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The Carletons make a living as card sharps and finding new suckers to mooch off of. When their latest scam backfires, they are asked to leave Monte Carlo. At the train station, they meet a kind old woman named Miss Fortune. The elderly lady is very wealthy and very lonely. As a reward for saving her life after the train derails, Miss Fortune invites the Carletons to come live with her. The family hopes that by winning her affection, they can eventually be named sole beneficiaries in her will. But will a change of heart soften their mercenary feelings before that time comes? Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
While producer David O. Selznick was best-known for his epic productions and romantic dramas, he occasionally dabbled in comedy - with the most satisfying result, perhaps, being the Carole Lombard Technciolor vehicle NOTHING SACRED (1937). THE YOUNG IN HEART, however, isn't too far behind and it's an unjustly neglected comedy classic!
The film deals with the money-grabbing exploits of a family of con artists comprising father Roland Young, mother Billie Burke, and their two offsprings - Janet Gaynor and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - which, basically, hinges on Young passing himself off as a distinguished veteran of the British campaign in India (actually he and his wife were stage actors and he had played such a military role in Canada: its characteristics have stuck all these many years - and the title of Colonel with them!). In fact, when we first see them, Fairbanks is about to marry into a wealthy family at a chic Riviera setting but their scam is discovered at the last minute and, rather than being thrown into jail, are given a ticket each to go do their 'work' elsewhere! They find themselves on a train bound for London, where they meet a lonely old lady (Minnie Dupree) who has suddenly found her former lover's fortune in her lap; the Carletons (the con-artist family's assumed name) believe it to be a golden opportunity and, it appears, that even Fate is willing to lend them a hand as the train is wrecked and they save the old lady's life - after which they're invited to stay with her as long as they like!!
Pursuing them to London is a penniless Scotsman (a debuting Richard Carlson) - named Duncan Macrae! - who had fallen for Gaynor, even if he's aware of her true nature; Fairbanks' love interest, on the other hand, is provided by a sexy Paulette Goddard. The Carletons, however, are anxious that Dupree doesn't become aware of their ultimate intentions - so they propose to demonstrate to her (and her suspicious solicitor, played by Henry Stephenson) that they're self-sufficient: Young and Fairbanks are, thus, sent off by the women in search of work
the horrified look on the two men's faces on their first day as
normal salary-earners (accompanied by Chopin's funereal march on the soundtrack) is priceless! However, they both manage to make good of it
at which no one's more surprised than the family itself: Young is
promoted from car salesman (his demonstration of "The Flying Wombat" - what passes for a futuristic car in 1938 - is a highlight of the film) to manager, while Fairbanks sets his mind on engineering...though it doesn't hurt to have a boss like Goddard! By the film's end, of course, the family - save for perennially ditzy Burke - has reformed under the benevolent influence of too-good-to-be-true Dupree, while Gaynor is re-united with Carlson and Doug Jr. marries Paulette.
The comedy here is provided mainly through brilliant dialogue, but a few charming sight gags (including the presence of a scruffy little dog and a penguin!) are nicely integrated; Selznick's typically glossy production values (cinematographer Leon Shamroy, composer Franz Waxman and production designer William Cameron Menzies - enough said!) also lend the film a definite sophistication, while the acting is uniformly faultless: nominal leads Gaynor (whose last film this was until a 1957 comeback!) and Fairbanks weren't renowned for playing comedy but, here, they both demonstrate a deft light touch; the ever-reliable (and delightful) Young has one of his best roles; as for Goddard and Carlson, they both manage to rise above the limits imposed by their supporting roles.
If one had to put in a negative word, one might say that Burke's absent-minded matriarch is a bit much (though the fount of undeniable hilarity) and that the inherent sentimentality which marks the family's turnabout is not only an acquired taste (in fact, both Leslie Halliwell and Leonard Maltin tend to de-emphasize this aspect in their glowing assessment of the film!) but even unwarranted in a screwball comedy - though, ultimately, it's perhaps too genteel to be considered as such...but, then, what do you call a film with a scene in which Dupree is herself seen recklessly driving the speeding car, to the consternation of passenger Stephenson!! Still, all of this is negligible when stacked against the film's overwhelming positive qualities, as both craft and entertainment: this is truly one of the best comedies in an era full of such films...
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