29 November 2015 | lugonian
The Edna Gladney Story
BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1941), directed by Mervyn Leroy, with screenplay by Anita Loos, stars Greer Garson in one of her finest acting performances still early in her career. Making an impressive movie debut in GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (MGM, 1939), leading to the literary screen adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (MGM, 1940), along with a couple of light comedies opposite Robert Taylor (REMEMBER (1939) and WHEN LADIES MEET (1941)); BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST is certainly one, along with her Academy Award win for MRS. MINIVER (1942) to be very much associated with the Garson name as well as her on-screen personality. Labeled a biography, which states, "This is the story of a great woman and of the great work she is doing for humanity: her name is Edna Gladney, and she lives in Fort Worth, Texas. We dedicate this picture to her," BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST follows the pattern of many current bio-pics mixing fact and fiction, but in true MGM essence, a Technicolor film with great style and appeal.
The Story of Edna Gladney starts at the turn of the century Wisconsin where Edna Kahly (Greer Garson) and her half-sister, Charlotte (Marsha Hunt), are both to celebrate their engagements: Edna to Damon McPherson (John Eldredge), Charlotte to Alan Keats (William Henry). At the engagement party comes Sam Gladney (Walter Pidgeon), a bank cashier employed by Edna's father (Samuel S. Hinds), who, earlier, at the bank, meets her for the first time and regardless of her exposed engagement ring, tells Edna she's going to marry him. Finding Sam arrogant, his appeal pleases her enough to become his wife and move with him to Texas. As for Charlotte, she learns from her future mother-in-law (Kathleen Howard) that she's nameless foundling with an unknown father, and because of this cannot marry her son. Charlotte's suicide, along with the loss of Edna's child (Richard Nichols) and husband become a series of unpleasant circumstances leading to Edna Gladney's greatest achievements in life: Taking in tagged orphans of all different backgrounds; and opening a Texas Children's Home and Aid Society where she cares for children of working mothers as well as finding proper homes for orphaned ones. Aside from saving a woman (Fay Helm) whose personal troubles echo that of Charlotte's, and realizing she hasn't died in vain, Edna moves forward by fighting for children's rights, speaking on their behalf, taking the word "illegitimate" off birth certificates, and changing the term, "orphans" to "our children." While successful in those issues, her biggest problem is making the supreme sacrifice by having a special orphan so dear to her released under her care and into a home of a troubled couple after losing a child of their own. Others members of the cast include: Fay Holden (Mrs. Kahly); Clinton Rosemond (Zeke); Pat Barker (Little Tony); George Lessey (Mr. Keats), Theresa Harris (Cleo), and Cecil Cunningham (Mrs. Marcus Gilworth).
Unlike the life stories of Thomas Edison or Madame Curie (a role Garson would eventually play in 1943), the name of Edna Gladney is forgotten and totally unfamiliar by anyone today. Based on its presentation, it's forgivable to mistake BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST as a fictional story with "soap opera" overtones. It's also easy compare this along with MGM's fact-based story of BOYS TOWN (1938) starring Spencer Tract as Father Flanagan, a priest with a goal of building a place for homeless boys. Regardless of similarities between BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST and BOYS TOWN, each have become splendid achievements in their own rights. There are certain moments in BLOSSOMS where it becomes corny now and then, but thanks to the sensitive portrayal by Garson, it appears better than it seems. Once seen, it's hard to forget her courtroom plea to those famous words, "There are no illegitimate children. Just illegitimate parents!" Or her telling the judge (Henry O'Neill) she's ready to go to jail for not revealing the name of the family who adopted a child belonging to the mobster-type father (Marc Lawrence) who gave him up years ago; or listening to "Home on the Range" theme song underscored during the Garson-Pidgeon love scenes.
Aside from Garson's well-deserved Academy Award nominated performance, BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST also marks her first of eight feature films opposite her most perfect screen partner, Walter Pidgeon. The Garson-Pidgeon combination certainly worked wonders here and subsequent movies to follow, including another Garson favorite, MADAME CURIE (1943). They were as right together as Garson was for "Auntie Edna" Gladney. After Pidgeon's character is gone early in the story, Felix Bressart takes over through much of the proceedings as the family doctor, Max Bresler, who offers both humor and straight-forwardness through the necessary sensitive moments.
Formerly available on video cassette, and later onto DVD from Turner Home Entertainment, BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST shows on Turner Classic Movies where the legend of Greer Garson (1904-1996) and name of Edna Gladney (1886-1961) and her early accomplishments for children's rights live on through the course of television revivals. (***1/2).