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While the years may not have been entirely kind to "The Human Comedy,"
have certainly been kinder than some of the comments I've seen here, the
venom and churlish malice of which frankly astonish me.
In 1943, M-G-M commissioned author William Saroyan to develop a screen story about the World War II homefront. The result was this, which Howard Estabrook turned into a screenplay and Saroyan himself expanded into a novel -- which explains why the film was released before the book was published.
Yes, "The Human Comedy" is propaganda, but with a difference. Most of the propaganda of WWII arose from anger and grim determination, and films like "Air Force" and "Operation Tokyo" look excessive and embarrassing now that passions have cooled. The propaganda of "The Human Comedy" rises not from anger but from fear -- the fear that the crucible of war might be too harsh for the spirit of small-town America to survive.
To be honest, much of "The Human Comedy" also looks excessive and embarrassing now the fears have been alleviated. But few films struck such a chord in audiences of the time by showing them, if not as they were, then at least as they liked to picture themselves.
The film's appeal now is more than just as a historical curiosity, however. Despite the Andy Hardy sentimentality and Saroyan's blue-collar pseudo-poetry, "The Human Comedy" has much to recommend it if you can resist viewing it through the prism of our own time, with the war safely won these 50 years. It has, for example, one of Mickey Rooney's best and most restrained performances and a charming performance by Jackie "Butch" Jenkins as his baby brother -- he became a child star on the strength of this film, but was never this good again.
Frank Morgan, too, is first-rate as a sad old man taking pride in his work and refuge in his bottle; Morgan was an idiosyncratic actor, but he was capable of great depth and deserves to be known for something besides "The Wizard of Oz." Director Clarence Brown, now sadly neglected, shows once again his sure touch with Americana and his sensitive handling of child and teen actors.
"The Human Comedy" is a bit cloying, perhaps, but it's also a compassionate and generous-spirited film. It deserves to be regarded with the same generosity.
Way, way back in the 9th grade, in the early 60's, our principal canceled
all our afternoon classes and had the entire 9th grade meet in the
room (lunchroom without the tables) so he could show us this movie on a
mm projector. That's how strongly he felt about this movie. He pointed
out, afterwards, that this is a fable, about how life could be
After a few decades I bought the video and watched it - not from the viewpoint of comparing it to today's movies, but in the context of what my old principal told us. Just to see if the old impressions held up in light of today's jaded world. It did, and I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed it.
Note that the name of the town is Ithica, that two of the main characters are named Homer and Ulysses, & that the story is introduced from a "heavenly voice from above". All mythological references.
It is showing us how life could be, maybe should be, even with life's tragedies. Not too often, even back then, do you see a family saying their prayers, then discussing them. And, yes, it'd be great if male macho rivalries were settled that easily. And it'd be great if non-relative adults would take the time to help young adults improve (without worrying about ulterior motives). It's all what-ifs, but great what ifs.
Mickey Rooney was never better, and most of the cast was excellent. I highly recommend this movie only if you are aware of what you are really watching. 4/5
The Human Comedy begins with the voice of the deceased father describing life in the small town of Ithaca California. He slowly introduces the viewer to his family in such a warm and loving way, that you are convinced that love really does survive death. The movie goes on to follow the lives of the family as they cope with the daily trials and tribulations of life in war time America. To those of us removed by time from this era, this movie transports you back to a place where values such as patriotism, neighborliness, compassion and community are alive and vibrate in the hearts and souls of those living through the war on America's home front. This movie never fails to move me every time I view it. There is really something magical about the confluence of events, from the voice and ghostly appearance of the recently deceased father, to the flesh and blood everyday characters that populate the film, to the young soldier who never had a family and comes to Ithica to fufill his own dream. What a movie! And the most surprising element of the entire story is the fact that even though told from the vantage point of the dead, the movie is totally and refreshenly life affirming. One of the most heart warming movies I have ever seen, I cannot recommend it enough.
