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This film gets off to a very slow start with a scene where an old New
England farmer drives a tax accountant from the city nuts with his
convoluted tales of bartering and swapping; being an accountant, he
just wants the numbers. This went on so long, I almost gave up before
the movie got underway, but I'm glad I stuck with it. It's not a great
story, and it's certainly not what you'd call a Bette Davis film--she's
a secondary character.
What it does do very well is to depict a rural American life that is long gone--listening in on the party line, sharing preserves with the neighbors, a taffy pull, and especially singing. The folks all gather at the preacher's house to sing the traditional American standards of the day, accompanied by the preacher's wife on a pump organ: "Love's Old Sweet Song," "Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet," "Seeing Nellie Home," and the like. I imagine these are mostly forgotten today, and it's nice to see them preserved in a relatively realistic context such as this. An unexpected pleasure.
This is NOT a movie for a wised-up 21st century audience. This is a picture designed specifically for the millions of fans of Phillips Lord's popular radio series Sunday Evenings at Seth Parker's. The story is a cracker barrel melodrama, the type that would be elevated a few years later by Philip Stong in his A VILLAGE TALE (also filmed by RKO, in 1934). The acting in WAY BACK HOME is sincere and quaint. Stanley Fields is the perfect villain, even without a moustache to twirl. The hilarious opening scene between Seth Parker and the tax man (Wade Boteler) was perhaps an inspiration for MGM's THE MATING GAME. Little Frankie Darro is terrific as Robbie. But the big prize goes to Bette Davis. Even amidst the tried-and-true showboat dramatics she pulls off a 100% believable, emotional performance. There was no question that this girl was going places and a lot farther than Jonesport! The community sing sequences in the Parkers' parlor are perhaps the most reminiscent of a bygone era. The harmonies are wonderful and they brought a great big smile to this audience member. Finally, a mention of the character "Cephus." I suspect Edgar Bergen was one of the listeners of SETH PARKER and might have based his Mortimer Snerd characterization on Bennett Kilpack's Cephus. This was Kilpack's only apparent film appearance, yet he became a titan in radio, creating and starring in MR. KEEN, TRACER OF LOST PERSONS. If WAY BACK HOME should come your way, give it a chance. But put yourself in the proper mood. It must be viewed in context and without a jaded mind or stony heart!
The story is cliched, the singing is interminable, the acting is weak. About the only time the film comes alive is in the buggy-chase toward the end, a nicely photographed sequence with some impressive stuntwork. A young Bette Davis is the love-interest. Based on a popular radio serial, the story of a Maine preacher who manages to keep his foster son places very little emphasis on the "preaching", more on the common sense humanity of "little people". As such, it has its worth; as a depiction of a cleric, the humanity, not the faith, is what shines through. Occasionally unintentionally hilarious.
Wow, is this an old-fashioned film! And when I say "old-fashioned", I
mean creaky and dull. I can only take so much of this homespun humor
and atmosphere until I am about ready to scream! Not only does the
story seem exceptionally dated, even for 1932, but the film is
supposedly set in Maine and hardly anyone in the film speaks with the
appropriate accent. In fact, much of the film looks more like it was
filmed in the Ozarks! The story has to do with acceptance--of an adult
bastard and of a young boy who is the son of a drunk. Neither story is
especially memorable, but at least the story involving the drunk gets a
little diverting when the old sot returns to town and demands custody
of his kid. The other story involves this man and his love interest, a
very young Bette Davis--who gets very little to say and do that would
make you think she had a sparkling career ahead.
An interesting historical curio, but dull and dusty.
Love conquers feuding families in this obscure movie from 1932, one of the firsts in Bette Davis' career when she was mainly an unknown and it shows. Not even remotely close to the potential she would show only two years later, and looking as awkward as the day she arrived in Hollywood, she plays Mary Lucy, a country farm girl in love with David, but wouldn't you know -- they're from families at war with each other. A dull story that even when only about 80 minutes long seems interminable with the opening sequence on a carriage and the dances, the bad acting from pretty much everyone, in particular Mrs. Philips Lord, this is again, only for admirers of Davis' body of work, but as blunt as a sledgehammer.
Rebecca: This is so bad it's almost good.
Enid: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.
If 1932's "Way Back Home" had been made a couple years earlier, it might have caused Hollywood to abandon "talkies" and return to making silent films. Fortunately, by 1932 enough talking pictures had already been made for everyone to realize that sound was not necessarily a device of audience torture. This is a borderline musical, with some of the worst singing you will hear this side of my shower. By the last number you will be envious of those with a serious hearing loss.
Most of the viewers who stumble across this film are Bette Davis fans seeking out some of her early performances. Davis has a supporting role as the female half of the film's romantic interest. She is paired with Frank Albertson who plays a farm laborer whose mother is an outcast and whose father is a bachelor. She looks beautiful and fresh but nothing about portraying the character is challenging. It is arguably the worst early film in which she appeared.
It is based on an early radio character named Seth Parker, played by Phillips Lord in the film, whose family are simple country folks. Sort of Ma and Pa Kettle without any comedy. The principle subject of the film is Seth's unofficially adopted son Robbie, after ten years Robbie's biological father Rufus Turner is back to claim him.
The theme is that a community can rise above its prejudices regarding illegitimacy and genetic parentage if it has a good example to follow. Because everyone is a caricature and the acting is so uneven this worthwhile theme is turned into a sappy and silly embarrassment.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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