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Showcase for Barbara Stanwyck who gracefully ages from a young woman to a mother in her late 40s. Barbara stands for hard work (on the farm) and the recognition of beauty in life (even cabbages are beautiful). Her understated portrayal shines as one of her best works. Story of her son, (who Barbara said was "So Big" with hands spread wide apart) is that of a privileged offspring who ignores his mother's advice and takes the easy way to money, ignoring the beauty in creativity, and hides his mother's career from society ladies. When he finally meets a good woman (a good Bette Davis) who appreciates someone with "bumps," he reveals his past but it is not bumpy enough to impress her. Instead Bette goes off to Paris and meets with celebrated sculptor George Brent who as a boy had lived with and loved the older Barbara. Interesting portrayal of two contemporary actresses with one playing the part of a woman old enough to be the other's mother and neither obviously updating the other. Good messages, good role models, with Barbara staying down on the farm as a success without having taken the easy road. A quiet gem to inspire depression-era audiences.
Barbara Stanwyck is a young woman who becomes a teacher in a farming
community. She gets married, has a son and tries to teach him the true
value of life--which is beauty and nature. But he's more interested in
money and position. Can she make him see her way?
Very well-done with another great Stanwyck performance and a young Dick Winslow giving a fine performance as Roelf...also a very young Bette Davis shines as a young artist. Very lavishly done...but the film is seriously lacking. The film is very short (80 minutes) and the story seems extremely rushed and lacks focus. I've never read the book but I know it runs over 300-400 pages--there's no way that can be condensed to 80 minutes. So I do recommend the film (I'm giving it an 8) because it is very well-done and the entire cast is great. If only it weren't so short!
Also it's a shame that you have two wonderful actresses (Davis and Stanwyck) in the same movie and they don't even share a scene together!
"So Big!" has been filmed three times, once before this version (a lost
from the original flapper Colleen Moore) and once after. But this is the
treatment that rings true; this is the "So Big!" that really is so
Barbara Stanwyck successfully ages from schoolgirl to aged mother in this film. The story is beautiful (based on Edna Farber's novel) and the acting is superb. You can't help but cry at the end! Don't miss an early screen appearance from Bette Davis!
"So Big!" is shown on Turner Classic Movies at times, but make sure it's the Stanwyck version and not the Jane Wyman re-remake. It's worth the effort.
Edna Ferber's novel of the same title has been brought to the screen in
several remakes. This 1932 film, directed by William Wellman, is a
curiosity piece in that two of the best screen actresses of their
generation appear in the same cast. Although it's clear this was a
Barbara Stanwyck vehicle, Bette Davis is seen in a small role.
"So Big", adapted for the screen by J. Grubb Alexander, in this version, is a rather intimate picture where some of the epic aspects of the novel doesn't come into play. It's basically a story of riches into rags back to riches, as Selina Peake, its heroine, sees her fortune change from the high times to almost poverty when her dear father is fatally shot.
Selina is clearly a survivor. She projects a larger than life shadow over everything in the story. Her arrival at High Prairie under conditions she has never seen, makes her stronger. Selina sees beauty in the land that is going to serve as her home. She is a clever woman who inspires others, especially young Roelf Pool, the young boy who seems to be doomed to stay in the land of his ancestors, to strive for greatness.
Barbara Stanwyck makes the most out of Selina. She gives a controlled performance in sharp contrast with other characters she played in the movies. Bette Davis and George Brent, only appears shortly in the film. Alan Hale, Dickie Moore and Hardin Albright are seen in smaller roles.
"So Big" shows a slice of life in America at the beginning of the last century, a world, that alas, is gone forever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well-off, motherless Selina is raised by her father, who teaches her to
find beauty and joy in all aspects of life. When the father dies, a
friend of the family arranges for Selina to move from the city to "High
Prarie", a rural town where Selina is to live with a farm family and
teach in the local schoolhouse.
Selina arrives all wondrous at her new surroundings, even commenting on how beautiful the cabbage field is. The boobs in the farm family all laugh at her, except 12 year old Roelf who agrees that the cabbages are beautiful and even makes a drawing of the field for Selina. Roelf is a kindred spirit, and sees beauty all around him, and wants to be an artist. While a teenager, he runs away and goes to Europe where he eventually becomes a well-known sculptor.
Back home, Selina marries local farm-boy Purvis de Jong and has a son with him, Dirk, nicknamed "So Big" (Selina says to little Dirk, "How big is my big boy?" and little Dirk spreads his arms wide and answers "Soooooo big!") Selina is widowed while Dirk is still young, and Selina keeps her little family together by maintaining the farm, even growing a special variety of asparagus dubbed the de Jong asparagus.
