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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You find kindness in strange places, and for orphaned Irish lad Jackie
Searle it's with a Jewish antique dealer (Jean Hersholt). A very
religious man who practices what he has learned through much study,
Hersholt is a friend of the Irish cop who is killed when Hersholt's
shop is robbed. He must then break the news to young Searle who is then
taken in by him. At first, Hersholt's own son wants nothing to do with
his adopted brother and even steals from him, but Searle refuses to
snitch on him. He even goes as far as to take the blame from taking
money from the till to protect him. The adopted brother sells Searle's
prized harp, which Searle steals so he can enter a talent contest to
win $10 to put back in the till. Afterwards, Searle turns himself into
the police for stealing the harp back, then faints with pneumonia. The
ending is a moral tale for all three people involved and is presented
directly without maudlin emotions.
This is a rare example of a poverty row studio film (Majestic Pictures) that is surprisingly good. Some of the sequences appear to be actually on location in New York, with the photography seeming to be more real than stock footage used in similar films. Hersholt is really good, playing a man whom, like himself, was a great humanitarian and looked in men's souls, not their religious background. Searle's accent is a little off-putting and unlike any Irish accent I've ever heard. J. Farrell MacDonald is really good in the small role of Searle's dad, while Richard Wallace is a precursor to the Bowery Boys as Hersholt's son who will obviously head down a wrong path unless he realizes the error of his ways. Lucille La Verne is instantly recognizable as one of the locals. Fortunately, this has been released on DVD through the major distributor of public domain films (Oldies Video) and is listed as having been on VHS.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
During the 1920s Jean Hersholt created some memorable villains, none
more so than the despicable Marcus in Von Stroheim's "Greed". But with
sound Hersholt's thick Danish accent seemed more in keeping with doting
fathers ("Transatlantic", "Crime of the Century") and suddenly he found
a whole new career on the side of Good. With Sol Blum he found his
niche - he is a kindly second hand goods trader who is finding it tough
to keep his son, Joey, on the straight and narrow, especially since the
death of his wife - "I'm doing my best but my best ain't good enough".
There is a wonderful neighbourly feeling as everyone looks out for their fellow man so when local police chief O'Hara (J. Farrell MacDonald) is killed in the line of duty, Sol takes on the responsibility of making a home for Shandy O'Hara (Jackie Searle, with a passable Irish accent - everything's "foine"!!) Jackie Searle had gained prominence with the nickname "the kid everybody wants to spank" - together he and Mitzi Green proved as a comedy team that brats had more fun in films like "Finn and Hattie" and "Newly Rich" but on his own he was best remembered as the snitching Sidney in "Tom Sawyer" and the pupil who makes John Barrymore's life hell in "Topaze". He could also play regular kids ie in "High Gear" and the very sentimental "Hearts of Humanity".
There are a myriad of plots going on in this movie as well. Ruth Sneider (scrumptious Claudia Dell) can't decide between hard working cop Tom (Charles Delaney) or dapper Dave. Dave seems to have the best of everything but when he unwittingly takes Shandy for a joyride the reason is clear - he is running a small boot leg operation from his apartment. He swears Shandy to secrecy and fobs off the bottles as furniture polish that he doesn't want his competitor to know about. That plot line is cleared up quickly but Joey's misdemeanours are a full time job. He steals from his father's till and his latest fracas with the fruit and vegetable man will see him in Juvenile Hall unless someone can come up with $10 for the damages bill. Joey has already convinced Shandy to hock his harp for $1!!! to repay the till and now Sol confesses he has entered him in a children's amateur night competition, playing his harp - first prize $10!! But Shandy's harp has already been sold - what will he do!!
The movie is only about 60 minutes but that is still enough time for Shandy to turn thief and at the last minute be pulled back from the brink of pneumonia by a repentant Joey. Claudia Dell was beautiful and could sing up a storm but she started out at the tail end of the early musical cycle and her films ("Big Boy", "Fifty Million Frenchmen") were not the sort guaranteed to make studio execs. sit up and take notice. Unfortunately by the time of "Hearts of Humanity" she was already a poverty row familiar.
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