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Middle-aged Napa Valley grape-grower Tony posts a marriage proposal to San Francisco waitress Lena enclosing a photo of his handsome younger brother Buck. When she gets there she overlooks his duplicity and marries him. Then she falls in love with Buck. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The film is based on the Broadway production of "They Knew What They Wanted" by Sidney Howard opened on November 24, 1924 at the Garrick Theater, ran for 192 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1925. See more »
Quaint but touching version of They Knew What They Wanted
This movie has been obscured by the later, more famous version of Sidney Howard's play, the one starring Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard. One can see why. The pace is much slower, and the emotions are not so volatile. And though it makes a kind of sense to cast Edward G Robinson, who the same year played the title role in Little Caesar, as the Italian winemaker Tony, why use an actor 20 years too young for the part? Robinson is aged with a broad white, skunk-like streak through his dark hair. However, his performance, especially in the dramatic final scene, is quite touching, certainly more so than Laughton's grotesque one.
As the mail-order bride, deceived with a photo of the handsome young foreman, Vilma Banky is even more sympathetic. Her strong native Hungarian accent emphasises that she, like Tony, is an insecure immigrant in this complex and confusing country--Lombard was obviously native American and was also much more capable looking. The later movie also has an overlay of Hollywood gloss, and is less true to life than this one, whose characters are naive and socially awkward. This version also has the benefit of Victor Sjostrom, the great Swedish director who directed Lillian Gish and Garbo. While the movie at times seems slow, even a bit stilted, it has a delicacy and a close appreciation of character and nature that contributes its own emotional pull to this simple, touching story.
Though the movie pre-dated the Production Code, the ending of the play has been changed. The later film also changed the ending, but in a less satisfactory way. While, in this film, one character suddenly takes on a new personality, it otherwise makes more sense than that of the Laughton-Lombard movie. To put the review in a nutshell: I cried at the end of this one, and at the other one I didn't.
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