Flash forward to Dirk's adulthood. He is bored with his entry-level architect job, ashamed to admit he's *THAT* de Jong of the de Jong asparagus fame, and he hangs out with a married woman (the details of their relationship are not delved into). Selina wants her son to appreciate the beauty in life, much the way her own father encouraged her when she was a child. Dirk, however, has only dollar signs in his eyes, and he quits his architect position to become a bonds-trader in the stock market.
Dirk meets a young (and extremely lovely) Bette Davis, who is making some advertising drawings for his firm. Dirk falls in love with her, but she doesn't return that love. She tells him she can only love a man who works with his hands and appreciates art, someone whose beauty shines from the inside (unlike Dirk who clearly doesn't have any of these qualities). Bette goes to Paris, meets Roelf and returns to High Prairie with Roelf who very much wants to see Selina again. The reunion between Roelf and Selina is sweet and may make you reach for a hankie. While the four of them -- Selina, Roelf, Dirk, Dallas (the Bette Davis character) -- are visiting in Selina's home, Dallas watches Selina and Roelf at the window. Dallas remarks to Dirk how beautiful his mother is (although at this point in the movie Stanwyck is made up to be an older woman with near-white hair). Dallas sees the beauty radiating from within Selina and wants to paint her. It's a beautiful but also sad ending ... sad because of the contrast between Selina, Roelf and Dallas who are able to see and appreciate beauty all around them, versus Dirk who cannot see it even when he's surrounded by it. It made me sad for Selina that her son could not see the things she and Roelf and Dallas could.
This movie is simple and true to the tale it tells.
The casting is fine and honorable. Barbara Stanwyck is very touching as the young schoolteacher in a rural area.
The way she arrives at the name for the person who is the tile character is sweet and genuine.
When we flash forward, and she is made up to look genuinely older, he is a real pill, and our hearts break. But what better salvation for a young man on the make could there be than the young, blonde Bette Davis, forceful and sympathetic as an artist who turns him around so his mother can again be proud of him.
This is an extremely condensed version of Edna Ferber's Pulitzer Prize
winning novel. It moves much too fast, missing the epic scope of
Ferber's writing, but it works on its own small terms, establishing
characters, filling them out, though in miniature, and telling Ferber's
story. I wonder what she thought of this version!
Stanwyck is wonderful in this, simple and straightforward, really playing the character. This was an amazing performer. The more I see of her body of work the more impressed I am. She could do anything, comedy, serious drama, playing all kinds of characters from good to bad, "dames" to ladies.
Bette Davis shines in this early performance. She was only twenty four years old here, and without tricks or gimmicks (the kind she would use increasingly as she got older and the passion for acting faded) she plays a character, inhabits her, plays in the scene and really holds your attention. She looks lovely by the way, even with her platinum dyed tresses.
SO BIG is a lovely little gem that's only problem is it's much too
short, just 81 minutes, given the story's scope. Based on a Pulitzer
Prize winning novel by the usually critically underrated Edna Ferber,
famed in the era for her epic novels (GIANT), one can blame Warner
Bros. for their reluctance to make longer pictures in this era but at
least give them credit for filming this tale, it's impossible to
imagine this bleak setting being filmed at either at glamorous and
elegant MGM or Paramount.
Barbara Stanwyck stars as Selina, a motherless girl who lives a well-to-do existence with her professional gambler father in big city hotels. Despite his rather shady calling, her father has taught her the finer things in life and raised her properly. Her father is shot and killed when she is a young woman over an apparent gambling dispute which leads to having to go to work as a schoolteacher in a small farming community. There she befriends a young preteen named Rolf (the wonderful Dick Winslow in a superb performance) who is forced to work on his father's farm instead of go to school, giving him books and encouraging his artistic endeavors and his dreams of life beyond farm work. Barbara marries a young farmer and gets trapped herself in the hard life of farm work, particularly after she is widowed young with a little son Dirk to raise on her own. Dirk benefits from his mother's sacrifices and becomes a young architect but is bored and impatient and fails to share his mother's love of beauty and a good work ethic that she successfully installed in Rolf.
