Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1936. Selznick International Pictures. Screenplay by Hugh Walpole, based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Cinematography by Charles Rosher. Produced by David O. Selznick. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by Sturges Carne. Costume Design by Sophie Wachner. Film Editing by Hal C. Kern.
Adorable adaptation of the popular novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett features a starmaking turn by Freddie Bartholomew as the refined young man being raised on the streets of late nineteenth-century Brooklyn. Possessing an English accent thanks to a dead British father (because that makes sense), little Ceddie is hopelessly devoted to his mother (a wonderful Dolores Costello) whom he refers to simply as “Dearest”. His widowed American mother carts him off to the homeland when Ceddie’s paternal uncle dies and it places him next in line to inherit his grandfather’s earldom, forcing him to leave behind his best companions, a grocer (Guy Kibbee) and a “bootblack” (Mickey Rooney). The gruff old man with whom he now has to live has a prejudice against Americans and so forces Ceddie to stay with him while mother is made to live in a house near their estate. Burnett’s stories often featured sweet young people softening up hardened older folks or the opposite, and this one would be pure treacle if it weren’t for the fact that it is played with such disarming sincerity. Bartholomew’s studied dialogue delivery and physical stiffness actually add to his appeal, an adorable pint-sized anachronism whose morality is never in doubt, while C. Aubrey Smith‘s masterful command of the lovable coot persona makes for wonderful chemistry alongside his tiny co-star. It’s not as good as Wee Willie Winkie, particularly as the plotting makes a few wrong moves in the conclusion and a few scenes actually seem like actors are flubbing lines on the set (how many times is Smith going to reach for the handkerchief in that scene with Costello?) but it is sweet and hits the spot.