beery & O'Neill's craft.

    A last point to be made in appreciating this terrific production: made in "glorious black & white" (as the VHS release calls it), the studio set designers and director Brown took full advantage of the more detailed visual vocabulary monochrome offered and give us so detailed a portrait of the world the play is set in you could teach a master class on the style and technology of the period just from the beautifully observed physical portrait in this film.

    Allow yourself a ninety eight minute excursion back to the turn of the last century - this is a trip to what was not quite the cultural wilderness some of us might suppose that you'll never regret taking.
  • I love period movies and this one captures the time and place as well as it is possible. The humor is gentle and very touching. The scene of the 4th of July morning, when all the young boys come out with their firecrackers never fails to put me on the floor laughing.

    Wallace Berry's delivery of the one word line "soup?" is almost worth the price of admission by itself.

    I heartily recommend this movie to anyone who has a heart. It will be touched
  • Eugene O'Neill wrote only one comedy, and this screen version of it is delightful. It treats some of the same problems as his tragedies, like alcoholism, but treats them lightly and with compassion. The cast is great. I especially like Lionel Barrymore as the father, Wallace Beery as Sid, and Aline MacMahon as Lily--but Mickey Rooney as the little brother dominates every scene he is in. My favorite scene is where the family is at dinner and Uncle Sid comes home drunk. They are concerned for him but can't keep from laughing at the nutty things he says.

    After seeing this movie, I bought a CD of the Broadway musical version, "Take Me Along," and a video of a Hollywood musical version, "Summer Holiday." This is such a great play, they can't do too many different versions of it.

    (My brother-in-law - who doesn't even LIKE movies - liked "Ah, Wilderness!" when I showed it for him and my sister on a recent visit.)
  • Eugene O'Neill's gentle nostalgic comedy got the full blown MGM treatment with Clarence Brown guiding a topflight cast in the standard interpretation of Ah Wilderness. My only complaint is that George M. Cohan who played the father of the Miller family did not repeat his role for the screen. Cohan could not/would not do the film and his loss was an opportunity for Lionel Barrymore who did the part with a sure hand.

    According to a book on the Barrymore dynasty, Lionel was upset with Louis B. Mayer for whom he was usually a loyal employee when Brown under Mayer's orders tilted the film and the billing toward Wallace Beery's showier part of Barrymore's alcoholic brother-in-law. Watch the two of them in scenes together as they try and top the other. It must have been one tense set. On stage Gene Lockhart did the part of Uncle Sid.

    The young protagonist about whom the action swirls is middle son Eric Linden. Barrymore does some creative interrupting at his son's valedictorian address filled with radical notions. Linden is rather clumsily courting Cecilia Parker and when she puts him off he goes out on one tremendous toot, taking his uncle Beery as a role model.

    If there was one thing Eugene O'Neill knew from this life it was alcohol and the effects thereof. Think about all the works he did where substance abuse is at the center. His greatest play, The Iceman Cometh is set entirely in a bar.

    Ah Wilderness is like the rest of O'Neill's works, no real plot to them, but deep character studies from a slice of life. Ah Wilderness being a comedy probably was easier to translate to the screen, even so the play which is set entirely in the Miller living room gets moved to the graduation and later to the tavern where Linden ties one on. On stage Elisha Cook, Jr. played the clumsy son.

    Mickey Rooney played young son Tommy in this version. Thirteen years later when he was the other side of too old for the part he played the Eric Linden role in a musical version Summer Holiday which proved that O'Neill should not be the basis for a musical even his only comedy.

    After 75 years, Ah Wilderness holds up very well and I think O'Neill probably approved of this version with the caveat that it had to conform to the Code. Helen Flint's part as a prostitute who gets Linden drunk and probably gives him a tumble was cleaned up by the Breen office. Given the code parameters, Ah Wilderness was as good as it could get.
  • MGM apparently had very high hopes for "Ah Wilderness!" when it came to the Oscars and according to IMDB the studio put on a concerted campaign to get it nominated. But, apparently, the Academy voters were just not that impressed by the film and it didn't receive a single nomination. After seeing it, I think I can understand why.