The cast is generally superb - this is one of Barbara Stanwyck's finest early roles and she is quite moving at times. She has fine support from teen Dick Winslow, whom I don't recall seeing before, and from some generally unnoticed supporting players like Dorothy Peterson as Winslow's prematurely aged mother, Robert Warwick as Stanwyck's loving conman of a father, Earle Fox as the rather good-looking but common man she marries, and Blanche Fredrici as the rich old spinster who pines for Fox herself. There's also a delightful appearance of the much loved character Elizabeth Patterson, dressed to the nines in period costumes as Stanwyck's city landlady and excellent work by a startlingly beautiful young Bette Davis as the young artist the adult Dirk fancies. Alas, the adult Dirk, Hardie Albright, is not particularly good (and there's a particularly bad scene in which he and Mae Madison, as his married paramour, are not able to carry by themselves) but at least George Brent as the adult Rolf is better than normal if not quite capturing the fire, intelligence, and drive Winslow did as the younger Rolf. I'm surprised no one has noticed the young Selina is played by lovely Anne Shirley, who would go on to her greatest fame as Stanwyck's daughter in their classic STELLA DALLAS five years later. Talk about superb casting for a young Stanwyck!!
This story really cries out for a film of a least two hours with it's multi-decade scope, it really jumps years much too often, much too quickly, but still it's a highly satisfying, often quite touching film that's well worth seeing. This movie also makes me want to seek out Ms. Ferber's rather forgotten novel, which surprisingly is still in print.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"So Big" did a lot to salvage Barbara Stanwyck's career. Apart from
"Ladies of Leisure" which had prestige, many of Stanwyck's early films
were potboilers and, often, her's was the only performance worth
watching. This story of mother love and self sacrifice was dear to
people's hearts at the time (struggling through the Great Depression)
and Stanwyck's honesty and earthiness made her a natural for Selina
Peake. Warners surrounded her with the best talent they had - William
Wellman directing, George Brent as the male lead (although his part
lasted barely 10 minutes) and the studio's new ingenue, Bette Davis, in
an interesting role as a young artist who tries to guide Dirk back to
his roots. There were also two of the better child stars of the day -
Dawn O'Day was Selina as a child (five years later, as Anne Shirley,
she would play Stanwyck's daughter in the acclaimed "Stella Dallas")
and the very cute Dickie Moore as "So Big" as a child.
In many of Edna Ferber's books the male characters didn't hang around, they either abandoned their family or were killed off (Ferber never married and many critics felt she didn't really understand men) and "So Big" was no exception. Selina's beloved father (Robert Warwick) is shot (he has a gambling house, a fact that all through her childhood has been kept secret). The only friend who hasn't deserted her secures her a job as a teacher in High Prairie, but her first impressions of the town are not favourable. She finds the Pooles, her host family, ignorant and crude, the mother (another thankless role for Dorothy Peterson) is worn out and old at 31. The one ray of hope is Roelf, who is eager to learn and, when Selina arrives, is half way through reading the dictionary. He also departs, after a time, to make his way in the world.
Selina marries Pervus DeJong (Earle Fox), a decent farmer, but someone who is mired in the past and won't learn new ways or experiment with different crops - asparagus for example. Life is going to be a long, hard struggle but his death gives Selina the opportunity to try new methods. All she has left is Dirk (Hardie Albright) but he is a bitter disappointment to her. Not only is he materialistic and worships money, he is also going about with a married woman, who convinces him to give up architecture for the lucrative field of advertising. With his new executive postion he is slipping further from Selina's values, but he then meets Dallas, a young artist, who convinces him to find truer ideals. Roelf has just returned from Europe, where his renown as a sculptor has made him a celebrity, and he is eager to see Selina, who he regards as his inspiration. Together, they all return to the farm and the film ends with Dirk's realisation that he had been misguided and Selina has known all along the answer to true happiness.
"So Big" is just "So Wonderful". One of the nicest scenes (I think) is when Selina, newly widowed, takes "So Big" to market. There, they meet two "ladies of the night", one of them, Mabel, strikes up a friendship with "So Big". Another small role for Noel Francis, she always played shady ladies but she had the bearing of a Duchess.
Highly, Highly Recommended.
A school teacher comes to a farm land to earn a living and educate their children, as well. She marries a farmer and has a son, she calls "So Big" for asking him how big his love is for her. She dreams for him a life driven by passion and creativity or farming as opposed to a quest for money. Her son strives for the dollar. Yet, after finally finding love in a girl ( a young Bette Davis) a painter, she sets him straight and points out the true beauty of life, including his own mother (played by the magnificent Barbara Stanwyck), who is aged and worn. Bette makes it clear to "So Big" that beauty, wealth and love are written all over his mother's face and he finally sees it himself.
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