Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1934. Universal Pictures. Screenplay by William Hurlbut, based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. Cinematography by Merritt B. Gerstad. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.. Music by Heinz Roemheld. Production Design by Charles D. Hall. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by Philip Cahn, Maurice Wright. Academy Awards 1934.
The Douglas Sirk remake of 1959 is better known, but Fannie Hurst’s novel about ambition, friendship and racism was first adapted by Hollywood in 1934. Claudette Colbert expertly plays a widow with a little girl who maintains her late husband’s work as a traveling salesperson, her fortune actually improved when she takes in a maid (Louise Beavers) who has a little daughter of her own. Beavers shares a secret family pancake recipe with Colbert that inspires her to open a breakfast joint, which quickly turns into a national chain with products on grocery stores before long. It makes them both rich but there are personal problems that can’t be avoided: Colbert is skittish about falling in love and marrying again, while Beavers must deal with the tragedy of her light-skinned daughter who passes for white and wants to deny her heritage. The remake is better for delving into the issues it presents, particularly on clarifying exactly why the daughter would want to be white in a society that sees everything else as having no value, plus Sirk does away with the weirdness of Beavers becoming a millionaire yet remaining a maid in an apron out of love for her mistress. This one has a lot of sincerity going for it, though, particularly the beautiful performances by the leads and their magnificent chemistry that carries through the whole thing.