|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Index||11 reviews in total|
This movie is a perfect capsule of 1930s family life in middle America.
You have the grumpy put-upon (todays type-A) up-by-the-bootstraps
businessman perfectly embodied by the actor who had these parts
cornered: Guy Kibbee (a rare breed unto himself, they don't make them
like him any more). Harried, pompous, blustery & scared to death his
world is going to collapse around him & his perfect little family
because of an IRS audit.
Then there is his perfect family: Aline McMahon as his wise, witty & imperturbable wife, Junior who's just about ready for college but wants to get into his uncle's engineering business not dad's plumbing fixture manufacturing plant. There's curly blonde-headed sis who wants to marry the Harvard grad & there's the cute kid brother who never saw a banana that he didn't want to eat. Finally there's the highly opinionated but lovable housekeeper.
This could have as easily been a successful radio show or a long-running comic strip. The situations are hilarious, the lines are sharp & the performances are absolutely on target. Plus you get a glimpse of a life (granted it's through the prism of Hollywood, but no less distorted than today's sitcoms of dysfunctional therapy-addicted families) that has long been extinct. Just imagine! - a locally owned family run plumbing fixture manufacturing company. Manufacturing plants used to pepper this country once upon a time, especially in the Northeast & parts of the Midwest; self-sustaining communities abounded. Half of today's population would give anything to return to those days.
If that doesn't shed light on the great divide that is cleaving this country, nothing can.
BIG HEARTED HERBERT (WB, 1934), directed by William Keighley, is a
domestic comedy, one of many turned out by many film studios during the
Depression era '30s. Clocked at an hour's length, the characters are
fully developed during its opening minutes showing middle-aged Herbert
(Guy Kibbee) constantly yelling, finding fault with everything from his
family to his employees. A self-made man who is in charge of a plumbing
factory, Herbert has two things he treasures most, a giant portrait of
his father that hangs over the fireplace, and the cuspidor which gets
in the way of everyone in the living room. His wife Elizabeth (Aline
MacMahon) is a simple-minded and patient mother who accepts her husband
for what he is. The family has three children, Alice (Patricia Ellis),
an attractive 19-year-old blonde; Junior (Trent Durkin), who would
rather go to college to become an engineer than carry on in his
father's business; and Robert (Jay Eaton), the youngest with a round
face and big smile, who not only enjoys eating bananas, but appears to
be the only one of the siblings who worships his father, finding his
mannerisms more amusing than threatening. Alice is engaged to Andrew
Goodrich (Phillip Reed), a college graduate, and wants her fiancé and
his parents (Henry O'Neill and Nella Walker) to meet the family. The
dinner becomes a disaster, thanks to Herbert's constant roaring. When
Herbert wants to bring one of his most important client and his wife
(Hale Hamilton and Claudia Coleman) over to dinner so they could be in
the company of "just plain folks," Elizabeth decides to turn the tables
around by presenting the family to his Havens as "just plain folks,"
much to the dismay of Herbert.
Supporting players include Marjorie Gateson as MacMahon's sister; Robert Barrat as her husband; Joseph Crehan as the IRS man; and George Chandler.
Straight-forward story, amusing comedy that pre-dates many of those situation comedy shows produced for television told within 30 minutes. Guy Kibbee succeeds in making his unsympathetic character likable while Aline MacMahon, as always, brings sincerity to her role. Helen Lowell plays a once-a-week housekeeper who finds it difficult to remember her line, "Dinner is served," at the gathering of the future in-laws. She gives a performance that would have have been more suitable to the likings of Ruth Donnelly.
Not as laugh-filled as the domestic stars of that genre ranging from the comic supplements of WC Fields, the wholesomeness of Will Rogers, the sentimental knowhow by Marie Dressler or the wackiness of Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland, but this production, based on the play by Sophie Kerr, combines a little of all, and thanks to the delightful team of the tall but sad-eyed Aline MacMahon and short, fat and bald Guy Kibbee, these two secondary scene stealers from the classic Depression musical, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), make this rarely seen production worth viewing.
A sort of domestic comedy that might have prospered into a film series, but as it stands, nothing developed. BIG HEARTED HERBERT was remade by Warners as FATHER IS A PRINCE (1940) with Grant Mitchell assuming the role as the self-centered, egotistical father. Both movies, along with other MacMahon-Kibbee domestic comedies, can be seen and compared whenever presented on Turner Classic Movies. (**1/2)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the score of 8 is rather high, I think it's merited if this short
movie is compared to other B-movies of the era. The "B-movie", if you
don't know, is a low budget short movie (usually about an hour) that
was made as a second feature in a double feature. In other words, you'd
have an "A-picture" (a top film with top stars and budget), a short
film or cartoon (or both), a newsreel and also a B-movie--all for the
price of admission in the 1930s and 40s. Often, people assumed that B's
were bad or ultra-cheap films and while this often was the case, there
were quite a few B's that are actually more entertaining and memorable
than the A's. As for me, I love B's--particularly well-made ones or the
B series films (such as the Crime Doctor or Charlie Chan series, for
As in Kibbee's B-movies, he is the male lead of this one, though Aline MacMahon more than holds her own. In addition to a strong female lead, this is a very unusual Kibbee film because his character is practically the antithesis of the nice but dim guys he usually plays. Oddly, here he plays a rather nasty blow-hard who spends almost the entire film complaining and annoying everyone around him. During practically every waking moment, he is either complaining or lecturing his family on the importance of thrift and being "just plain folks".
