Depression Era story set in London has department store owner (Lewis Stone) facing bankruptcy while his family fritters away money. A long-standing employee (Lionel Barrymore) gets fired ... See full summary »
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Depression Era story set in London has department store owner (Lewis Stone) facing bankruptcy while his family fritters away money. A long-standing employee (Lionel Barrymore) gets fired but finds new life in a home-based bakery. The owner's wife (Benita Hume) can't face life without money, so she runs off with another man. The tables turn, however, when a last-minute reprieve saves the store and a new relationship is forged between the men. Written by
Taking advantage of Hollywood's ample supply of British actors in the 1930's, MGM set this depression-era film in an English department store. But the two stars are American actors Lewis Stone (best known for his appearances as Judge Hardy) and Lionel Barrymore. Barrymore received top billing on the titles although Stone's part is considerably larger. Both are a treat to watch, especially their scenes together, and the script (adopted from a play) is high brow enough that the mix of British and American accents is not that disruptive.
Stone is excellent as Gabriel Service, the owner of a financially troubled up-scale department store headed toward bankruptcy as a result of the depression. A competitor offers to buy the store but will not promise to retain the staff. Service is a very paternalistic owner and wants to do what is best for his employees, but he knows that declining the offer puts the long- term financial security of his family at considerable risk.
Barrymore plays Tim Benton, a 40 year employee of the store who is among the first group of laid off employees. At this stage of his career Barrymore's standard character was a version of his grumpy and overbearing Mr. Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life"; the main variation being whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. But in "Looking Forward" he gets to play a meek accountant with total loyalty to Mr. Service and his store. It's a refreshing change of pace and this unusual performance is a good reason to watch the film.
Both men have families who for the first time feel the impact of the depression on their life styles. Service has remarried and his new wife Isobel (Benita Hume) is much younger. She is carrying on not so discreetly with another man and obviously just married Service for his money. For some reason the gold-digging younger wife was a staple of the films during this era.
The title of the film, from a speech made by FDR during the depths of the depression, is explained by the opening credits. The theme is how economic pressures impact personal relationships and aspirations. The early narrative establishes the domino effect of the depression as Benton's layoff also causes the layoff of a struggling mother who helps his wife on a part-time basis. The upbeat ending illustrates the somewhat "Pollyanna" notion that adversity causes people to rise to the occasion and find new ways to be productive.
This pleasant little film is well crafted but nothing spectacular. It is a nice time capsule of the depression era, historically interesting not just because Hollywood felt the need to make an uplifting film, but because viewers flocked to the theatre seeking the comforting and motivational messages delivered by this type of entertainment.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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