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This is a biography of Hetty Green, the Witch of Wall Street, a woman
who went head to head with the other robber barons of the Gilded Age
and who usually came out ahead. They had to change the name for fear of
lawsuit by her heirs. It was the common, if apocryphal story of how she
made her son go to a free clinic, rather than pay a doctor that sent
the lawyers at the studio screaming for a cover name for the character.
In truth, Mrs. Green was a monstrously greedy character who, if she did not sell tainted pork to the Union Army, as did her fellow Robber Baron, Armour, did go to free clinics herself, rather than pay for medical treatment. She also forged her aunt's will and tried to bribe the judge in the case, but those are mere trifles in her story.
Almost inevitably, the writers soften her character, making her more sinned against than sinner in love, and the anonymous benefactress of scrubwomen and so forth. Doubtless people would have refused to see the real story, because there was no real story beyond a woman living a tough life, going head-to-head in the man's world of Wall Street and doing it well. Enough of a story for me, perhaps, but not enough to sell the studios.
The performances are sterling, and May Robson is having a lot of fun playing an out-and-out villainess, much as Edward Arnold would the next year, playing Jim Fisk, the man who precipitated the Panic of 1869. That's softened too. Still, actors love playing villain. They have fun, and the audience does, too. So have some fun and see this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
May Robson stars as wealthy woman Hannah Bell in "You Can't Buy Everything" from 1934, in the days when studios cranked out these kind of films with assembly-line precision. Robson portrays a very wealthy woman who does not live like one. She is a notorious cheapskate, living in a seedy apartment, wearing old tattered clothing, making her sick young son stay in a free ward in a hospital, and guarding her money in the bank like a hawk. Hannah has become a bitter old woman, stemming from a beau (Lewis Stone) who rejected her from 30 years earlier. Her vendetta against him borders on the pathological at times, and when her now grown son (William Blakewell) wants to marry he ex-beau's daughter, trouble ensues. Hannah tries to destroy her ex-beau, through a bank scare in the early 1900's, alienating her now married son. This is not a perfect film, but May Robson is wonderful, as she was in every film from this era. There are some fine supporting performances as well. The ending is a bit on the fairy-tale side, but Robson is the main reason to watch.
I saw this movie over 40 years ago and could never remember the title. I was fascinated by Ms Robson's acting. I finally went to Turner Classic Movies and wrote a short summary of what I remembered. Needless to say they were showing the movie the following week. I had several friends watch it with me. We all loved it. My cousin, who was in pain with Cancer, watched and forgot her terrible pain for the whole movie. That is the magnitude this film had. My other friends that watched the film, either hated black and white films or hated old movies before the 1960's. They both sat still and watched the entire film, without taking a restroom break.
May Robson plays Hannah Bell--the cheapest and nastiest woman in Manhattan. The film begins with her taking her son to a charity ward--and you soon learn she is one of the richest women in Manhattan and is just too cheap to get the boy better treatment! You also see that she's not just cheap but amazingly bitter and just plain nasty. Much of the film consists of watching this horrible lady treat those around her with contempt. Why she is so bitter and how her ex-fiancé relates to this is an interesting thing you learn late in the film. You also see how tough it is to be the son of this wretched woman, as her son (now grown) is miserable because of her nasty ways. All in all, a fascinating portrait--especially because it's based on a real woman--the infamous Hetty Green. Green did several of the things you see Robson do in the film (such as seeking her boy treatment at a clinic for indigent patients) and was, by all accounts, a horrible old miser. But, being a Hollywood film, the film also tacks on a redemption and happy ending--something that did NOT happen to Green. All in all, a fascinating film and a dandy acting job for Robson who is in top form playing a cranky old prune. Worth seeing.
On the surface, this appears to be the story of Hannah, a female
Scrooge, based on a true person.
It's really the story of Kate and the doctor, as they see the events unravel before their eyes.
That is good, because Kate and the doctor are the characters we can identify with. We study the mystery of Hannah's hate with them.
So it isn't important what the facts of Hannah's life are, and why she lets her hatred destroy her relationship with her only child, the only person she cares for.
What is important is that this is the story of Kate and the doctor trying to learn why Hannah has this hate, because they are interested in free health and dental clinics. That's why they are the true main characters here. Much as Hawkeye Pierce, Bronco Lane, and the Virginian are the main characters in their TV shows, this is a movie in which the main characters are the sane observers, representing the "Everyman" while the story revolves around a "guest star" with issues.
Hannah definitely has "issues". The film does a good job of developing the story, and giving us the romance angle of her son and the daughter of the man she hates.
Very good storyline about what greed does to us. Maybe more of todays generation needs to see this movie. The cantankerous Hanna was well played. Lewis Stone was a very good actor. I remember him as Andy Hardy's father.
The story opens in the late 1800's with May Robson taking her son to the hospital, where she portrays herself as poor and unable to pay. It soon becomes evident that she is actually a very rich woman, albeit a penny-pincher. As her son grows up she continues her tightfisted ways but learns a painful lesson in the process. A sweet story with a good moralistic message.
story has interesting twists of romantic history of main character. The image of tightwad is dispelled as she is deep down caring and sharing except with herself and her son. The ending is predictable yet unfolds with a turn to make it enjoyable.
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