    While the basic story is engaging, as you see a family in early 20th century America during a summer, there is a problem with the main focus of the show. It focuses on the second child, Richard. Richard is about 17-18 and is very opinionated and full of himself...much like MANY 17-18 year-olds (trust me...I taught high school!). But Richard goes above and beyond...to the point of being irritating. Yes, he was full of himself...but also came off as an annoying jerk...at least to me. I loved the other characters...but considering most of the focus was on Richard, I just finished the film feeling a bit let down. I frankly expected much more...especially from MGM.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Eugene O'Neill remains, some fifty two years after his death and some eighty seven since his first plays appeared on stage, America's greatest dramatist. This is not hard to understand - no one ever dissected our personal miseries as well by laying bare his own tragedies. It is understandable that he rarely touched on comedy (it does crop up in some forms in his plays - in HUGHIE look at the way the hotel night man has some twisted hero-worship of the gambler crime kingpin Arnold Rothstein). Twice (actually) O'Neill tried comedy. First a spoof, MARCO MILLIONS about Marco Polo. The other was AH, WILDERNESS!, which was his only successful Broadway play in the 1930s - 1955. It is a lovable look at middle class, small town American family life in 1905 (about the same time that that far more horrifying version of family life, A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, occurs). And because we know what O'Neill was going through, seeing this version is not reassuring at all. The play will amuse, but in our cynical souls we know that it is what O'Neill really needed and never got.

    One thing the audience never got (unfortunately) was the star of the original production. In his penultimate Broadway performance, George M. Cohan played the father, Nat Miller. The critics of 1932 raved for Cohan's meaningful and wonderful performance, but we can only read of it - he was never in the running for the movie role. He was extremely difficult to work with under other directors, and would have been hard to control. It's too bad. The original choice for the role at MGM was Will Rogers, but Rogers wanted to make a round the world plane trip with Wiley Post, and went to their joint death in a crash at Point Barrow instead. Still Lionel Barrymore is good as substitute for either Cohan or Rogers.

    The cast on the whole is first rate, from Barrymore and Spring Byington as the parents (note the business about the problems Barrymore has eating certain types of fish) to Wallace Beery as the inebriate uncle and Aline MacMahon as the spinster aunt. The business of the three sons, Arthur (Frank Albertson), Dick (Eric Lindon), and Tommy (Mickey Rooney), and the daughter Mildred (Bonita Granville) all helps paint a picture that is close to Norman Rockwell (although the apparently alcoholism of the uncle is troubling). But it has some terrific moments, as towards the end when Nat warns Dick about fallen women/prostitutes as "sepulchres". But with a knowledgeable audience of O'Neill fans they can put in the dead older brother who wasted his talents on booze and women, and the baby brother who died prematurely. Suddenly the glitz and glare of the 1905 small town America on the 4th of July weekend turns into the shadow world of four dead souls pursuing an endless mutual fight in a New England summer house. It is a finely made movie of MGM near it's height, but the source for all the pleasant humor of the piece has a long dark shadow that is unsettling.
  • "It seems as if we are surrounded by love" says Barrymore's genial patriarch at the end of this movie. To this viewer at least, the line has perhaps acquired an unintended irony as we contemplate the dulling nature of that ‘love'. O'Neill's work, which originally made gentle mockery of small town middle American taste and values, has perhaps unfortunately, these days gained an uncalled-for 'satiric' edge. The charm and skill of the original vision, captured by the craftsman-like direction of Brown, remains the same. What's happened is that the mildly eccentric, extended Miller family - one for instance in which Swinburne is considered shocking, and radicalism is half digested by callow youths (and then abruptly discarded) now appears stultifying, and we can too easily over compensate by allowing it the hues of a parody. Otherwise it takes a stupendous suspension of disbelief by today's viewer to accept the Millers on their own terms, apple pie and all, which is a shame.

    A very young Mickey Rooney has a few scenes but is rarely allowed to really shine. This sort of role was no doubt good grounding for the enormously successful Andy Hardy series that lay ahead.

    Wallace Beery, as Sid Miller, provides the most entertaining scenes in the film as he plays out another characteristically ungainly and comic romance, one typical of his screen roles. (Although he is given top billing, his screen presence is less sustained and more integrated than you'd expect.) Particularly memorable is the evening meal scene where he returns home drunk, and the family are gathered around the table to enjoy his antics. Even Lily, the woman who has consistently refused his repeated proposals through her distaste of his drunkenness, laughs at his comic behaviour. In this sense Beery provides a degree of liberation. The family is relaxed and draws together around the light of Beery's unthreatening inebriation. Some of his interior scenes remind one of W C Fields' work in The Bank Dick and It's a Gift, where he deconstructs the pretensions of middle class America with an anarchic sharpness that speaks to us much more directly today.