When Kibbee's daughter has her future in-laws over, Kibbee's bombastic ways are intolerable and the guests eventually leave because he was so rude. MacMahon, his amazingly patient and co-dependent wife has finally had enough--leading to a funny confrontation when she finally takes his lectures seriously about frugality. When Kibbee brings home an important client, he finds that the lovely furnishings he's taken for granted and excellent meals have all been replaced with old and thrifty versions--mortifying Kibbee.
It's all very funny and charming. While this would have worked only okay at 90 or 100 minutes, since it was a B film, it all was boiled down to a very satisfying and cute hour. A very good example of the genre and a nice introduction to Kibbee--though he is definitely playing against type.
Aline MacMahon is her always wonderful self as the matriarch of a
blue-collar family. The kids in this family have plans extending beyond
the plumbing supplies business, however.
Guy Kibbee is such a likable actor we admire his performance but don't hate him as her skinflint husband.
It contains a scene that presages what is possibly the funniest in movie history: By that I mean the scene in which Irene Dunne masquerades as Cary Grant's sister in that greatest of all comedies, "The Awful Truth." Here we have the upright MacMahon putting on an act when guests come to dinner. The act lives up to her husband's penurious manner and is truly funny and is charming as well.
Under William Keighley's direction, Aline MacMahon provides a most
natural performance as the wife of a big-hearted galoot. Guy Kibbee
plays the galoot and is prone to fits of endless blustering, but
usually foiled by the members of their immediate clan.
The story is somewhat episodic in nature, showing situational aspects of the lives of a not-so- typical suburban family. The idea is that despite Kibbee's many forms of tyranny, they are just regular folks. The design of the family unit and its place in society seems much more thought- provoking than other run of the mill domestic comedies.
Kibbee and MacMahon appeared in ten different motion pictures together during the 1930s and early 1940s.
Big Hearted Herbert (1934)
*** (out of 4)
Charming adaptation of the Broadway play about Herbert (Guy Kibbee), a self-made rich man who is always going off about how he didn't need college, how he had to teach himself everything and his ego has gotten to the point where his family can't take it anymore. With Herbert always screaming and throwing around demands, his wife (Aline MacMahon) decides to give him a taste of his own medicine. BIG HEARTED HERBERT is a comedy but I must admit that I didn't laugh a lot in it. There were a couple big laughs but for the most part I sat there watching the film and never really laughing throughout. So, how can I not laugh at a comedy and still enjoy it so much? Because the two leads are just so downright perfect that you can't help but get wrapped up in the charm of the situation. If you watch enough Warner movies on Turner Classic Movies then you're bound to be familiar with Kibbee who was one of their stock players and showed up in countless movies. He always plays the lovable older fellow but here the screenplay gives him a chance to shout and scream. He's constantly talking about how great he is and telling everyone what he had to do in his life and he expects those around him to follow what he says. This guy is certainly a jerk but Kibbee plays it so perfectly that you never hate him or get to the point where you hope someone punches him out. This is very important because the actor allows the character to really take shape yet he knows how to play it to make sure our feelings don't turn on him. MacMahon is also perfect in her part as the wife as she starts off putting up with the mess but when it's time for the tables to turn she really nails the comedy. I won't ruin what exactly happens but the final ten-minutes are great. This thing clocks in at just 59-minutes so there's really no character development or silly scenes added just to try and beef up the situation. Instead this thing stays pretty close to what you're imagine the story was like on Broadway and the two stars just make this a winner.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This "B" movie domestic comedy runs for less than an hour and, as might be expected, is somewhat dialog bound, with Guy Kibbee spectacularly shooting his mouth off at every opportunity. Fortunately, the other players, particularly Aline MacMahon, do manage to squeeze in a few ripostes to the lead character's constant tirades. Surprisingly, the original stage play had an amazingly successful run on Broadway, clocking up an astonishing 154 performances at the Biltmore with J.C. Nugent and Elizabeth Risdon as the leads. As I said, the movie is quite enjoyable, but far more fascinating still is the trailer thoughtfully provided on the DVD with its real life endorsements by a real-life line-up of real stars. In order: Ann Dvorak, Jimmy Cagney, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Pat O'Brien, Margaret Lindsay and Frank McHugh. Both movie and trailer are available on an excellent Warner Archive DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The hysterically funny Guy Kibbee gives Oscar the Grouch a run for his
money in this domestic comedy about a self-made man who started his own
plumbing company and has achieved some success but barks to anybody who
will listen about how he has remained the same and kept his family
"just plain old folks", downing anybody who went to that "sissy making"
institution known as "college". With his oldest son wanting to avoid
working in the family business and going to college and his daughter
engaged to a college man who has ended up in that wretched profession
known as "lawyer", Kibbee's crotchety personality has pretty much
doubled. It's up to his wife Aline MacMahon to teach papa a lesson,
taking his often repeated phrase "just plain old folks" to a degree of
plainness that practically sends papa into a coronary, especially when
it comes to the ancient portrait of his own domineering father and the
spittoon which has been in the family for generations.
