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Sir John (Leslie Howard) is devastated and disgusted as his niece
Kathleen (Norma Shearer), a young woman living with him since her
parents died in her infancy, falls in love with Kenneth (Fredric
March), the son of the man who, in a jealous rage, killed Sir John's
bride to be on their wedding day. As Kenneth is about to join his
company at the front in World War I, Kathleen is torn between her
filial duty towards her uncle and her love for Kenneth.
Sidney Franklin's film is the quintessential tearjerker, one that I have dreamed of watching all my adult life, and tonight I finally managed. Not many films outlast those sorts of expectations, I found recently that 'Sevent Heaven' was relatively feeble-minded, not the film I had been looking forward to.
'Smilin' Through' triumphs though, soaringly so. The film is not only sumptuous in decor and cinematography, but has a real heart and real intelligence. I loved the way that almost every scene takes place in a garden with burgeoning flora, drooping flowers, heavy with romantic regret and sexual portent. One could almost smell the dizzy perfume of the plants. And I admired the way that Sidney Franklin distinguishes so clearly and yet not demonstratively between the way that young love professes itself in the 1860's, the time of John's and Moonyeen's courtship, and the war years with Kathleen's and Ken's romance. Franklin, in his direction, subtly underlines the tender dewy-eyed romanticism of the old days, "misty, water-colored mem'ries" indeed, with Kathleen perpetually wearing her wedding gown, even in her scenes as a ghost. And in the modern story we have an altogether more practical couple, acting in the context of a world war, with the far-away guns and canons sending rumblings through the village, sending windows and panes rattling. Kathleen in the modern story is more earthy and doesn't, in this pre-Code Hollywood picture, disguise how she is longing for her sexual union with Ken: "By the time I'm through with you, you won't be able to fight anyway", she claims.
The acting is a chapter unto itself. I was never a fan of Leslie Howard's, and although it must be said that his part is probably the least interesting in the film, he conveys an endearing boyishness in the 1860's scenes, easy-going and infectious. Fredric March strikes up a marvelous rapport with Norma Shearer, sending off sparks of a loose energy that seem almost improvised, certainly captivating. Their scenes today should even today serve as must-see footage for acting students. March shows glimpses of the impressive character actor he was to become, and Shearer is luminous and entirely lovable, great performances.
The perfect genre piece, destined to give you the most delicious heartache.
One of the most wonderful romances to have come from Hollywood in the 30s, Smilin Through stars three legendary actors- Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard and the gorgeous and talented Fredric March- with and without moustache! Also wearing uniform!! If that doesn't make you want to run out and buy all available copies of Smilin Through, you may want to check your pulse. You'll love it, as long as you aren't a cold-hearted beast. Its the cat's mieow. So put on the kettle for some mighty good tea, settle back with Mrs Crouch's sinkers and dumplings and maybe a slender cookie or two, and watch this fabulous romantic movie right now. 100 out of 10!
I just can't tell you how much I adore this film! It was superb in every way! Norma Shearer and Fredric March were wonderful together, the chemistry between these two can be felt, it burns right through the tv screen! I'm not kidding! ;-) It's just lovely, you care about these two, you want them to be together and be happy! That's a sign of good acting on their parts! Leslie Howard is excellent too, don't get me wrong. He just can't beat Fred! Oh Fred Fred Fred! Yes, I like him! Is it obvious? ;-) He's just the most amazing actor! I'm definitely going to buy The Barretts of Wimpole Street now because I think anything with Shearer and March together is worth my money! Or someone elses! ;-)Oh, and Fred and Norma kiss an awful lot too! Lucky gal! haha!
I can't add much to the raves already posted.
The first song I remember my mother singing to me was "Smiling Through" ("But through all the long years, when the clouds brought their tears, those two eyes of blue came smiling through at me"), and she'd tell me the movie's story. I taught the song to my children and grandchildren, but until recent years there was no way to get a copy of the movie.
I thought I wanted the Jeannette MacDonald version because of her beautiful voice, but it was back ordered and only this one was available--lucky for me. It seems to be everyone's favorite of the three.
The wedding scene is a masterpiece--understated and heartbreaking, but I'm finally able to handle it. It's that very last scene that gets me every time. Best kind of tears, though: the kind you're "smiling through".
Norma Shearer, like Irene Dunne, is not only beautiful to look at but irresistibly likable.
A big hit at the time of it's release, it was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture of that year. It still holds up, thanks to the timeless performance of Norma Shearer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This Is by far the best of the three versions of the story. Shearer, March and Howard are all Magnificent. There are really two unforgettably touching parts of the film. The first is the flashback sequence on the eve of the wedding where Howard and Shearer behave like children in love and when she dies at their wedding it almost seems like Shearer has better chemistry as Moonyean with Howard than she dose as Kathleen with March either way she is a brilliant and underrated actress. The other and most moving part of the film is the unforgettable and tear jerking end when Howard and Shearer reunite in death. If one can sit through this movie and not be even a little choked up by the end, then they must be pretty cold. This is yet another example of the days gone by but not forgotten and the fact that they don't make them like this anymore. A definite 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The horror of World War I, a conflict with global dimensions had never
been experienced by man before. With so many people in the
participating countries suffering losses of family members there was a
big spiritual movement among the older generation at the same time the
Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties was celebrated by the younger
brothers and sisters of fallen soldiers.
