"The Human Comedy" (MGM, 1943), directed by Clarence Brown, is not really a comedy as the title depicts, but actually human story about ordinary people of a simple town in the days of World War II. Mickey Rooney stars as Homer Macauley, a high school student who excels in sports, especially track, working part time as a telegraph boy for old Mr. Grogan (Frank Morgan), in order to support his widowed mother (Fay Bainter), his sister, Bess (Donna Reed), and his kid brother, Ulysses (Jackie "Butch" Jenkins), while his older brother, Marcus (Van Johnson) is off to war. Overlooking the Macauley family is their deceased father, Matthew (Ray Collins), who also narrates the story.
While Rooney gives a well-earned Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his performance, the storyline doesn't focus all on his Homer character, but on others as well, usually presented on screen in ten minute segments, including Tom Sprangler, (James Craig), his romantic interest with the beautiful Diane Steed (Marsha Hunt), and his meeting with her parents (Henry O'Neill and Katharine Alexander); older Macauley brother, Marcus, serving in the Army and his friendship with a fellow soldier named Tobey George (John Craven), a young man with no family who gets to learn about family life through Matthew's stories; Bess Macauley and her friend, Mary (Dorothy Morris), who go out for the evening and come across three lonely soldiers on leave (Robert Mitchum, Don DeFore and Barry Nelson), and making their brief stay in their town an eventful one; little brother Ulysses being the one and only friend to the friendless Lionel (Darryl Hickman), a pre-teen boy not so popular with the other children who doesn't hold a grudge against them. Lionel is an exceptional character to the story who shows that he has a good and forgiving heart by saying to Mrs. Macauley that even though he isn't invited to mix with the other children his age, he will be there for them when and if they need him; Miss Hicks (Mary Nash), a strict but kind-hearted high school teacher who shows Homer that teacher's aren't always heartless and unfair but are human beings faced with difficult decisions for their students, especially when she must decide whether Homer should remain after school for fighting with a fellow student, Hubert (David Holt), or let him run in the big track meet to compete against Hubert, the boy actually at fault; Mr. Henderson (Clem Bevans), an old geezer who enjoys watching little children pick apples off his tree and watches them run when he comes out of the house with no intention of running them off, etc. Then there is MGM veteran actor Frank Morgan who gives an exceptionally good performance in his role as Willie Grogan, the drunken but good-hearted telegraph operator who must have water splashed in his face by Homer whenever he dozes off on duty and to be given lots of coffee to stay awake, especially when a message is coming through. Aside from Homer having a difficult task in delivering messages to women that their sons or husband have been killed in the war, he finds one particular telegram that changes his attitude towards the world, temporarily, until that memorable and heartfelt closing scene in which Homer is approached by a visiting soldier, Marcus' closest friend, Tobey George.
"The Human Comedy", from the book by author William Saroyan, shows viewers as well as those who have read his book, that his labor of love is people and that there is goodness in everybody. Done in true family fashion MGM style, "The Human Comedy" shows what family life was back then and what's lacking in today's society. Nothing really exciting happens in this leisurely paced film running at 118 minutes, but good performances all around, especially by Rooney, Morgan and Bainter. Available for viewing on Turner Classic Movies, video cassette and DVD format. (****)