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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!
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.
"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.
*** 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 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.
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.
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.
SO BIG! (Warner Brothers, 1932), directed by William A. Wellman, based
on the Pulitzer Prize novel by Edna Ferber, is a story of a woman, a
woman named Selina Peake. First filmed as a silent for First National
Pictures (1925) starring Colleen Moore and Ben Lyon, this latest
edition, which could have been Warners' contribution to their own
version to a two hour epic production to RKO Radio's Edna Ferber based
novel of CIMARRON (1931), this "passage through time" story, falls
short to becoming nothing more than an abridged screen treatment where
much of its basic characters and chaptered selections are either
discarded or presented for a few brief minutes. The only character of
main importance is Selina Peake. Overlooking an off-beat title that has
nothing to do with the Jolly Green Giant, this is her story, a story of
Opening title: "Chicago - in the 80's, booming, prosperous, surging with life - the gateway to the Great West." The five minute prologue introduces Selina Peake (Dawn O'Day, the future Anne Shirley), a motherless child whose father, Simeon (Robert Warwick), is a compulsive gambler but dedicated to his little girl. While dining at the Palmer House, he tells Selina something to remember, "This whole thing called life is just a grand adventure." Moving forward about ten years. Selina Peake (Barbara Stanwyck), having graduated from the Select School for Girls, is best friends with classmate Julie Hemple (Mae Madison). After Peake is shot dead at Mike MacDonald's Gambling House, Mrs. Hemple (Eulalie Jensen), refuses to have her daughter associated with Selina and her father's gambling reputation. Through the kindness Julie's father, August (a character initially played by Guy Kibbee whose scenes don't appear in the final print) secures Selina a school teaching position in a Dutch community for farmers at High Prairie outside Chicago. While boarding in the home of the Poole's, Klaus (Alan Hale), Maartjie (Dorothy Peterson), and three children, their eldest son, 12-year-old Roelfe (Dick Winslow), with a quest for knowledge and talent for drawing, spends most of his time helping his father on the farm rather than acquiring an education. Selina, who finds "cabbages are beautiful," gets an education of her own when learning that fertilizer is dried blood. Roelfe, who has grown fond of Selina, becomes jealous of her marriage to Pervus DeJong (Earle Foxe). Because of his mother's death and father marrying the Widow Parrenburg (Blanche Frederici), Roelfe, who has always hated his existence, leaves home to make something of himself. The recently widowed Selina would do the same thing, seeking a better life for both her and her young son, Dirk (Dickie Moore), whom she affectionately calls "So Big." Move forward twenty years. Dirk, a young man (Hardie Albright), is torn between pursuing his mother's dream of becoming an architect or assuming the advise of the married Paula Storm (Rita LaRoy) by becoming a Wall Street businessman. During the course of the story, Dallas O'Mara (Bette Davis), an ambitious artist, not only enters the scene, but Rolfe Poole (George Brent), a famous artist, returning home from Europe to reunite himself with someone who's been an inspiration in his life.
For Barbara Stanwyck, SO BIG shows how she can be more than just one of the LADIES OF LEISURE (1930), THE MIRACLE WOMAN (1931) or NIGHT NURSE (1931), but an actress going through the aging process from young woman in her twenties to mother in her fifties, who curtsies every time she meets new people. In its present 82 minute format, SO BIG, with so much material crammed into so short of time, is one of those ambitious projects that should have been expanded by more than a half hour to allow more time for viewers to become better acquainted with both characters and story. Yet, even through its tight editing, the pacing is slow and characters undeveloped. Although it's difficult to compare this with the now lost 1925 edition, its easy to compare this with the existing 1953 remake of SO BIG starring Jane Wyman, Sterling Hayden and Nancy Olson. On a personal level, the newest of the three improves over the 1932 effort on a plot developing level leading to a satisfactory conclusion. The similarity of both versions contains that of Selina Peake repeatedly asking her son, "How big is my baby? How big is my boy?" Son replies, "SO Big!" hence the title of the book.
Aside from being relatively known to film scholars as the one where future superstars Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis appear in the same movie, but barely the same scenes, the film itself had been unavailable for viewing for many years, with the possibility of never to be seen or heard from again. It took a cable station such as Turner Classic Movies to bring this long unseen edition back from the dead, making its long awaited television premiere of clear picture quantity on November 12, 1999. In spite of few highlights of interest, and having to wait eternity for the appearance of Bette Davis and George Brent, SO BIG, with Stanwyck's ability to hold audience's attention throughout, still ranks one as worthy of both rediscovery and recognition, even if this story of a woman is not so big. (***)
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