On Borrowed Time (1939) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Young Pud is orphaned and left in the care of his aged grandparents. The boy and his cantankerous old grandfather become inseparable friends. But Gramps is concerned for his grandson's future and wary of a scheming relative who seeks Pud's custody. One day Mr. Brink--an agent of Death--arrives to take Gramps "to the land where the woodbine twineth." Through a bit of trickery, Gramps confines Mr. Brink, and thus Death, to the top of an old apple tree, giving Gramps extra time to resolve issues about Pud's future.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • When Mr. Brink (Death) comes to keep an appointment with a young married couple, the result is a now orphaned boy left behind. His family affectionately calls this boy John Pud, including his Gramps, Julian. Pud goes to live with his wheelchair-ridden Gramps and his Granny. Pud deceased father was a wealthy doctor who had left a tidy sum of $50,000 to his son in case of his death, and this brings out a greedy relative named Demetria who tries her mightiest to prove that Gramps is an unfit guardian for Pud so that she will inherit the cash.

    When it was time to bury Puds parents, Gramps who is not a religious man was touched by the priests eulogy and he makes a large contribution to said priest. Pud tells Gramps that now because of this good deed Gramps performed, he is granted one wish. Gramps makes that wish rather hastily not too long after when a neighboring child is up in his apple tree stealing his apples. Gramps wishes that any person who climbs his tree would never be able to come down unless given permission by Gramps himself.

    The wish comes true, and when Mr. Brink comes to take Gramps to his final resting place, Gramps tricks Mr. Brink to climb the tree as a last request for a taste of one of his tasty apples. When Mr. Brink finds himself stuck up in the tree and unable to descend, there is suddenly no more death in the world. When Gramps is seen and heard talking aloud to his apple tree (since no one is able to see Mr. Brink but he and Pud), it makes it even easier for Demetria to prove that Gramps had lost his marbles.

    Gramps must prove that there is a person in his tree to the psychiatric authorities and police, and also prove that it is the Angel of Death stuck in the tree as well. He starts by challenging the two authorities to kill a fly; if they were able then hed go with them to the asylum. When they find that they cannot in fact kill the fly, one of the men dishonors the deal and tries to take Gramps anyway. Just then Gramps pulls out a gun and shoots the man in the abdomen.

    Gramps decides that he should let Mr. Brink down from the tree to restore balance to the earth, knowing that Gramps will be the first one Mr. Brink has to take to the other side. He breaks it to Pud, but Pud runs away in tears believing that Gramps must not love him if he wants to leave him like this. Pud is found out by the tree later and getting tricked by Mr. Brink to touch the tree and die. Pud instead falls off the tall fence that Gramps built to keep people away from the tree and breaks his neck and dies. Gramps now goes to Mr. Brink in mercy and asks to be released from life. Pud is suddenly awake and Gramps is able to stand on his own feet for the first time in years. Mr. Brink gives them both an I told you so about how this is not to be feared. The three of them make their way to heaven to meet the dead dog and of course Granny and Puds parents.

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