The Most Precious Thing in Life is a 1934 American film directed by Lambert Hillyer and starring Richard Cromwell, Jean Arthur, Donald Cook, Anita Louise, and Mary Forbes. The film tells a ...
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The Most Precious Thing in Life is a 1934 American film directed by Lambert Hillyer and starring Richard Cromwell, Jean Arthur, Donald Cook, Anita Louise, and Mary Forbes. The film tells a story about secret and selfless maternal devotion with elements of Madame X (1929) and Stella Dallas (1937). It is the third film of Jean Arthur with Columbia.
Jean Arthur ages only 25 years but it looks more like 50 in this mother love story of a young innocent girl who weds the campus jock (Donald Cook) and after a brief unhappy marriage, is forced to give up rights to her son (Richard Cromwell) as an adult due to her husband's devotion to his imperious parents rather than to her. She becomes a caretaker to spoiled rich college kids at the very same college where she met Cook, and by chance, one of her charges turns out to be the son who believes her to be dead. She takes this opportunity to mother him, looking much older than her 40-something years thanks to no make-up (other than lines added around her eyes) and a granny (minus the tweety bird) hairdo. She is even directed to stoop so it makes it appear that she has a slight hump. It makes you wonder what has happened to her during those years for her to end up working as a "biddy" where her co-worker is played by the matronly Jane Darwell.
Ironically, Darwell's pretty daughter (Anita Louise) falls in love with Cromwell and after Arthur finds out, she is determined that what happened to her won't happen to her son and the young girl who is almost the spitting image of what she used to look like. Yet, Arthur retains her spunk, speaking up when Cromwell acts like a spoiled brat and later when Cook shows up for a visit. Of mother love stories, this is one of the weakest, and of the many leading ladies who allowed themselves to be aged from young heroine to old ladies over the years, Arthur's portrayal doesn't work simply because it is directed to look totally contrived. Better themes of this nature were Martha Scott ("Cheers For Miss Bishop"), Claudette Colbert ("Remember the Day"), Barbara Stanwyck ("The Great Man's Lady"), Greer Garson ("Mrs. Parkington"), Bette Davis ("Mr. Skeffington") and Jane Wyman ("The Blue Veil").
This has been released on DVD with a few other obscure Jean Arthur movies from her early Columbia years. I saw it years ago through a now defunct video company which specialized in public domain movies which for some reason were not picked up by the usual distributors of public domain movies. The print was faded and the sound iffy, so to see the great print that has been officially released shows even more how weak this one is compared to other similar movies. Arthur tries her hardest to create a real character, but I'm afraid that a truly poor script is what defeats her in the end.
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