This is a story about family relationships, set in the time before and during the American Civil War. Ethan Wilkins is a poor and honest man who ministers to the human soul, while his son ... See full summary »
This is a story about family relationships, set in the time before and during the American Civil War. Ethan Wilkins is a poor and honest man who ministers to the human soul, while his son Jason yearns to be a doctor, helping people in the earthly realm. It is a rich story about striving for excellence, the tension of father-son rebellion, and the love of a mother that can never die. Written by
President Lincoln quotes from William Shakespeare's "As You Like It": "Blow, blow, thou winter wind. / Thou art not so unkind / As man's ingratitude [...] / Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky, / That dost not bite so nigh / As benefits forgot..." (Act II. Scene 7) See more »
Rev. Ethan Wilkins:
[after Jason has rejected and mocked the old black coat that sister Clarke has donated him]
Pride... Pride and selfishness. They're out of place in our family, Jason. Unless you conquer them they're going to make you unhappy, and those who love you unhappy, too. All you seem to think about is that "doctor book."
Well, suppose I do? I'd rather save bodies than souls any day!
Rev. Ethan Wilkins:
I'm sorry you said that, son. Sorry you mistake that cold frankness of yours for courage. Come outside, please.
Now, wait a...
[...] See more »
Though both Walter Huston and James Stewart were billed above her, Of Human Hearts is really about Beulah Bondi and what she does for her small family. It's probably her best performance on screen.
The setting is ante-bellum Ohio and the Wilkins family has just arrived. Walter Huston is to be the new minister for the town. It's a poor place he's been sent and the family lives on hand me downs, castaways, and the charity of the community.
In the pious tradition of his profession Walter Huston accepts this as part of the price for his calling to the ministry. Son Gene Reynolds who grows up to be James Stewart cannot accept this. He's a bright kid and gravitates towards Charles Coburn, the town doctor. His mind turns towards medicine and he makes up his mind to become a doctor.
That puts him in conflict with Huston and poor Beulah is caught in the middle between them.
Walter Huston played three preachers on screen, the uptight Reverend Davidson in Rain, the satirical Sin Killer Jubal Crabby in Duel in the Sun and Reverend Ethan Wilkins here. Of the three of them, Ethan Wilkins is the best man and the best performance.
The conflict is generational and what gets the audience involved is that they can absolutely see both points of view. Huston is not some bible thumping clown, he feels his call very deeply and he's not stupid. One of my favorite scenes is Huston outsmarting Guy Kibbee and Charley Grapewin when try to sell him a defective horse.
James Stewart gives voice and interpretation to every young man who wants to go out in the world see something more and accomplish more than he would in staying in a backwater town. Very similar to his performance in It's A Wonderful Life. Come to think of it, Beulah Bondi was his mother there too.
Beulah is the star. In How Green Was My Valley the adult Hugh Morgan says that while Dad was the head of the house, Mother was it's heart. It could be applied here even better. After Huston dies, Bondi sacrifices everything and lives as a pauper for her son to go to medical school and become a doctor. Stewart graduates, but the Civil War begins and he enlists.
Bondi doesn't hear from him for almost three years and she writes to President Lincoln to find out about him. For what happens and how Lincoln deals with the situation you'll have to see the film. But her performance will tug at you if you are made of stone.
John Carradine plays a very good Lincoln. He certainly has the lean,tall body, angular features, and deep voice to be a convincing one. I'm surprised he was never again cast as Lincoln.
The other performance of note I would single out is Guy Kibbee. He's the town Babbitt, a part he was certainly familiar with. It's a pleasure to see how Huston deals with him.
A really fine and poignant tale that I can't recommend too highly.
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