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We saw this film sometime in the late 1980's on the old AMC. You
remember AMC, the station that didn't like colorized or edited movies.
That showed films how they were meant to. Well enough of that.
The HAPPY LAND was one (1) of those fine WWII films that gave you a peek of what the home front was like and the effects the war had upon it. This was effectively and economically done. Not as long as SINCE YOU WENT AWAY or the HUMAN COMEDY more in line with the FIGHTING SULLIVANS another seldom seen home front film. Or at least seldom seen since AMC went to seed.
The importance of these films is to give a glimpse into the lives of our parents or grandparents and not just the war, but the effects of rationing, personal loss and the fear that we could lose. Many young people have no concept what a close run thing WWII was. Not that we would have been conquered. But that Asia and Europe would have been dominated by two (2) powers both with a race superiority agendas. The NAZI Germans who wanted to create a master race and Imperial Japan who thought they WERE the master race.
The film as far as we know is unavailable on any video format. Seems like a shame when so much bad material is rushed to DVD. 20th Century Fox should do something about this. After all they have released A YANK IN THE R.A.F which main claim to fame is Betty Grable and Tyrone Power.
Years ago (1980's) I happened on this film just as it was beginning on AMC. At that time I was a newly licensed pharmacist (less than 5 years experience.) I couldn't stop watching it. There on the screen was the story of a druggist like I'd always thought it should be--respected in his community, devoted to his fellow citizens' health, and always available night and day. This was the life I'd thought I was supposed to have before the reality of modern health insurance had fully settled on me. Don Ameche played the role perfectly. Harry Carry as the ghost of 'Gramps', Ameche's grandpa and druggist mentor, could not have been better cast. The central role of the Marsh drugstore was also perfectly set. This was like being in the era. Even a non-pharmacist would find this to be a charming look at an older generations' simpler life. Even with a world-war raging, the drugstore with its soda fountain and variety of dry goods was always there. People met their future spouses at the soda fountain, were able to find just the right remedy for what ailed and could get there favorite bath oils,etc. This is a must-see film for any pharmacist or anyone else who longs for the good-old-days. Anyone would find the story moving and even though most scenes take place in the drugstore, there is plenty of story to keep your attention. This film should be released on DVD. I know every pharmacist would want a copy.
I thought this was a wonderfully nostalgic movie. The acting is well done, and the end is just a real tear-jerker. It brings back the feelings that I believe really did exist in WWII, right down to the fateful trip the girl from Western Union had to make to deliver the telegram that said his son died. Excitement, no. A few laughs, yes. Great nostelgic drama with a good story line.
Finding this oddity on cable recently, I was quickly seduced by its
sequence, a Welles-like plunge down main street into a small everytown's
heart, Marsh's pharmacy. Here, as some clever camera work reveals, solid
citizen Lew Marsh (Don Ameche) tends to the blisses of early 40's
America; everyone's prescription is filled, sundaes topped off with a
cherry, local oddballs humored, etc.
What most recommends the film is its frame narrative. Quickly the idyll is broken when Marsh learns his son has been killed in the war. He sinks into a lengthy depression. Enter the ghost of Gramp to conduct psychotherapy: he spirits Marsh back into the past where we relive the childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood of the now-dead Rusty. While the mid-section unfolds linearly, Marsh and Gramp function offscreen as a Greek chorus (their melancholy dialogue often a grim counterpoint to the generally cheerful scenes). Then it's back to the present where an exorcized Marsh learns to stop questioning the wisdom of sacrificing young men in war. "Rusty died a good death," Gramp's ghost counsels, and we know it's only a matter of time before Marsh will agree.
Three years before "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946), "Happy Land" was already hijacking the "Christmas Carol" device of reliving the past on a therapeutic sightseeing tour. Unlike the Stewart film, though, the tone is more darkly somber, lingeringly mournful. The theme of sorrow outweighs the theme of recovery. Ameche looks and sounds wracked, bitter.
In fact, the film's heart is scarcely in its chief enterprise, which is to steel its audience for more wartime sacrifice. It seems at times almost to be working against its own message that war deaths are "good deaths." I imagine it may have helped salve some broken hearts, but the crime of this type of film is that, if it succeeds, it only helps to break more.
I loved this movie and I highly suggest you catch this movie if you
can. If for the very least, to see Harry Morgan (aka the crusty Col.
Potter from TV's M*A*S*H) back when he was just a kid at 28 years old.
The other reason is it's a sweet and warm story of a small town family and how it deals with post WWII. The film's cinematography is a vivid Hallmark card of 1940s Americana.
There's a really tender scene where Morgan, a recent vet from the war, helps Don Ameche, the father of a fellow soldier stock the shelves of Ameche's Pharmacy. The art direction of this film is amazing as well.
Also look for Morgan as the mysterious bad guy in "The Big Clock" circa 1948 with Ray Milland which has an analagous plot line to "No Way Out" with Kevin Costner.
Don Ameche's son is killed in WW II. Can grandpa Harry Carey, returning
from the dead, convince a grieving Ameche that his life, his son's
life, and this whole war is worth his son's sacrifice, and get Ameche
to believe his small town is indeed HAPPY LAND?