One of the best examples of this is the play Smilin' Through which was written and performed by Jane Cowl on Broadway. It's unfortunate that she was not chosen to do the lead in the first sound version on film, but Norma Shearer is a more than adequate substitute.
The play Smilin' Through ran for 175 performances in the 1919-20 season on Broadway and then was made into a silent film feature with Norma Talmadge in the lead. It concerns the lost love of a man and how even with the greatest of spiritual barriers between them, there is a connection even through fifty years of separation.
The man in the film is Leslie Howard who years after his bride was killed on their wedding day, gets charge of her niece when her parents are killed. The niece when she grows up and the bride in both ghostly and flashback sequences is played by Shearer.
The third lead in this film is Fredric March who plays father and son. As the son who was brought up in America by his mother, he never knew his father, he's come over to Great Britain to enlist in the army of the land of his forefathers. He and Shearer take to one another, but Howard is furious at the idea.
He's got reasons. March as the father is the maniacally jealous former suitor of the aunt who was killed. In fact he's the one who did it and left Howard a lonely grieving man for generations.
Both March and Shearer are great in their parts. Especially March who is called on to play two very different kinds of men and being the superb actor he was, plays them both so well. As for Leslie Howard, he's in a typical Leslie Howard part, charming with a suffocating air of sadness about him, and so very British, the typical Englishman as they see themselves.
Norma's part as the aunt calls for her to sing the song Smilin' Through and of course it's dubbed. There was no need of that in the third version with Jeanette MacDonald who in that version sings a nice medley of period songs. Jeanette's version does unfavorably compare with Norma's, but definitely not in the singing department. I'd like to see the Norma Talmadge silent if it still exists.
You would have to made of stone like those great lions at the New York Public Library not to be moved by Smilin' Through. Given the times, this play and this film had a ready audience who wanted so desperately to believe that they would in fact be reunited with loved ones.
In England, elderly Leslie Howard (as John Carteret) still mourns the
death of blonde-trussed teenager Norma Shearer (as Moonyeen Clare). As
we see in a flashback to 1868, Ms. Shearer was shot to death by Mr.
Howard's alcoholic rival Fredric March (as Jeremy Wayne) while the two
exchanged wedding vows. A flashback to 1898 reveals how Howard adopted
five-year-old Cora Sue Collins; in 1915, she grows up to be adult Norma
Shearer (as Kathleen Sheridan). Presently, Shearer falls in love at
first sight with handsome American traveler Fredric March (as Kenneth
"Ken" Wayne). As Mr. March happens to be the son of the man who killed
his bride, Howard makes Shearer promise to stay away from their new
MGM's box office star, named "Quigley Publications" #6 for 1932, acts giddy and girlish in soft focus. Director Sidney Franklin, who helmed both this and the earlier silent film version, does excellent work with windows.
"Smilin' Through" was originally a tremendous hit for popular stage actress Jane Cowl, who wrote the strongly romantic story with Jane Murfin (using the alias "Allan Langdon Martin"). Ms. Cowl starred in only a couple of silent films, unfortunately. Even worse, the 1922 "Smilin' Through" with Norma Talmadge in the leading roles is not available for viewing. There are prints of this film surviving in the U.S. Library of Congress and the Netherlands Film Museum. It was one of Ms. Talmadge's most successful, winning a "Quigley Publications" honor as 1922's best picture, and should be restored. The Shearer version won the 1932 "Photoplay" award. MGM did it again with less success, in a 1941 musical starring Jeanette MacDonald.
Note this version's unaccredited gardener David Torrence played Howard's pal "Owen" in the 1919 stage version; and, the 1941 version's unaccredited doctor Wyndham Standing played Howard's role in the 1922 silent version.
****** Smilin' Through (9/24/32) Sidney Franklin ~ Norma Shearer, Fredric March, Leslie Howard, O.P. Heggie
Smilin' Through is about a man played by Leslie Howard who must raise
his friend's niece because her parents were killed. Howard, who has
just lost his wife, reluctantly agrees.
He begins to realize, over the years, that the girl he is raising (Norma Shearer) is very similar in looks to his deceased wife. Because of this fact, he has a strong relationship with her.
One night, Shearer is off with a friend to an abandoned house. They find that someone else is there. The person who was there (Fredric March) is actually the son of the man who killed Howard's wife. And the abandoned house was where March grew up.
Shearer falls for March and when Howard sees this, he becomes jealous. Tensions rise in this excellent "tearjerker." It's only flaw is that it seems to get a bit overlong for what it's trying to tell right at the very end.
All of the three leads are amazing and should have been nominated for Oscars. Sadly, the only nomination it did get was Picture, which it should have won.
I saw this film at the Egyptian Theater in Sioux Falls, SD when I was 7 yrs. old. I can still remember the shooting scene. I cried all the way home. I just watched it today and cried all over again! I didn't realize 'til today what a wonderful actress Norma Shearer was. The photography was great, better than I remember 30's movies being. The chemistry between Norma and Frederic was superb. And ,of course, Leslie Howard always gives a stellar performance. I haven't seen the re-makes, but can't imagine that they could improve upon it. I'm saving this movie for my daughter to see so she can appreciate a fine film from the past, one with an everlasting theme and a great story.
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