Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1941. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Story by Ralph Wheelwright, Screenplay by Anita Loos. Cinematography by Karl Freund, W. Howard Greene. Produced by Irving Asher, Mervyn LeRoy. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Adrian. Film Editing by George Boemler. Academy Awards 1941.
A Wisconsin girl is swept off her feet by a tall Texan who takes her away from her intended fiancé and installs her in the Lone Star state in the lap of luxury. A few years later, Edna Gladney’s only child dies, her husband’s prospects in the wheat business fail and reduce their circumstances and then, worst of all, even her husband leaves her a young widow who must fend for herself. The definition of gumption if ever it existed, and blessed with a kind and considerate heart, Mrs. Gladney turns her attention to the state’s orphans and unwanted children, running a home for parentless kids where, for many years, she matches prospective, childless parents with whichever of her charges she thought they were meant to be with. As if this isn’t enough, she also heads up a political movement to get the branding of illegitimacy removed from the birth certificates of children born to unwed mothers (a legal distinction that kept these children from later entering certain careers, inheriting from their adoptive parents and, in many cases including one very personal to Gladney’s life, marrying). Enough good cannot be said about the accomplishments of this woman, which is why it is easily forgivable that the film of her life is a sometimes contrived, at times plastic hagiography that borders on corny nonsense on more than one occasion. Corny nonsense is rarely this enjoyable, though, and it is brought home by a fantastic performance in the lead role by Greer Garson, ridiculously cast as an American, her diction rife with too many rounded vowels and yet in possession of so much genuine warmth and concern that the character hits home anyway. It’s a surprisingly liberal movie from MGM in the early 40s, managing to talk about children born to “bad” girls without getting around to discussing how they came about, and likely gets away with it thanks to its focusing on the forceful personality of its wonderful subject. Try to get through it without a hankie, you won’t be able to.