    All in all it's a shame that the focus of the film is more on the young son Richard, whose unsteady standing on the border of manhood is never that enthralling. After a while his foibles and self-absorption become somewhat cloying, and one longs for Beery to reappear so that the fun can recommence. If Richard's on-off romance (and eventual drunkenness) is intended to parallel Sid's, then the comparison is very much to his detriment. Whilst Sid's romance seems important and meaningful, the son's is slow and irritates the modern viewer by the degree of feyness.

    In short, an entertaining enough film, full of strong performances, but one which needs a dose of modern salt to make it just that little bit more palatable.
  • In this sweet piece of Americana, Eric Linden stars as a rebellious teenager at the turn of the century. His idea of being rebellious is a little different than nowadays, which makes it refreshing to watch. He reads radical socialist literature and drinks beer after curfew, which makes his mother Spring Byington worry and his father Lionel Barrymore in constant need of helpful lectures to straighten him out. Weren't the good old days nice, when the biggest problem a man faced was how to stop his son from making an embarrassing valedictorian speech? If you think so, you'll love every version of this movie.

    What is perhaps the cutest thing about this movie couldn't have been enjoyed if one had seen it at its release in 1935. Little Mickey Rooney, who plays the younger, prank-playing brother grew up and played the lead brother thirteen years later in the musical adaptation Summer Holiday. The casting of the remake is very respectful to the original, unlike many remakes. Lionel Barrymore, the perfect father figure, was replaced by Walter Huston, another perfect father figure, and the drunken yet jolly Wallace Beery was replaced by Frank Morgan. The spinster Aline McMahon was replaced by Agnes Moorehead, and the motherly Spring Byington with Selena Royle.

    As much as I love Lionel Barrymore, and you know how much I do, I like the 1948 version better. Frank Morgan is more sincere in his vows to reform than Wallace Beery, probably because of his own personal experiences he put into the role. The musical remake is softer and sweeter, as even though most of the troubles in this story are faced with tongue-in-cheek humor, there are some moments in the original that are a little sad. For example, there's a father-son talk about falling in love and facing real life, and after Lionel gives the talk, he's left alone to question himself and sigh in anguish and disappointment in the result. Walter gives the same talk and is able to fix his son's problems. Pick which cast you want to see, and rent one of the versions for a step back in time. The original is very enjoyable, so if you decide to try it first, you probably won't be disappointed.
  • What a cast! What a movie! What a gem! Several reviewers discuss the fine roles and performances in this movie. It's a slice of small town America in the early 20th century. It's the only comedy by American playwright Eugene O'Neill.

    The play was a huge success, and so was this film. MGM promoted it like mad for the Oscars, but it didn't even receive a single Academy Award nomination. The cast is a fine mixture of prominent actors of the day and some young performers whose careers were just beginning.

    This film is adapted from O'Neill's play, "Ah, Wilderness: A Comedy of Recollection in Three Acts," that debuted Oct. 2, 1933, at the Guild Theater on Broadway. The story takes place on the Fourth of July, 1906. The place is New London or a similar town in Connecticut. The cast are mostly members of the Miller family and the story revolves around the middle son. Richard, who is 16 years old.

    Early writers often found inspiration for their works in classical literature. Some would use snippets from the tomes of time for phrases or titles of plays, stories or novels. O'Neill's title for this film came from Edward Fitzgerald's translation, "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." Richard recites quatrain 12 as a favorite poem of his. It reads: "A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness- Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
  • Released in 1935, when the era before WWI held a nostalgic place in the hearts of viewers, "Ah, Wilderness!" relives a spring and summer in the lives of a small town American family, especially one son who is the high school's valedictorian.

    Adapted from the play by Eugene O'Neill, the film is filled with vignettes that recall life in 1906. The bandstand on the town square, the new-fangled Stanley Steamer, playing the piano in the parlor. Although some characters are more like caricatures, there is a sweetness to the film that culminates in the final, poignant scene.

