6 April 2003 | sdiner82
Bittersweet, charming final entry in Fox's forgotten "Jones Family" series.
From 1936 to 1940, 20th Century-Fox produced 16 family comedies about the irrepressible 'Jones Family'--Mother (the endearing Spring Byington), father (Jed Prouty), live-in Grandma (a wonderfully feisty Florence Bates), and their three teenaged off-spring (cute-as-a-button June Carlson, hunky Kenneth Howell, and boyishly appealing George Ernest). Each entry in this unpretentious series was a delight, and more's the shame that the entire series has been long forgotten (I have yet to find one review of any of the films on this database). Put the blame fully on 20th Century-Fox who, apart from their classics or mostly overblown CinemaScope epics of the mid-1950s, seems to have no interest whatsoever in preserving their lesser known films of the past--of which the entire Jones Family series is a refreshing delight. Unlike MGM's Andy Hardy series (A-budget projects that served as launching pads for its female newcomers, as well as a showcase for its biggest star, Mickey Rooney, as well as a few more-than-welcome co-star roles for Judy Garland), Fox's Jones Family series might seem to be a series of quickies designed for the bottom end of double bills. But Fox unknowingly struck unexpected gold in depicting the mostly comedic adventures of a tightly-knit, loving All American suburban family in the late 1930s. (Incidentally, their home looks real, and indeed it IS! On one of its cavernous soundstages, Fox built an entire house for the Joneses, the primary set when the rambunctious, endearing family wasn't off to see the world ("A Trip to Paris," "Down on the Farm," "The Jones Family in Hollywood," etc.). "On Their Own" is not only an unexpectly bittersweet finale to the series, but also a heartfelt study of a small-town American family in crisis (Dad has had a heart attack and is confined to a nursing home; the rest of the family has to stick together to make ends meet, which means selling their home and taking over a bungalow court whose residents provide a new bunch of eccentrics to contend with. What is totally unexpected in this finale of a memorable series is the beautifully acted, surprisingly realistic scenes of family drama, with the indomitable Ms. Byington, her oldest son Howell (an appealing, gifted young actor whose career, and life, were tragically short-lived), and Ms. Bates (the grandmother everyone wishes they had) desperately trying to keep the family together, even though they're "On Their Own." How sad that this last entry in the cinematic Jones Family diaries was the best. In its switch from slapstick comedy to a more human, humane mixture of comedy and drama, the members of the Jones Family were indeed coming into their own. Another 16 episodes of the joys and sorrows of The Jones Family would have been more than welcome during the dark, tragic years to come in the life of an American Family. Meanwhile, will the powers-that-be at 20th Century-Fox PLEASE restore these long-forgotten gems of yesteryear to VHS, cable-TV, DVD, ANYWHERE!, so movie-lovers can be introduced to the lovable,witty, warm-hearted escapades of "The Jones Family"--and realize that these unseen gems from a long ago past still resonant with the occasional hilarity and moments of familial tenderness that resonate with just as much freshness today as they did over 60 years ago!