|Index||8 reviews in total|
Remarkable soaper gets bravura lead performance by Jane Wyman. The scenes in New Holland are excellent with young Richard Beymer a standout as a student who has a crush on Wyman. Steve Forrest is excellent as Wyman's son. Martha Hyer is a bit out of her league as the would-be vamp seeking to lead Forrest astray. But, why quibble? The production values are first-rate, the writing is excellent, and the score is magnificent.
I enjoyed the movie, not just because of the cast, but because of the faithfulness to detail, r/t the actual book, "So Big" by Ferber. It shows the values of responsibility not just to our work, but to people, and to the beauty that is all around us, if we would just open our eyes and see it.
If you like terrific acting, triumphs over adversity, laced with plenty of life's heartbreaks, So Big is what Hollywood does best for you. Contrived? A bit. Overly Theatrical? guilty as charged. Gripping melodrama from beginning to end? You bet. It's all relationship-driven so men who disdain "chick-flicks" should leave this one alone. All others should find it as wonderful as I do.
In the third and final big screen adaption of Edna Ferber's novel, Jane
Wyman essays the role of the schoolteacher who moves into a community
of Dutch immigrant farmers in the Midwest and changes her life forever
as she goes from rich débutante to a farmer's wife and widow. Wyman
takes pride in her work and her child whom she nicknames So Big.
Jane's family fortune was lost when her parents died and she was forced by circumstance to become a schoolteacher. She's assigned to the Midwest town of New Holland and she works hard to teach the Dutch immigrant children. She also meets and weds sturdy farmer Sterling Hayden who leaves her a widow with a child and a farm to manage.
She meets the challenge and in doing so finds what Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh called 'the nobility of toil' in her work. So Big is Edna Ferber's ode to the agricultural life, there is indeed something special in seeing the seeds you plant grow into something. It's a lesson she imparts to her son who when he's full grown is played by Steve Forest. Forest in fact becomes an architect, but his mom literally and figuratively drags him back down to earth every so often.
Wyman's best scenes are with the various children who play her son Dirk, aka So Big at various stages of life. The film probably deserved to run a bit longer because I don't think all of Edna Ferber's thoughts were translated to the screen. Still So Big holds up well as fine family entertainment, as good as it was when released in 1953.
This is a remake of the 1932 version starring the great Barbara
Stanwyck. Not quite a shot-for-shot remake. This version is longer and
includes some material the original left out and has a slightly more
cynical ending than the original. All you need to know about the first
version is Warner Bros./ First National/ Vitaphone, which equates to a
mass produced, assembly line product running typically 60-80 minutes in
length. That's just how most Hollywood films were in the early 30s. And
often times, the movie suffered, as a result. All that being said, this
version is considerably better.
Jane Wyman is great as always, and by this time in her career, she was able to be much more selective of the types of roles she chose. Sterling Hayden is pretty much the same in every role he ever appeared in: stoic; regardless of the material. Nancy Olson does a good job, but is not on screen hardly at all. The biggest problem, however, is Steve Forrest as Wyman's son. He's stiff, bland, and doesn't appear to have any acting ability whatsoever.
The most curious aspect of this picture, however, is it's director,... Robert Wise. Wise first made a name for himself early on as the editor for Orson Welles' first two films, "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons". This is one of only a few directors (the other 2 who come to mind: Howard Hawks and George Cukor) who made a movie in every genre. And to go a step further, he made masterpieces in every genre except perhaps comedy and western (horror- "The Body Snatcher", "The Haunting"; sci-fi- "The Day the Earth Stood Still", film noir- "The Set-Up", "Odds Against Tomorrow", musical- "West Side Story", "The Sound of Music", drama- "The Sand Pebbles", "Somebody Up There Likes Me")
Does this sound like someone who should be directing a remake of "So Big"? (He already had "The Set-Up" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" under his belt.) That's not to say there's anything wrong with this picture. It is what it is: an above average melodrama. The point is a much less talented director could have handled it. It always amazes me how such a brilliant man like this wasn't appreciated more. His career was filled with films just like this, sandwiched in between his great ones. It was quite common at that time for directors to be assigned to direct something, often without even having a chance to read the script before deciding whether they wanted to or not. Saying 'No' to the studio bosses wasn't much of an option either, if you wanted to keep working. And I can't help but wonder if that was the case quite frequently with Wise as well, directing whatever he was told to. As a result, he's never mentioned with the great directors, and that's very unfortunate. If you haven't already, make it a point to start watching his movies. Not just his masterpieces, all of them. This is a great director who deserves to be more recognized.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
My major criticism of this 1953 film was that it should have run
longer. It should have shown Dirk move back gradually into the field of
architecture and get the girl portrayed by Nancy Olson. When the
picture ends, neither has occurred.
