Smilin’ Through (1932)

SIDNEY FRANKLIN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1932Screenplay by , , dialogue by , , based on the play by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Cedric GibbonsCostume Design by Film Editing by Academy Awards 1932/1933.

Leslie Howard is aging and still mourning the loss of the beautiful woman he was to marry (Norma Shearer) before an untimely death took her from him. When he is told that her sister has perished and has left behind a little girl who needs care, he agrees to raise her; years later she’s a young woman also played by Shearer, well turned out, full of a zest for life and courting a young man () who is a good match but doesn’t make her heart flutter. The couple gets caught in a terrible lightning storm while on a walk in the countryside and take refuge in a nearby castle, thinking it deserted because of its condition, but then meet its inhabitant (Fredric March), a young American who has recently come there to claim the place after the death of his father. Shearer forgets her beau and falls in love with March, which causes a rift at home that cannot be healed: it was March’s father (also played by the same actor) who was directly involved in the young bride’s death, and Howard cannot forgive and forget. When the Great War takes Shearer’s love to the battlefield, she does her best to forget him and move on but cannot, which because this is an overripe MGM melodrama means we get a lot of scream-crying from an actress who was far more effective at sophisticated control. Dazzling as always, Shearer does her best to ignite chemistry with March, who never could exude much in the way of dangerous sex appeal, doing far better in her scenes with Howard either as his lover or his child. Beautifully photographed and hopelessly twee, the film might not draw a tear from a modern-day eye but it has its moments, photographed with glinty beauty and featuring a few impressive moments of visual and makeup effects that are state of the art for its time.

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