    Mickey Rooney plays the younger, rambunctious brother. In 1948, he will appear in the musical version of the story, "Summer Holiday", as the graduating student, Richard.

    The cast is excellent, with Wallace Beery playing Uncle Sid, a lovable souse without the willpower to live up to the moral standards of the times. You can't have a film about turn of the century America without including healthy helpings of moralizing. Things were changing quickly in newly industrialized America and society seemed very concerned about pinning down community standards for decency and probity.

    Eric Linden does a fine job as Richard, full of potential and full of youthful earnest, so sure that only he--having read certain books--sees truth.
  • I read somewhere that playwright Eugene O'Neill never saw this film version of his play, "ah, Wilderness." That's a crying shame, for I think he would have enjoyed this dandy film. Any film that features Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney has to be worth a watch. All of the male and female actors in this movie would have made O'Neill proud. The action takes place in a small town in Connecticut, a few years after the turn of the century. WW 1, Prohibition, the Great Depression and WW 2 are all safely in the future. The USA is still a young, innocent and hopeful nation in the early days of the 20th century. It a time of trolleys, pianos in the parlor, first kisses in the and and 4th of July picnics. It is a time long lost and forgotten. The movie makes the viewers wish that they could go back into the past to a simpler time and place.
  • rupie19 November 2002
    I found this mildly engrossing, if a tad dated and a bit of a period piece. Certainly it's always worth watching Lionel Barrymore. But the thing I found interesting - almost disturbing, really - is the change in attitude toward alcoholism since the time this play was written. Even though Wallace Beery's character is clearly struggling with alcoholism, the scenes in which he falls off the wagon are played for straight-out laughs. The dinner scene, in particular, in which everyone at the table finds his drunkenly boorish behavior amusing, is almost painful to watch in light of how we view this affliction today.
  • After graduating from high school, idealistic young Eric Linden (as Richard Miller) learns about hard liquor and loose women as he and his family celebrate the Fourth of July in 1906 New England. Renown playwright Eugene O'Neill's "comedy of recollection" was a homespun stage and screen hit, clearly and unofficially inspiring the immensely successful "Andy Hardy" film series. That, and other trivia about the film, are presently more interesting that the blandly presented "coming of age" storyline; still, it's nicely done, reflecting a combination of O'Neill's setting and MGM's glossy black-and-white production values.

    ******* Ah, Wilderness! (12/6/35) Clarence Brown ~ Eric Linden, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Mickey Rooney
  • MGM's adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's classic comedy about small time life benefits from a sturdy cast, especially Spring Byington and Lionel Barrymore. There is also Mickey Rooney who gives a delightful performance as a pre-adolescent son. But it is Wallace Beery, who plays the drifter uncle, that garners the most attention.

    Check out the dinner table scene where Berry's character stuffs the shellfish in his mouth. And don't miss the long drunk scene, which is brilliant. Despite the antics, it is a surprisingly restrained performance.

    Remade by MGM, as a musical called Summer Holiday, with Mickey Rooney in a more prominent role.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A classic Eugene O'Neill play that has inspired a movie musical and a Broadway musical (completely with different score) is your typical MGM glossy few of the family. Later reunited as the original Judge and Ma Hardy, Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington are there to see their middle son Eric Linden through the bumps in his path to adulthood as he graduates from high school and faces the first mistakes of adulthood. Wallace Beery plays the irresponsible brother of Barrymore's, in love for years with Byington's sister (Aline MacMahon), but also in love with demon rum. Linden gets the bulk of the main story as he deals with typical growing pains, has his first experience with drink and a notorious older woman (Helen Flint), and deals with long-time girlfriend Cecilia Parker's possessive father (Charley Grapewin, as far from Uncle Henry as you could get him), and does a good job in facing the pros amongst the cast of veterans. O'Neill delightfully spoofs the pretensions of high school graduation speeches, the embarrassment that parents receive from their younger children, and the over accentuation on American pride in small town USA circa turn of the century. These moments are very funny and nostalgic, and under the direction of veteran Clarence Brown, it is an absolute delight.