In the 1950s Jane Wyman was in somber mode. After garnering the Oscar for "Johnny Belinda," in 1948, she followed that up with another nomination for the all-time tear-jerker "The Blue Veil," in 1951 and the remake of "Magnificent Obsession," the year after 'Big.' "All that Heaven Allows" came in '56 and "Miracle in the Rain" completed her tear-jerking screen performances.
In this film she suffers the heartbreak of the losses of her father and husband, the latter a dirt farmer. As her husband, Sterling Hayden captured the essence of the simplistic life.
I wonder if this picture were trying to emulate O.E. Rolvaag's "Giants in the Earth," a marvelous book about mid-western farming with its trials and tribulations.
As taught by her father in the film, Wyman becomes a rugged individualist. She is a strong, firm believer in achieving by yourself what you are destined to do. She teaches those principles to her son who disappoints her by going into the sales portion of architecture instead of the profession itself after college.
Wyman never lets son Steve Forrest know of her disappointment and he comes to realize how right she was. Martha Hyer is her usual upper-class matron with values consisting of making the big dollars.
This is still another of Wyman's gut-wrenching performances, but she had better in the films mentioned above. Still, this is a story of perseverance, hard work, and endurance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While practically nobody else was doing so, Edna Ferber was writing women who didn't accept their lot in life, challenged men, proved more mature and responsible than men, and maintained their femininity while doing so. An archetypal Ferber woman is the heroine of "So Big," played, a little monotonously, by Jane Wyman. (She's too old to be convincing as a young girl, and too young to be a convincing timeworn old woman.) Sprawling through decades of American history like so many Ferber doorstop novels, it's fine melodrama, though oddly shaped--many years of Selina's existence are just missing, and the third act, with son Steve Forrest chasing after Nancy Olson, feels like an afterthought, as do many of the supporting characters, played by a mostly no-name cast. Sterling Hayden, as the love of Wyman's life, is an odd character, too--he clearly loves Selina, yet laughs at her attempts at betterment and is a terrible chauvinist; you feel Ferber kills him off because she honestly doesn't know what to do with him. An uncharacteristically unmemorable Max Steiner score grinds in the background, the photography is a black-and-white eyeful, and the biggest surprise is how good young Richard Beymer is, as an adolescent with a crush on Wyman--eight years later, again under Robert Wise's direction, he starred in "West Side Story," and was terrible.
Despite the above cited drawback, this Edna Ferber story of a mother's
love with that stifling title, SO BIG, seems aimed at the tear ducts to
give JANE WYMAN another chance to show how well she can age from young
woman to maturity to old age with a nice array of expressions and
changes of hairdo and make-up.
She's really the best thing about SO BIG. It's story is a simple, even trite saga of a woman who wants all the best things for her son, especially since she has to rear him single-handedly once her husband (farmer STERLING HAYDEN) dies. Hayden gives such a persuasive performance that once he's gone, the picture suffers from his untimely death and the remaining scenes never achieve the same intensity of the earlier ones. Brief performances from dependable players like NANCY OLSON, MARTHA HYER and a very young RICHARD BEYMER help sustain interest in the long-winded plot.
There is an appropriately agreeable score by Max Steiner to emphasize the soap suds and the usual dramatics, but this somehow misses the mark as what should have been a superior vehicle of its kind despite having all the trimmings.
STEVE FORREST, as Wyman's "so big" son, has moments when his resemblance to real-life brother Dana Andrews is remarkable. Unfortunately, his role is poorly written without giving him the chance to show much acting range.
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