Of the younger actors, Jay Ward stands out as the eager beaver youngest son who is always out to please papa and seems to know even more about him than mama. He claims that by watching papa have his latest tirade, he sees him becoming funnier and funnier with each line. Junior Durkin, the child star who died tragically young, is the oldest son, while pretty Patricia Ellis is the sweet daughter who has returned home with a surprise that worries mama MacMahon and gives papa Kibbee spastics. MacMahon's glamorous sister is played by the statuesque Marjorie Gateson whose regal bearing is tempered with humanity and understanding. MacMahon is always excellent, but it's fun to watch her build up in frustration to Kibbee's constant judgments and her sudden decision to put papa in line. Stealing every moment she's in is the pickle faced Helen Lowell as the laundress who doubles as maid for MacMahon's dinner party.
This fabulously funny late depression comedy is filled with many hysterically funny moments, whether it be Kibbee's double-take upon realizing that his beloved father's portrait is gone (not to mention the spittoon) or MacMahon's sudden appearance looking like Whistler's Mother. Lowell gets a great gag in when she gives papa Kibbee a piece of Apple Pie right in the middle of his gravy soaked dinner plate. Smaller roles played by Henry O'Neill, Hale Hamilton, Claudia Coleman and Nella Walker help add to the confusion as the befuddlement of MacMahon's guests just creates more hilarity. So if somebody in your family becomes just a little too big for their britches yet still claims that they are just simple plain old folks, pull this movie out and show them how someone like Kibbee has to learn humbleness in order to come back down to earth.
Does Guy Kibbee, a popular 1930's character actor, have what it takes
to carry the lead role in an entire movie? This film gives us the
answer: No. But it's fun watching him try.
Kibbee plays the sarcastically-named Big Hearted Herbert, a blowhard who scares neither his family nor his daughter's fiancé with his incessant yelling and complaining. In most movies, Kibbee provides comic relief as a blustery background character, which is usually great. But his non-stop bellowing throughout an entire film is too much of a good thing, particularly because Kibbee's one-note acting style doesn't display at any sweet or lovable side of his personality. Only the eye-rolling and put-downs of the other cast members hint that Big Hearted Herbert is really a softy. It's kind of like watching Jackie Gleason play Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners, except that the richer and more successful Big Hearted Herbert is a way less sympathetic character, and the more talented Gleason was able to demonstrate occasional warmth.
But despite this, the film is actually fun to watch. The cast does a great job of dragging Big Hearted Herbert into reluctantly accepting the lifestyles of his son and daughter. Apparently Herbert hates lawyers, which is a problem, because his daughter wants to marry one. (Imagine how many issues Big Hearted Herbert would have in the 21st century, when his daughter would want to become one!) And his son doesn't want to go into the family business that Herbert worked so hard to build. It's all mostly handled in a lighthearted way, except toward the end, when Big Hearted Herbert's wife has to threaten some drastic action to drag Herbert into developing a more enlightened viewpoint.
So spend an hour with this movie, have a very pleasant time, and gain a better understanding of why the talented Mr. Kibbee was relegated to minor parts for most of his career.
Those who grew up hearing moralistic stories from their elders about
how hard their childhoods were and how such rugged upbringings foster
an appreciation for all things valuable might be surprised to watch
this film from 1934--in the midst of the depression--whose main
character, Herbert, is just such a person.
With a running time of about one hour, "Big Hearted Herbert" is a one-note comedy about a blowhard who loves to pontificate. Proud to be one of the common folk, he continually decries anything not status quo, including his family's wishes for higher education or changes in the home décor.
This film lampoons traditionalism for its own sake. It also suggests that it is not evil or immoral to enjoy life.
Guy Kibbee plays Herbert. His long-suffering wife Elizabeth is played by Aline MacMahon. One reviewer compared this film to "The Honeymooners". I do see a similarity between MacMahon's portrayal and Audrey Meadows' Alice Kramden.
In the end, the family finds a way to teach Herbert a lesson.
This is not the funniest comedy, but it is an interesting glimpse into depression era life.
|Page 1 of 2:|| |
|Ratings||External reviews||Plot keywords|
|Main details||Your user reviews||Your vote history|