I first saw this film on TV as a child in the 1960s and thought it
delightful and sad. All the characters learn about the values of life,
family, honesty and love. Yes it's packed with whole-kernel corn but
what's wrong with that? I enjoy a good film noir, screwball comedy or
even classic horror film but every once in a while it is good to think
about the hopes our grandparents had for a better world after WWII and
why we fought that war.
So if you don't like the WALTONS style of family values, please skip it and take in a modern film calculated by accountants and marketing departments to separate your money from your pocket.
But if you like a good story packed with an ensemble of very talented actors delivering charming home-spun dialogue in a near dream like world of hope, check this out.
My favorite line is delivered by the stunningly beautiful Marsha Hunt (who is still a beauty today!) when she tries to convince handsome James Craig they are both really in love, "You do love me, don't you? Yes you do, you know you do." Of course he walks away with his head in the clouds, and in love. You will be too when you give this dated cookie a bite!
This is a unique drama, one of those unusual dramas where there are no
villains, no evil people. Yet, it's not a sweet-and-sugary movie,
either. It's simply a "slice of life," as they say, or "Americana." In
the case, about life in a small California town during the middle of
World War II. It is very true to the book written by William Saroyan.
The story features genuinely nice people who trust one another, respect one another, have manners, read the Bible and say their prayers, do what they are told and apologize if they are nasty....not exactly what you've seen in films in the past half century.
Although the film is a bunch of vignettes featuring a number of characters, Mickey Rooney is the central figure and I wonder if he ever was better. He is outstanding in here. I never realized what a good actor he was until I saw this movie.
Frank Morgan also was memorable in here, and I usually didn't care for the roles he played many times. But here, he's very serious and honest and real.
The "slices of life" include Rooney and his family, school friends, his job as a telegram delivery boy; Morgan and his drinking problem; James Craig and his romance; Van Johnson and his army buddies and Jackie "Butch" Jenkins and his little friends.
Also of note are three young military men making an appearance, actors who became well known by the end of the decade: Robert Mitchum, Barry Nelson and Don DeFore. Donna Reed, Fay Bainter and Marsha Hunt add the female touch and a big dose of wholesome beauty. This has a deep cast, as you can see. There are other recognizable actors in here, too, such as "Alfalfa" (Carl Switzer) of "Our Gang" fame.
This picture of "Americana" is so innocent compared to today, it is almost shocking. A kiss was a big deal; nobody locked their doors at night; the girls went out on blind dates with the soldiers and all treated each other with respect.
It's a very sentimental film, which is another reason I like it. It's a sad comment about film critics who think that "sentimental" is a dirty word, but even those cynics still had praise for this film. It's so well done that it's hard not to praise it. See for yourself.
"The Human Comedy" (MGM, 1943), directed by Clarence Brown, is not
really a comedy as the title depicts, but actually human story about
ordinary people of a simple town in the days of World War II. Mickey
Rooney stars as Homer Macauley, a high school student who excels in
sports, especially track, working part time as a telegraph boy for old
Mr. Grogan (Frank Morgan), in order to support his widowed mother (Fay
Bainter), his sister, Bess (Donna Reed), and his kid brother, Ulysses
(Jackie "Butch" Jenkins), while his older brother, Marcus (Van Johnson)
is off to war. Overlooking the Macauley family is their deceased
father, Matthew (Ray Collins), who also narrates the story.
