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The greedy nephew of eccentric Matilda Reid seeks to have her judged incompetent so he can administer her wealth; but she will be saved if her three long-lost adopted sons appear for a Christmas Eve reunion. Separate stories reveal Michael as a bankrupt playboy loved by loyal Ann; Mario as a seemingly shady character tangling with a Nazi war criminal in South America; Jonathan as a hard-drinking rodeo rider intent on a flirtatious social worker. Is there hope for Matilda? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
A bit rickety now, but this three-part story of family ties still works...and George Brent's timing was never better
What's a mother to do? If she's the seriously rich, eccentric but still shrewd Mathilda Reed, now in her late seventies or early eighties and living alone with servants in a huge mid-town Manhattan mansion, and her untrustworthy nephew attempts to gain control of her fortune by having her declared incompetent, the answer is simple. She'll call upon her three sons. The trouble is, she hasn't heard from the grown men in years. The three came to her as wards. She adopted them and raised them. But when they were grown, each decided to leave and make his own way. They didn't want to be a burden or to live off their mother's fortune. Mathilda Reed (Ann Harding) may be a wonderful old woman, but her sons are something else.
There's Michael (George Brent), a high-living ne'er-do-well who finances his expensive tastes by kiting checks and who hopes to marry a rich woman. His girlfriend, Ann (Joan Blondell), is starting to get impatient.
There's Jonathan (Randolph Scott), who went west and now is a broken down but charming rodeo rider who sometimes has to pawn his saddle.
And there's Mario (George Raft), a fugitive from the law who went to South America and prospered as a shady nightclub owner. He can't return to the States without the FBI picking him up.
Mathilda Reed is a fighter. She goes public with a press conference, hoping her sons, wherever they are, will hear about her need for them. She hires a private detective to try and locate them. They have to return by Christmas Eve to block Phillip's plans.
Will the three men make it? Will they even try? Well, of course they will. So we spend most of our time in three short stories. We watch how Michael, amusing and unreliable, gets himself under Phillip's thumb with those bad checks and then starts to get himself out. We watch how Jonathan, back in New York, finds himself involved in a phony adoption scam and winds up with three baby girls and a great-looking girlfriend. We also hear a lot of Hollywood home-on-the-range dialogue...all those "heifers." We see Mario take on a Nazi fugitive, with fistfights and gunfights, before he leaves for New York with the FBI right behind him. And on Christmas Eve, with snow drifting down, with the mansion alight, with the tree gorgeously decorated and the Christmas punch made, Mathilda Reed, her nephew and the judge sit waiting. Sure enough, first Michael and Ann arrive. Then Jonathan and his three babies. And last comes Mario, with an FBI man right behind. We learn everything is going to turn out all right, even for Mario. The "crime" he left the States over was really committed by another. Phillip's scheme is dealt with and so is Phillip. Most importantly, we learn that the idea of family, played up with a little sentimentality and a sometimes serious but often amusing screenplay, can get the job done.
The movie is a little corny at times, especially with Ann Harding, younger than each of the actors playing her sons, doing the trembling and wise old lady bit. Her makeup would convince only the oldest residents of an assisted living center. Raft, Scott and Brent each do fine jobs. Raft, of course, is Raft, and his story is the most serious. Scott does a charming turn as the rodeo cowboy who winds up with an instant family. And George Brent, who was even better as a skilled farceur and light comedian than he was as an all-purpose leading man (watch him in 1947's Out of the Blue), is a joy to watch. All three were at turning points in their careers. This was Scott's last non-Western movie. Brent was fading fast as a star. Raft was starting to make a series of poor movies. Still, for me the movie works emotionally as the story of how three very different men drop whatever they're doing, for some at great risk, to return to help the woman who raised them and gave them the values that they have. When the three start to greet each other with pleasure in their mother's mansion on Christmas Eve, maybe it's just good acting but they look like they mean it.
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