    While not a major part of the story, a lot of footage shows Mickey Rooney as the youngest son and Bonita Granville as their only daughter. Rooney gets to show off his talents and doesn't overplay the enthusiasm here like he later would as Andy Hardy. Ironically, he would play the Linden role in the 1948 MGM musical version, "Summer Holiday". too bad he never got to play buri's Uncle Sid in the Broadway musical "Take Me Along", the part originated by Jackie Gleason. It would be easy to confuse MacMahon's Aunt Lily with Sarah Haden's Aunt Millie from the Andy Hardy series. Both are reluctant spinsters with eyes easily turned when a man pays attention to them, but there is a sparkle of real life in MacMahon's Lily that Haden was never allowed to let loose as Millie.

    This film has many major highlights, but the Fourth of July dinner where Beery and Barrymore return home drunk is a definite highlight, especially with everybody trying to stifle their laughter at Beery's silly antics. The film gives each and every cast member a chance to shine, and each of them gives their all in creating memorable, true-to-life characterizations. This is one of mgm's best remembered films from their golden age, and certainly has stood the test of time in giving audiences a sense of nostalgia of the sweetness of years gone by.
  • I'm not an American, so I have very little expirience what happens on the 4th of July and I am sometimes allergic to overly glossy Americana. Was it the case with this film? I was interested in this film because I read that it was the only comedy Eugene O'Neill, the grandmaster of dark but great plays, ever wrote - and also because I had seen some MGM pictures of that time.

    Clarence Brown's film is not revolutionary or suspenseful in the way it works, but I found the movie nevertheless a very good one. The movie plays in the 1900s and makes some gags with the things that changed in the past 30 years - obviously a bit the same as watching a movie from today which plays with 1980s nostalgia. But while the movie is a bit nostalgic and melancholic, it never comes across as sugary or false (like a lot of the other MGM family pictures). And that's quite an achievement for Brown, because a small, soft-spoken and gentle story like this can easily be ruined by one false note.

    And it's perhaps also an achievement by the actors, because the cast works very well - Eric Linden has to carry most of the film and I only knew him from his small role in "Gone with the Wind", but he works beautifully as the idealistic and bright young student. Obviously, boyish roles were his speciality, but never achieved the transition to more mature roles. The rest of the cast, which includes some famous names, are well-cast and believable in their roles.

    Gwenda Young published the book "Clarence Brown: Hollywood's Forgotten Master" as the first full biography about him in 2018. I read the chapter about "Ah, Wilderness" and she ranks it high among his works. Notably, Brown also grew up in the 1900s under somewhat similiar circumstances. For me it feels like Brown burns the days of his youth on the screen - in contrast to O'Neill, who more or less created a counterpoint against his own hellish family life. And O'Neill brings his ironies and dark undertones into it: Is this simple, smalltown life everything one should exspect from life? Also, the visit in the bar and the characters of the unmarried aunt / uncle show how easily a false step in your lifeline can have great consequences. So with both Brown's truthfulness, O'Neill's wisdom and slight irony and great acting performances we have a very beautiful film.
  • Eric Linden plays the high school valedictorian with the range of emotions expected in any eighteen year old. Lionel Barrymore is the father we wish we all had: even when rough and a little old-fashioned, he understands his son and what he is going through and he is always on his side. The uncle, played by Wallace Beery, makes anyone wish he was their uncle, despite his fight with "demon rum". Spring Byington is the typical mother: too worried about the neighbors, too accepting of the myths she's been told, and not understanding what her son is going through. Yet her love comes through. As it does throughout the entire film.

    How can there be another classic from the 1930s? There is. All this needs is to be colorized. The Millers did not live in a black and white world, believe it or not. They lived in color just like the rest of us. Colorizing these older movies with care and preserving them for the diamonds that they are is what we owe to all future generations. This is film making at its best.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Co-produced and directed by Clarence Brown, with a screenplay by married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett based on Eugene O'Neill's play, this above average comedy drama about family life just after the turn of the 20th century features a terrific cast that includes Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Aline MacMahon, Eric Linden, Cecilia Parker, Spring Byington, Mickey Rooney, Charley Grapewin, Frank Albertson, Edward Nugent, and Bonita Granville (among others). James Donlan, Tom Dugan, Eily Malyon, and Jed Prouty (among others) also appear, uncredited.