While Rooney gives a well-earned Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his performance, the storyline doesn't focus all on his Homer character, but on others as well, usually presented on screen in ten minute segments, including Tom Sprangler, (James Craig), his romantic interest with the beautiful Diane Steed (Marsha Hunt), and his meeting with her parents (Henry O'Neill and Katharine Alexander); older Macauley brother, Marcus, serving in the Army and his friendship with a fellow soldier named Tobey George (John Craven), a young man with no family who gets to learn about family life through Matthew's stories; Bess Macauley and her friend, Mary (Dorothy Morris), who go out for the evening and come across three lonely soldiers on leave (Robert Mitchum, Don DeFore and Barry Nelson), and making their brief stay in their town an eventful one; little brother Ulysses being the one and only friend to the friendless Lionel (Darryl Hickman), a pre-teen boy not so popular with the other children who doesn't hold a grudge against them. Lionel is an exceptional character to the story who shows that he has a good and forgiving heart by saying to Mrs. Macauley that even though he isn't invited to mix with the other children his age, he will be there for them when and if they need him; Miss Hicks (Mary Nash), a strict but kind-hearted high school teacher who shows Homer that teacher's aren't always heartless and unfair but are human beings faced with difficult decisions for their students, especially when she must decide whether Homer should remain after school for fighting with a fellow student, Hubert (David Holt), or let him run in the big track meet to compete against Hubert, the boy actually at fault; Mr. Henderson (Clem Bevans), an old geezer who enjoys watching little children pick apples off his tree and watches them run when he comes out of the house with no intention of running them off, etc. Then there is MGM veteran actor Frank Morgan who gives an exceptionally good performance in his role as Willie Grogan, the drunken but good-hearted telegraph operator who must have water splashed in his face by Homer whenever he dozes off on duty and to be given lots of coffee to stay awake, especially when a message is coming through. Aside from Homer having a difficult task in delivering messages to women that their sons or husband have been killed in the war, he finds one particular telegram that changes his attitude towards the world, temporarily, until that memorable and heartfelt closing scene in which Homer is approached by a visiting soldier, Marcus' closest friend, Tobey George.
"The Human Comedy", from the book by author William Saroyan, shows viewers as well as those who have read his book, that his labor of love is people and that there is goodness in everybody. Done in true family fashion MGM style, "The Human Comedy" shows what family life was back then and what's lacking in today's society. Nothing really exciting happens in this leisurely paced film running at 118 minutes, but good performances all around, especially by Rooney, Morgan and Bainter. Available for viewing on Turner Classic Movies and video cassette. (****)
This Movie Must be restored and released on DVD. I hope the studio monitors these sites. This film is a snapshot of the mindset and moral ideals that American society agreed upon during the period of the 1940's. As such, it is history. Many today scoff at these ideals. Personally, I think they are to be sought after. This is a wonderful, uplifting movie. Everyone should see it.
I am a 73yr 1st generation American (both parents from Poland); I lived
all of WWII in St. Louis, MO; by coincidence, our house was next to a
"Store Front" which contained a 24hr Western Union; and, my 2yr older
brother (Art) bicycle-delivered greetings and messages for Western
Great Movie!!!! Brings back the memories of that time. I could always tell when Art had a bad day. The situations (family life, Park Picnics, sand lot roughnecking by the kids) depicted in the movie follows pretty closely the families that I recall from the mid-war era. Tough times in '43 .... we knew it was getting better, just a question of "How Soon?'. I walked to school with my 3 sisters and Art .... about 10 blocks .... allowed us to see the In Service Banners with Blues Stars "Active Duty", Red Stars "Pow or MIA", Gold Stars "KIA".
Any and all adverse comments about this Movie's era can only come from a person(s) ignorance or their need to rewrite History. Those of us who are left are becoming fewer every year ..... a handful after 2031 ..... in the meantime, we ARE the living history.
Sure, it's probably true that this is a highly idealized version of America, but calling it "blatantly patriotic" ignores the fact that all American towns were blatantly patriotic when we fought the Last Good War. The idea that a Homer McCauley had every bit as much chance as a rich kid to make his mark might be uniquely American; he might never live in the big house on the hill, but he could become every bit as beloved in his world as a George Bailey might in Bedford Falls. One thing that makes "Human Comedy" rather unique for its time was that it was set in small-town central California back in the day when that was a long way off for most Americans. A wonderful movie; wish it was avilable on DVD.
This movie, like the "The Sullivans" is extremely had to find at your video store. Set in Ithaca, Calif. It's the story of young boy(played by Mickey Rooney) who delivers telegrams in his small town during the war. Needless to say he has to deliver the heart wrenching "Dear Sir/Ma'am: The War Department regrets to inform you of the death of your son........" It truly is a great movie of small town values,hopes and fears during the war. If you liked the Sullivans, this movie will move you also. And interesting note here, is that the book was published after the movie.
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