Despite a wonderful opening sequence, reminiscent of the homespun melancholy of the better parts of Our Town and Since You Went Away, this is a rather superficial and bland treatment of the grief of a good, if temporarily embittered man, whose son has died in the war. Ameche, a decent enough actor, does not have skill to bring off his role, and Harry Carey, with his mono-tonal voice, and facial expressions running the gamut of emotions from A to B, makes conversations about life and death as enchanting as a conversation about whether to pick up milk at the store. The result might be truly Midwestern in its emotions, but it's questionable whether that's a good thing.
Much of the movie is flashbacks to the life of Ameche's child (though, interestingly, we do not see the kid actually fighting in the war). There's nothing especially interesting in the flashbacks, nor, really, is there much there that would provide comfort to Ameche. A final scene, where Ameche learns from a young Harry Morgan how his son died heroically, works somewhat better, simply because Morgan's flat Midwestern delivery and Ameche's flat Midwestern delivery grounds what has been rather leaden supernatural stuff in a bit of reality. Whether Ameche, under these circumstances, would find the will to go on again after all this, is questionable.
A comparison between this film and It's A Wonderful Life is inevitable, as they deal with the same basic situation. This film, far more low key and far less extreme than the Stuart/Capra collaboration, might be more appealing to folks who prefer their fantastic/supernatural cinema to be realistic. But to this viewer, the far more dramatic events and emotional acting of Stuart makes his movie more fun to watch and, oddly enough, more believable.
Assessment -- Don't avoid this movie. You might like it. Alas, I did not.
Saw this movie with my family in 1943 at age 10. We all liked it, even though it made us sad. Seems like it starts with Rusty already dead, killed in the war. Then there are flashbacks to his childhood. What it said to me back then was: war makes no sense. I'm not sure that's what was intended.
I reviewed this back in 2001 and since then I have found it on DVD. I did a Google search for the title and I eventually came up with a place that sells self-copied movies that have fallen into the public domain. These folks had a ton of movies I never even heard of! I purchased a copy and it came in a case with a "home-made" cover insert as well. The quality of the copy was good. Sorry but it has been several years since I purchased it so I cannot give you a link - but Google it and you will most likely find it. Will also throw in a comment on another post- I loved the old AMC - uncut, no commercials, no colorized movies. What happened along the way? It was great having all those movies with no interruptions. I suppose they figured out that you can make a lot more $$$ by doing it the way they do now. It's a shame cause they played movies you absolutely cannot find.
When Randy Marsh is killed in action during WWII, his father, Lew (Don Ameche), takes it very hard. He is depressed and wonders if the loss was worth it. Fortunately, God takes pity on him and sends Lew's dead father (Harry Carey) back to help him through the death. Magically, dead dad transforms Lew back in time and they view Lew's life as well as Randy as he grows to manhood. It's all very nostalgic as well as highly reminiscent of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"--and that is a fundamental weakness of the film. It IS derivative and it also puts forth a strange message that the boy's death wasn't so bad after all. Clearly the film was intended as propaganda in order to try to get the public to accept the necessity of their sons' deaths fighting the Axis powers. Fortunately, following this weird ghostly meeting, the film works very well when one of Randy's pals (Harry Morgan) arrives to visit with the Marsh family. Overall, while I wasn't thrilled by the style of the film (i.e., the ghost story element), the film worked very well because of the great acting and the lovely way the film was directed. Worth seeing even if by today's standards it's a bit old fashioned.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think rating this picture a '4' is about right... it shows a slice of
wholesome American life in reprise as Don Ameche reviews the life of
his son who has just been killed in WW2. The story starts off with
everyone upbeat and happy - then a telegram comes with the bad news.
Rusty has been killed in action.
Ameche is too immersed in his sorrow to go back to work at the family drugstore; then to his disbelief, his long-dead grandfather reappears from the past to help him work through his memories of Rusty's life, and see how rich and full it was despite being cut so short. At the end of the movie, Harry Morgan arrives; he's a good friend of Rusty's and comes to meet his late friend's parents, and tell them how nobly their son died.
It's all nice enough, I guess, a very prim and proper movie showing life in a simpler, more patriotic time. Now... maybe I over-analyze things, but I'm wondering this: if Ameche's grandfather (who is also Rusty's great-grandfather) could appear from the dead, why couldn't Rusty himself have done so? The old man seems as real and 'visible' as anything to Ameche (once he accepts that he's not imagining it all) as the old guy pays him a visit to help him through his grief; he talks about Rusty being 'gone' now, but hey, he's no more gone than you are, old timer! Why didn't you bring him with?
I think Henry Morgan's short role in this movie is one of the best I've ever seen him in; he's still very young here, younger than you've probably ever seen him, and his part has some emotion to it which he handles very well. I think in his short part he out-acted everyone else in the whole film. And, I think if we'd have had just one glimpse at the very end of Rusty appearing before his dad to say 'Don't be sad, pop, I'm okay where I am....' it would have made the earlier part with the old guy a lot more credible and it would have given a good feeling to the ending of the story, reminding people that maybe this isn't all there is to our existence.
It's a nice movie, flawed in that major regard for me - just that one change of having Rusty make one appearance from 'beyond' would have turned the whole thing around for me. So, I'll give it a four as an artifact of the days of WW2 and an earlier version of America now gone.
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