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George and Catherine Apley of Boston lead a proper life in the proper social circle, as did the Apleys before them. When grown daughter Eleanor falls in love with Howard (from New York!), and son John with Myrtle (from Worcester!), the ordered life of the Apley home on Beacon Street is threatened, as is the hoped-for union of John and Apley-cousin Agnes. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
An attack on traditional upper class values for radicals to applaud
George Apley is the head of an upper-class Boston family and a man true to Victorian values and behavior. Fans of Ronald Colman's voice are treated to an almost excessive amount of it in the beginning as his character is established. He quotes Emerson and seems truly delighted to have seen a certain bird so late in the year. You get to hear him say "sap-sucker" repeatedly. He feels his privilege comes with certain duties, and those must come before all else. The story opens on Thanksgiving Day, so we meet the extended family. Here is where things turn ugly. His two adult children have both decided to rebel against the path their father feels is right. The daughter has taken up with a young lecturer from New York who calls Emerson a radical, much to George Apley's horror, and smokes cigarettes instead of cigars. Suddenly his daughter is talking about Freud and badmouthing coming out parties. The son has long been expected to marry a certain cousin, but now he is lying to his father that he has to study. Instead, he's off to see a new girlfriend from the wrong side of the tracks.
At this point, I expected the father to reel his children in. However, the story goes against George Apley and all that he stands for. His close friend and his wife both tell tales of George's own younger days concerning love, marriage, and the role his father had played in his son's actions. Suddenly George does a 180. He has a whole different outlook. He even sneakily reads his daughter's Freud book. Here's your chance to hear the Ronald Colman voice spout the word "sex" multiple times.
Is George Apley abandoning his inherited sense of what's proper for his family so that his children can pursue romantic love? Or is this a portrayal of upper class Victorian values being mocked and shattered for the writer's own satisfaction? At one point, another character claims the Apley fortune came from the triangular trade of rum, slaves, and molasses. Although this film is from the 40s, its condemnation of George Apley's values seem to reflect fully modern disdain for the past.
The viewer is left to see how long George's 180 turn will last and to what extent. How much will he compromise and capitulate? Will the son and daughter marry their romantic loves or respect their father's Apley family Bostonian traditions?
I know I am in a small minority, but I found the film insulting and distasteful. I thought it was like watching a classy older man be pushed into the gutter by a gang of young punks. Ronald Colman is always wonderful, but the scathing attack the original writer was making on the upper class of Boston seems very ugly on the screen.
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