One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Amazing Little Film with Amazing Performances by Unlikely Actors
A 60-ish woman owns a waterfront chowder house, simultaneously endearing herself to the community through good works, so much so that a big party is held for her to mark the restaurant's 25th anniversary. Meanwhile, we see a down-and-out, bearded hobo who thumbs a ride from a man who then holds up a gas station, shoots the service clerk, knocks out the hobo, and leaves a gun with him so as to deflect the blame as he drives off. The hobo is arrested. Back at the chowder house we learn that the kindly old woman's happiness is torn because some 15 years earlier, her teenage son ran off and she has not heard from him since, but she's sure he's still alive. A friendly reporter prints this story, including a photo of the woman holding a picture of her late husband. The arrested hobo sees the newspaper photo and gets in touch with her, saying that he is her long lost son. She then moves heaven and earth to raise bail for him, even mortgaging her restaurant. The hospitalized service station attendant finally dies without waking, so that he cannot verify the hobo's claim. He is then rearrested. The old woman's assistant has fallen for the hobo (who lived there between confinements), even though she and the reporter have an understanding. When she asks the old woman what else can be done for her son - and this would be the first 'spoiler', but the viewer will know this for better than half the movie - the old woman tells her that he is NOT her son, and she has known this almost from the moment of his 'return', but she will do everything possible because she does believe he is innocent. But, and this is the second spoiler (it, too, is known to the viewer by the middle of the film), the hobo, swearing her to secrecy, tells the girl to dissuade the old woman and the reporter from searching out the actual killer, because that man is actually the woman's real son, and he (the hobo) would rather go to jail for the crime than destroy her faith in her missing son. (He recognized this upon seeing the photo of the woman's late husband, as the newspaper story claimed that her son was a dead ringer for her late husband, and the killer is certainly that.) The remainder of the story is a bit convoluted, what with the old lady and reporter doing a real investigation to find the killer - it becomes almost a mini-procedural at this point -, the hobo and the girl trying to keep the killer's identity a secret, the reporter gradually realizing that if that identity is learned and the hobo exonerated, he will almost certainly lose the girl to the innocent man, etc. There are several more surprises to come, and an amazing admission near the end by the elderly woman. Whatever this may read like, the execution of the film is just about perfect. Other than the reporter's natural exuberance, the film is almost incredibly underacted for its time, and every role in the film, right down to actors with only a line or two to speak (and there are almost 70 speaking roles in the movie), is beautifully cast and wonderfully done. The great surprise of the film is that it stars Mary Boland as the old woman. Boland was one of 20th century America's greatest high comediennes, who specialized both on screen and stage in playing rather loud, slightly gauche-and-vulgar-but-lovable social-climbing middle aged wives and mothers. She did so to absolute perfection in RUGGLES OF RED GAP, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and THE WOMEN, to name only three of the dozens of films she appeared in, and this was a total turn-around from everything she was famous for; it must have been something of a shock to the movie-goers of her day. Anyway, she acts it so convincingly that you simply cannot envisage her ever having played comedy in her life. The same goes for Donald Woods as her purported son, who gives such an understated performance throughout that it's hard to believe he also played Perry Mason and Ellery Queen. Julie Bishop is lovely as the young lady, but she attained far greater fame on Broadway, most memorably as the crippled daughter of Laurette Taylor in the original GLASS MENAGERIE. The reporter is played by one of the great semi-leading men and character actors of his time, Wallace Ford (the original "George" on Broadway in OF MICE AND MEN). Although a tough, hard-nosed scribe, the pure emotion of his performance when weighing a good story against the friendship he feels for the old woman comes through and is both telling and the mark of a superb actor. There are loads of terrific character actors in smaller roles - dozens, like Thomas E. Jackson, Charles Middleton, Herbert Rawlinson, etc. Finally, the old woman's real and villainous son - a convincingly smiling villain at that - is played by Anthony Nace, who made only a relative handful of films but should have made more. All in all, a first-rate piece of work out of the old Hollywood studio system, and it should be better known. I have rated it a very high '9' because it does perfectly what it sets out to do - provide drama, excitement, sentimentality, intelligent dialogue, and fine performances - and does it all in less than 75 minutes. There is not a character in this film you will not care about!
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