8 July 2009 | blanche-2
The invention of The Ameche
Don Ameche has the title role in "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell" in this 1939 film starring Henry Fonda, Loretta Young, Charles Coburn, Gene Lockhart, and Spring Byington.
This movie was a big hit - it must have been, because in 1941's "Ball of Fire," Barbara Stanwyck teaches Gary Cooper slang and refers to the telephone as "the Ameche," as others have mentioned here. As far as how accurate the story is - for Fox, not bad at all. The background of Bell's teaching experience and family history of working with speech and sound is correct, he did have a demonstration of his new device, he did have patent problems, he did take on the little boy and Mabel as deaf clients to teach, he did teach finger-spelling, he did have patent problems, he did marry Mabel, their first child was a girl, and Mabel's father was one of his investors. The Fonda character, Watson, was also real, though Bell had two other assistants, and the scene where Bell finds out the telephone works when he calls for Watson is accurate. Also, Bell mentions a great interest in aeronautics in the movie - he indeed did a lot of work in aeronautics later on.
Don Ameche does a great job as Bell. Before Tyrone Power appeared at 20th Century Fox, Ameche was set for many more lead roles; Power's popularity pushed him into second leads. If Ameche seems melodramatic in the courtroom scenes, that was the style of the day. He gives a serious, intense, and sincere performance. It's probably the role for which he's best remembered. Henry Fonda is wonderful - he's funny and relaxed, positively excellent. In another year, he'd be starring in his own movies. Loretta Young as Mabel is believable as well as lovely, and her sisters in real life -- Sally Blane, Polly Young, and Georgiana Young - play her sisters here.
Gene Lockhart as Sanders is another standout in a poignant performance as a man who wants his deaf son to be able to speak. Charles Coburn plays Mable's no-nonsense, gruff father very well.
Considering that the movie "Suez" is fiction from beginning to end, 20th Century Fox is to be commended for bringing so much real history into this film and making it so entertaining.