    Barrymore is the patriarch of the family, he runs the newspaper in small town America, 1906; Byington is his wife. Beery plays Byington's live-in brother who can't find a steady job per his drinking, MacMahon plays the family's cook (?) who maintains an "on again, off again" relationship with him. Albertson plays the oldest, college aged son, whose pal is played by Nugent. Rooney plays the youngest son who's younger than Mickey's 14 years, Granville is the only daughter. Linden plays the middle son, who's just graduated from high school along with his girlfriend Parker; Grapewin plays Parker's father.

    It's a coming of age story primarily focused on Linden's character, whose views on life are more liberal than those of his conservative family and in their community.

    Richard Miller (Linden) reads books that were considered racy, scandalous, or even subversive at the time: Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Swinburne's poetry, and political tomes about the oppressed working man. This makes him somewhat out of place in the idyllic community in which he lives where his father Nat (Barrymore) runs the local paper. Richard's mother Essie (Byington) has asked Nat to take their son's subversive reading materials away from him. Regardless, Richard is the valedictorian of his class, and he's told his girlfriend Muriel McComber that he's going to use his high school graduation speech to expose the capitalist ways he deems are wrong. Fortunately for Richard, Nat is on stage to hand out the diplomas and, after reading his son's speech beforehand, interrupts his son just in time, to keep him from making a fool of himself and upsetting virtually everyone else there. Richard's odd ways have already alienated Muriel's father (Grapewin), who forces his daughter to write a "Dear John" letter to her boyfriend after he reads the corruptive poems Richard had written her. He also cancels his ad in Nat's paper, which means a considerable financial loss for the Millers.

    Nat's ne'er do well brother Sid (Beery), who had left their town where everyone already knows him (for his drinking and reputation) to take a job in another town, returns in time for the town's annual Fourth of July celebration. Tommy (Rooney), and the rest of the town's preteen boys, have been setting off firecrackers all day. Sid keeps the fact that he's lost his job, for presumably the same reasons, a secret by hiding his luggage in the front bushes, at least temporarily.

    Sid enters the Miller home to charm Lily Davis (MacMahon), who'd promised to finally marry him if he'd sober up and hold a respectable job. But after an evening of celebrating with Nat, Sid returns drunk on beer to join the Millers for dinner. Malyon plays the Miller's maid Nora. Nat says that Sid will be staying, that he's offered his brother a job on his paper. Unfortunately, Granville, playing the Miller's only daughter Mildred, isn't given much to do in this film besides laugh at Sid's drunkenness or rib her brothers, especially Richard.

    After receiving Muriel's letter, Richard accepts Wint's invitation to go out on the town with him and a couple of 'fast' girls. Wint (Nugent) had come by to go out with Richard's older brother Art (Albertson), but Art had another date playing tennis instead. Richard then finds himself in a hotel bar with a much older floozie named Belle (Helen Flint), who with the help of the bartender (Dugan) and encouragement from another patron (Donlan), gets him drunk and "extorts" some money from him. Richard returns home drunk, much to Mildred's delight and their parents dismay.

    Later, Belle gives a note describing her evening with Richard to Nat's office mate (Prouty), which leads to father and son conversation about "the birds and the bees" after Richard had insisted that nothing had happened the woman. Belle's motivation had been to get the bar's license revoked for serving a minor, after she had been unceremoniously thrown out of the place.

    In the end, Richard makes up with Muriel whose father has decided (for some reason) that he's not such a bad kid after all.
  • Pretty good but not great. The cast tried mightily but did not seem to bring O'Neill's story to life. I think it is because of O'Neill's skewed view of family, derived from his own background and that depicted in such as "Long Day's Journey Into Night". There as here, there is an emphasis on liquor and dysfunction and maybe he was not the one to tell such a story. It's a far cry from "Meet Me In St. Louis", or even "Father Knows Best" as far as entertainment value is concerned. As a result of his august presence in the credits "Ah, Wilderness" maybe an overrated film, and compounding this problematic circumstance is the hammy acting job turned in by Eric Linden, around whom the story revolves. Wallace Beery was excellent as the drunken uncle Sid, Lionel Barrymore was his usual competent self, and Aline MacMahon upgrades any movie she is in. Last but not least, the screenwriters did the best they could with flawed material.
  • SamPamBam25 September 2020
    We're going to be polite here and not point out how utterly boring, devoid of any charm whatsoever, and completely stupid this thing is....apparently Hollywood never figured out stage -plays are not worth turning into film....good grief what a waste of time...pure nonsense...